How I’m Creating Leads and Sales on LinkedIn

The biggest mistake most of us are making when promoting content within a LinkedIn Group is sharing a link back to what we’ve published. Instead, success depends on your ability to use what you already know works within the walls of LinkedIn Groups and, ultimately, getting prospects off of social media. Yes, I’m serious. I’m living proof. I’ve been using LinkedIn to create leads and actual sales with good success.

The biggest mistake most of us are making when promoting content within a LinkedIn Group is sharing a link back to what we’ve published. Instead, success depends on your ability to use what you already know works within the walls of LinkedIn Groups and, ultimately, getting prospects off of social media. Yes, I’m serious. I’m living proof. I’ve been using LinkedIn to create leads and actual sales with good success.

Most of us believe that setting up an engaging LinkedIn group or attractive profile is the key to success for businesses or job seekers. But it’s just not true. Finding crafty ways to mention your blogs, webinars or new product releases within LinkedIn rarely works—produces appointments, leads or sales.

The key to success is founded in creative thinking about what you already know works and getting your target market off of social media. Here’s proof—in the form of my experience and how you can do the same.

Step 1: Create Content That Provokes
I recently decided to go after a niche: small- to mid-sized kitchen cabinet dealerships who need help using LinkedIn for sales. My goal was to create sales of my book and leads for my social sales training product. My strategy was to get people already engaged in discussions relevant to the pain I can cure to actually leave LinkedIn and register at my site, call me on the phone or buy my book.

First, I created content that I knew would scratch the itch of my market. I baited my hook. I interviewed an industry expert who had something truly different to say about how successful kitchen cabinet dealers are using social media and using LinkedIn for sales leads.

What my expert had to say was contrarian, valuable, provocative and actionable. This part was key. This was the barb in the hook.

Step 2: Locate Qualified Discussions
I then published a handful of stories and audio interviews featuring my guest, Jim, discussing how successful home improvement businesses are using social media to create leads and sales. He didn’t talk about how they should be using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and such. Instead, he spoke on how they are and gave readers/listeners the chance to learn how they can do the same. He told them how to take action.

I then carefully joined related LinkedIn groups, taking care to make sure I was clear about my intent to join. I had something honestly valuable to share—actionable insights on a topic that is of current interest to group members.

I joined and waited. Within a few days I spotted a discussion on a Kitchen Cabinet industry group where I could answer a question in a way that “brought to life” the specific valuable answers my guest expert was offering … but not in the usual way.

Step 3: Tease Prospects Into Action
The biggest mistake most of us are making when promoting content within a LinkedIn group is sharing a link back to what we’ve published. You see, the minute I stopped sharing links and started saying less the more action I got—the more people did what I wanted them to do (visit my site and become a lead).

Ultimately it’s all about getting prospects off of social media (and on a lead-nurturing system). How you go about doing that is critical when using Linkedin. You don’t want to waste time!

Bottom line: The more I’m baiting people—teasing them—the more I’m getting emailed directly through LinkedIn from hungry customers who want to connect, become a lead or buy a product on-the-spot.

Sure, my website is good at selling products and capturing leads—that requirement doesn’t go away. Remember your job is to tease your audience into taking action on something that you already know they want to act on.

I didn’t get paid by “telling a story” or “providing valuable content” or educating my target market. That’s social media guru blather. I ethically bribed my customers into taking action on something that they wanted to take action on to begin with. I then gave them full satisfaction—useful, actionable answers to burning questions they had.

Next up, I’ll explain exactly how I did it in more detail. See you then!

How Performance Marketing Accelerates B-to-B Prospecting

Every time you turn around, a new “performance marketing” opportunity turns up for B-to-B marketers. What a treasure trove! And on the face of it, a real boon, because you only pay when your prospect takes the action you’re looking for—the click, the download, the purchase, whatever. But there are some potholes to consider. Let’s look at how marketers get value out of this approach to finding new customers.

Every time you turn around, a new “performance marketing” opportunity turns up for B-to-B marketers. What a treasure trove! And on the face of it, a real boon, because you only pay when your prospect takes the action you’re looking for—the click, the download, the purchase, whatever. But there are some potholes to consider. Let’s look at how marketers get value out of this approach to finding new customers.

