In the age of the self-educated buyer, traditional lead generation strategies no longer cut it.
Today, lead gen is about being found and developing ongoing relationships using multiple, integrated channels. And it’s the marketers who are powering this process, developing and nurturing quality leads well before they are passed on to sales.
Owning your part of this piece of the lead-to-revenue cycle is crucial to marketing success. One way to get started is by looking at the five core inbound marketing tactics that fuel today’s lead generation strategy:
- Content Marketing
- Website and SEO
- Landing Pages
- Social Media Marketing
- Email Marketing
First, let’s take a look at what inbound marketing is and whether it works.
What Is Inbound Marketing?
Here’s how HubSpot defines inbound marketing in its guide to inbound methodology:
The 5 central themes of inbound marketing
In the guide, HubSpot identifies five primary goals or themes:
- Content Creation & Distribution
- Lifecycle Marketing
These themes are tied together by one principle: “By creating content specifically designed to appeal to your dream customers, inbound attracts qualified prospects to your business and keeps them coming back for more.”
The 4 actions that drive inbound marketing
HubSpot further identifies four marketing actions that drive the inbound methodology: 1) Attract, 2) Convert, 3) Close and 4) Delight.
These are the actions you carry out at particular stages of the buyer’s journey. Their job is to propel prospects and customers along that journey step by step:
- attracting strangers so they become visitors,
- converting visitors into leads,
- closing leads to turn them into customers, and
- delighting customers so they become promoters.
Underlying and fuelling this whole process are the tools and tactics you use to make the actions work.
Does Inbound Marketing Work?
According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2015:
- 2 out 3 marketers say inbound marketing is the best approach to reach customers while only one-third say outbound is the best
- Companies are 3 times as likely to see a higher ROI on inbound marketing campaigns than on outbound ones, regardless of company type or marketing spend
The Inbound Marketing Survey conducted by Ascend2 in 2014 also supports the effectiveness of inbound: 23% of the companies surveyed rated inbound “very successful” at achieving important marketing objectives; only 8% rated it “not successful.”
Is Inbound Marketing Successful at Generating Leads?
In the 2015 B2B Lead Generation Trends Report compiled by Holger Schulze, 600 B2B marketers were asked to rate the effectiveness of the lead generation tactics they use. These charts show the percentage who rated several of the tactics we’re looking at as “very effective” or “somewhat effective.”
The 5 Inbound Marketing Tactics
Tactic 1: Content Marketing
According to Marketo, “content is the foundation of your lead generation efforts.” Results of the Ascend2 survey support this view: 52% of respondents say increasing lead generation is an important objective, and 32% say improving lead nurturing is.
So what exactly is content marketing and how does it generate leads? Let’s start with a definition from Content Marketing Institute:
When we think of content, we mostly think of blogs. But content can take many forms, including ebooks, guides, case studies, kits, templates and checklists, videos, podcasts, webinars and much more. The important thing is for the content to be valuable and relevant.
Here are some of the ways that content marketing generates leads:
- Attracts the right visitors to your site (in your target market with the potential to become quality leads)
- Keeps visitors engaged enough to be willing to give up information about themselves (and so becoming leads)
- Continues to keep leads engaged through lead nurturing to eventually become paying customers
- Generates social shares and inbound links (to attract even more of the right visitors)
- Creates brand awareness to engender brand preference and influence future purchases
How do I make my content marketing effective at generating leads?
Establish the overall goal of your content marketing program. Ask yourself, how will content marketing grow my business? Focus on a single, clear and achievable goal such as “Generate more quality leads to pass on to sales and marketing.”
Define your target audience. Who do you want to read your content? The obvious answer is your target market. A better answer is your ideal customer.
Decide what you will write about. Like they say, write what you know. To nail down what that is, ask yourself these questions: What is my area of expertise? What is my product’s or service’s core competency? What do I know that is of value to my target audience?
Differentiate yourself from the competition. You won’t be the only one writing about your subject matter, so you’ll have to make yourself stand out. This is where your story comes in. Your story is what makes your content emotionally compelling. It’s what gives it a unique perspective. Once you’ve worked out your story, distil it down to a core message. Then incorporate that message in everything you write.
Develop content ideas and topics that align with your goal, your audience and your core message. You’ve figured out what you’re going to write about. Now you need to come up with specific ideas for topics. These topics should align with your goal and core message. They should also target your audience, preferably distinct segments based on persona and stage in the buyer’s journey.
Identify a single desired action for each content piece. Define a single, clear objective for each piece of content that aligns with your goal. Then craft the right call to action to meet it.