To back up, what is this performance marketing thing, anyway? It generally means that the media channel owner conducts a campaign and charges the marketer an agreed price for every respondent, according to predetermined criteria. There are scads of ways performance marketing is being applied across the B-to-B go-to-market spectrum. So far, this is what I know:

  • Pay per click. The grand-daddy of performance marketing, the system that sent Google’s fortunes into the stratosphere. You only pay when a prospect clicks on your selected keyword(s). The secret to success here is choosing the right keywords and sending the clicker to a brilliantly written landing page, where you have a prayer of converting them from a mere clicker to something else, like a prospect with whom you can continue a conversation. Some banner advertising and email rental lists are sold this way, as well.
  • Pay per lead. This highly popular technique was pioneered by trade publishers looking for ways to extend the value of their customer access. Ziff Davis and TechTarget are leaders in the tech industry world, using “content syndication,” distributing marketers’ white papers and research reports, and charging by response. MadisonLogic offers pay per lead programs via banner ads to a network of 300 publishers, with particular strength in the HR and technology sectors. Another player is True Influence, which uses email to its own compiled database of business buyers.
  • Pay per appointment. Hiring a telemarketing shop to conduct appointment-setting programs for sales reps is a long-time staple of the B-to-B marketing toolkit, and often priced by the appointment. Myriad call centers offer this kind of pricing.
  • Pay per PR placement. Several PR agencies have taken the big step of pricing their services on a pay-for-placement basis. Amid much hand-wringing among PR professionals, the model’s strong appeal to marketers is likely to mean continued experimentation.

Is the next logical step some kind of pay-for-performance results guarantee from creative agencies? I doubt it. I posed that question recently to Warren Hunter, Chairman of DMW Direct, who said firmly, “No way.” Since they are a direct marketing agency and thus used to delivering highly measurable results, I thought there might be a shot. But here’s how Warren explained his position. “If you give me control of the creative and the media, sure. Without that, there are too many variables that impact the results.”

The newest entrant in performance marketing is the daily deal business, pioneered by Groupon and Living Social. You might call this “pay per new customer.” In the B-to-B space, some experiments are underway like BizyDeal and RapidBuyr, but they don’t appear to have really taken off yet. Except for very small business, this is not how businesses buy.

My net takeaway on this subject is the old adage that you get what you pay for. When you think about it, the performance model has an inherent bias against quality, so marketers need to do the math. Avoid this model unless you have good data on conversion rates—conversion to qualified lead, and then conversion to a sale. With that data in hand, you can determine a profitable price and buy leads and appointments till the cows come home.

Based on my experience using PI (Per Inquiry) deals with cable TV operators years ago, I know that the “pay per” model works best if both sides have a track record with that offer in that medium. The media owner knows what kind of response it’s going to get, and the marketer knows the lifetime value of the new customer. So one way to increase the likelihood of success is to run a campaign using traditional pricing and then convert to performance-based pricing after generating some experience.

Where is performance marketing in B-to-B headed? Erik Matlick, founder of MadisonLogic, shared a few observations with me recently:

  • Marketers will get savvier about recognizing the importance of nurturing these contacts and converting them to eventual revenue. The new trend is assigning separate budgets, one devoted to generating “net new” leads and another to nurturing them to the right level of qualification.
  • Suppliers of leads should begin to offer account-level services. Most marketers need to reach multiple contacts in a target account to influence the various buying roles.

I would add my own prediction: The sky’s the limit for creative ways vendors can craft new performance-based marketing programs. Marketers have plenty to look forward to.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Branding Is Not Enough to Make Social Sell

If you want to make social media sell for you take action on the mercenary truth: Branding is rarely executed as a consistent, reliable process. Branding (the meaning of which is still not universally agreed upon) is not enough to create sales. Nor is B-to-B branding—or its “social cousin” engagement—consistently able to produce customer behavior (e.g., leads). Direct response must be built in to the campaign for leads and sales to manifest. It doesn’t “just happen” thanks to our friends branding and engagement.

If you want to make social media sell for you, take action on the mercenary truth: Branding is rarely executed as a consistent, reliable process. Branding (the meaning of which is still not universally agreed upon) is not enough to create sales. Nor is B-to-B branding—or its “social cousin,” engagement—consistently able to produce customer behavior (e.g., leads). Direct response must be built in to the campaign for leads and sales to manifest. It doesn’t “just happen” thanks to our friends branding and engagement.

Customers Expect Proof, Upfront
People are buying as a result of content marketing efforts. True. But they’re buying when the business behind the content is willing to prove effectiveness of the product or service (in some small but meaningful way) prior to purchase. This is so important you might want to read it again.

Here’s the rub. In my experience, branding and engagement prove little (if anything) to me, the customer. Branding and engagement usually fail to solve a problem that brings me closer to the purchase as part of a clearly defined process.

Think about how you use Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. in your life. Do you buy based on what you see on social media? You’re probably not buying based on sentiment (how you feel about a brand) very much any more. In fact, you’re likely buying less based on how engaged marketers think your are, more based on what they’ll prove to you up front!