Identify content formats and distribution channels. Figure out the channels you’ll use to distribute your content. Then figure out appropriate formats to distribute it as (blog, email newsletter, downloadable assets, video, etc.). Trends do come into play, but you’ll need to do some research into what works best for your target audience.
Create great content. Everyone talks about “great” content, but what does that mean? You know you’re looking at great content when it’s valuable, actionable, data-driven and well-written; when it resonates with your audience and appeals to emotion; and when it’s sharable and worth giving up your email address for.
Be consistent. Define a process. Nothing kills your blog more than sporadic posts or outdated content. The only way to avoid this is by establishing a process for writing, producing and distributing your content. As part of that process, maintain an editorial calendar and stick to it.
Document. Document. Document. According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report, 53% of the most effective marketers have a documented content strategy while 40% of the least effective marketers have no strategy at all (results are very similar for B2C marketers).
Measure. Measure. Measure. According to State of Inbound 2015, marketers who check their metrics 3 or more times a week are 20% more likely to achieve positive ROI. Also, marketers are 20% more likely to receive a higher budget if they track ROI and twice as likely if they can demonstrate ROI is higher than the previous year.
Tactic 2: Website and SEO
There’s no question your website plays a huge role in generating leads. In the Holger Schulze report, 83% of B2B marketers rated their company website as an effective lead generation tactic, with 23% saying it is “very effective.”
But your website is of no use to you if it can’t be found. And that’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.
Here are some of the ways websites generate leads:
- Rank high for their target market in search engine results
- Grab the attention of prospects when they get to the site
- Use forms that visitors are willing to fill out
- Get valid and sufficient information from visitors to generate quality leads
- Use effective calls to action that convince and convert
- Offer a blog as a source of thought leadership and expertise for target leads
How do I make my website effective at generating leads?
Get your visitors’ attention and keep them engaged. Studies done by KISSmetrics show you have 0 to 8 seconds to persuade your audience not to leave your site.
Use website forms visitors will fill out. You can’t convert visitors unless they fill out your forms. But what makes a lead capture form “good”? Going by an A/B test of short forms vs. long forms done by Marketo, short forms (approx. 5 fields) have the highest conversion rate (13.4% vs. 12% for medium forms and 10% for long forms). Another thing to consider is what information you should (or should not) ask for. A study published by MaketingSherpa revealed that B2B tech buyers are twice as likely to give a valid email address than a valid phone number.
Create calls to action that result in clicks. When it comes right down to it, the only effective call to action is the one that results in a click. From this perspective, creating effective calls to action is a matter of addressing the two questions your visitors will ask: 1) Where should I click? and 2) Why should I click? For some great ideas on how to do this, see my earlier post, The Only Two Questions That Matter for Effective Calls to Action.
Design your site for usability. It doesn’t matter how great your content is or how effective your CTAs are if your visitors can’t find things and can’t (or won’t) read what’s on your site. Make your pages scannable, using lots of headings and lists to make the important content stand out. Structure site content and design navigation and wayfinding so your visitors can easily find and follow conversion paths.
How do I use SEO to improve my website’s ranking?
This question is huge and way, way beyond the scope of this post. Not to despair, there are many great SEO guides out there, including The Beginner’s Guide to SEO from Moz, the Guide to SEO from Search Engine Land, How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: A Beginner’s Guide from HubSpot, and the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide from Google.
If you don’t want to bother with a complete guide and want the visual, cheat-sheet version, A Visual Guide to Keyword Targeting and On-Page SEO from Moz has almost everything you need, including several visualizations to help explain things.
Tactic 3: Landing Pages
Website landing pages have a very specific purpose. Lead generation landing pages have an even more specific one. Here’s what Unbounce has to say about them:
If your website and its contents are what draws and engages your lead prospects, landing pages are the mechanism that turns them into actual leads. And they’re quite successful at it. In a landing page optimization survey from Ascend2, 93% of respondents said increasing conversion rates is one of the most important objectives of a landing page strategy. Improving lead quality came in second at 58%.
How do I make my landing pages effective at generating leads?
Forge an immediate connection. You have 2 seconds to grab the interest of landing page visitors. Even if you do that, you have to keep them engaged long enough for them to read the content and, ideally, be convinced enough to fill out your form. If your page fails to do that, your leads will bounce, maybe never to come back.
Be campaign-specific. Landing page visitors are specifically directed to a page from a social media page, an email, a paid ad or similar source of traffic. These visitors are not coming to the page blind, and they expect it to be consistent with the content that brought them there. Creating individual landing pages is a lot of work, but the alternative – using generic or automated pages – pretty much guarantees your prospective leads will bounce.
Follow the KISS principle. Landing pages should have one purpose and one purpose only: to convert. Eliminate anything that distracts from that purpose. Go for a minimal design with only required elements such as your logo and a heading or banner. More important, get rid of navigation. As the name suggests, a landing page is where you want visitors to end up, so you don’t want to make it easy for them to go somewhere else.
Follow the 4-step guide to copy. According to Marketo, you can make your landing page copy and CTAs clear and direct by going through these 4 steps: 1. Set up the problem, 2. Talk about the solution, 3. Point out the WIFM (what’s in it for me), 4. Deliver the goods.
Reassure your prospective lead. Whenever someone feels pressured to do something, there’s friction. Prospects are not sure if they can trust you and worry about what will happen to their personal information. This raises objections in their minds. Reduce this friction and forestall objections by including elements such as privacy statements, testimonials and guarantees.
Don’t forget confirmation and Thank You pages. These pages reassure leads by letting them know that what they were told would happen actually happened (e.g., their email address was been added to the newsletter list or they were registered for the webinar they wanted). But you can get more out of these pages by using them to deepen your relationship with the lead. Some ways to do this are providing related content, offering additional discounts and promoting sharing.
Tactic 4: Social Media Marketing
One of the primary jobs of social media marketing is to distribute and promote your content to bring targeted traffic to your website. Here’s how Unbounce defines it:
But it’s the last sentence in the quote, specifically the last five words, that gets to the heart of social media marketing. And nobody puts it into better words than Jay Baer:
So social media marketing is not so much about promotion but more about amplification, extending your reach and increasing social share. And how you do that is by building a large and engaged network. As Jay points out, once you accomplish that, your own customers will start bringing in the leads.
How do I make my social media marketing effective at generating leads?
Use psychology to increase social share. The willingness to share is a human characteristic driven by altruism and the need to reciprocate and be part of the group. It’s also driven by competitiveness and the desire to enhance reputation. Be aware of this psychology and use it to your advantage when writing social media copy and posts.
Use the social channels that are right for your audience. Just because everyone’s on Facebook doesn’t mean you have to be. It only makes sense to reach out through a social media platform if your target audience actually uses it.
Optimize post timing and frequency. There are many social media benchmark studies out there with useful information on when and how often to post. But it’s important to figure out what works specifically for your target audience. Continuously measure and analyze your social activity to determine the timing and frequency of posts that get the most traffic and shares.
Don’t just measure engagement. You obviously want to measure which social media posts brought the most traffic to your site. But to find out if social media is succeeding as a lead generation tactic, also track which posts were the source of traffic that converted into leads. (In a survey on social media strategy from Ascend2, lead generation was the second most-used metric (51%) after website traffic (64%).)
Tactic 5: Email Marketing
Email marketing doesn’t seem to quite fit in with the other inbound marketing tactics. After all, to send an email you need an email address. And isn’t getting an email address the point of lead generation to begin with?
But email does belong in the tool set because of its incredible ability to effectively build relationships (email open rates hover around 20% while those for Twitter rarely go above 1.5%). As a follow-up to lead generation, email is the perfect lead nurturing tool. This quote from Jordie van Rijn neatly sums up why:
How do I make my email marketing effective at generating leads?
Timing is everything. As in comedy, in email marketing everything comes down to the timing of delivery. Nowhere is this more important than with confirmation, Thank You and Welcome emails sent in response to a lead conversion. According to an InsideSales.com study, a lead has a 100x higher chance of being contacted and a 21x higher chance of qualifying if contacted within 5 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes.
Your emails need CTAs too. I talked about the importance of strong CTAs on landing pages. A single effective CTA is just as important in your emails. Stick to one action and make it clear what that is and what’s in it for the lead.
Write subject lines that say “open me.” Whether a lead opens your email comes down to one thing: the subject line. Subject lines are so important that whole studies are done on how to optimize them. A recent one to help you with your strategy is the 2015 Subject Line Analysis Report from Adestra.
Make your email list strictly a DIY project. Building an email list from scratch may look like a difficult task (it is), and you may be tempted to take a shortcut and buy one. I strongly recommend that you not do this. If you won’t take my word for it, take a look at a post from HubSpot on the subject,
I covered a lot on the five inbound marketing tactics that fuel lead generation but, in reality, I’ve hardly scratched the surface. There is plenty more to talk about and each of these tactics merits a blog post of its own.
If you’d like to see some of those posts here or would like to share your own knowledge and experiences, leave a comment below.
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