Prove It or Lose It!
Today, people are buying purely based on a brand’s ability to deliver some results before the purchase. Software? Give me a free trial—and don’t give me any talk about limiting functionality of the trial version. Financial services? Solve a problem for me relating to my ultimate need—to get my act together with college savings or retirement. Consulting? Show me, materially, that you’re worth your salt. You get the idea. And, no, this isn’t about “free” as a new business model.

Delivering results before the purchase demands a systematic, yet practical, way to court your customer—to prove to them that actually buying your product or service will certainly give them full results. They’ve got to be sure and nothing creates certainty like actual proof! So, how can you begin to take next steps?

“In most companies, at least historically, marketing and sales have been measured by, and hence driven by, different success metrics,” says Dan McDade of Pointclear, a B-to-B lead generation firm who points at the classic misalignment of sales and marketing as problematic.

“This condition has been simply accepted by or ignored by most senior managers. I know this seems harsh, but unfortunately it is still true today in many, if not most, organizations,” says McDade.

Reach Past Listening, Toward Useful Insights
Recognition of the misalignment is step one, and I’ll ask you to pair this recognition with a new perspective on social media. Start applying social media to uncover insights on customers’ micro-problems, goals or burning desires, then putting those discoveries to work through traditional lead nurturing.

Some argue the big opportunity social gives us is to create more engagement in hopes of creating preference. But successful social sellers use social media to create demand. In parting, which of the below seems more powerful to you?

  1. Listening for customers’ brand perceptions, sentiment, etc. and creating better ad messaging that creates more engagement (awareness leading to preference).
  2. Understanding customers’ problems or goals and finding creative ways to create organized, measurable response that helps customers “guide themselves” toward a purchase.

Thanks for considering.

Why Your Engaging Content Won’t Produce Leads

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

Why We’re Failing to Sell with Engagement
For years now, we’ve been rising each morning, downing our coffee and suffering through questions like, “How do I know what to blog each day?” And the biggie, “How do I become engaging enough to produce leads and sales?”

Most of us are busy producing engaging content on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other social media. But in the end, even our most engaging blogs, YouTube videos and other forms of online publication fail to produce leads and sales. At best, sales are blindly attributed to content as part of a mass media branding success using fuzzy math. Why?

My on-going research confirms it: We’re failing to create sales engaging social media because we’re building content marketing on an outdated foundation. We’re clinging to mass media advertising ideas and values. Instead, we should be exploiting direct response marketing tactics.

“Marketers often come from two distinct backgrounds,” says best-selling author and IBM distinguished engineer Mike Moran.

“Brand marketers are the ones whose work you see on TV. They are all about branding, brand image, brand awareness—use whatever word you want—and their success has made Coca-Cola and many other consumer products into household names. Direct marketers are decidedly less sexy … constantly searching for the next idea that increases response. They are all about sales, and couldn’t care less about brand image as long as the cash register rings.”

Moran says engagement marketers with an interest in driving sales have much to learn from the practice of direct response marketing. Again, it’s not about influencing or leading thought, it’s about being a thought provoker.

How to Always Make the Sale
Why do so many of us pursue getting “liked” on Facebook or followed on Twitter? Because of this single idea: getting a lot of customers’ attention (reach) over and over (frequency) is enough to earn a sale … somehow, sometime. This is how advertising works.

Today’s best social sellers do not believe for a minute that exposure to engaging content will result in a sale. They have no faith that it will produce a lead. Rather, they believe in, and execute on, carefully mixing in calls-to-action. The content they create solves customers’ problems or vividly demonstrates (proves … think “infomercial”) compelling experiences relating to their service.

The best way to sell on Facebook is to solve customers’ problems (yes “for free”) in ways that earn trust and ultimately help them navigate their way toward your paid products and services. And by the way, I’m not saying attention or branding doesn’t matter. It does. I’m simply saying it’s not enough. Stopping at earning customers fleeting attention is a sure-fire losing strategy online.

I say avoid getting sucked into the profitless prosperity black hole by thinking in terms of direct response marketing when engaging with social media and content marketing. What do you think?

Generate Leads With Social Media by Provoking Thought, Not Leading It

Why is it so difficult to generate sales leads using social media? Probably because we’re all busy creating “quality content” (whatever that is!) rather than designing content to generate leads. At the risk of my wife divorcing me, I decided to take a year off and find out how businesses who actually are quietly succeeding with social media are doing it. A year’s worth of research confirmed my suspicions about the so-called “social media revolution” and revealed an exciting opportunity: A chance for more B-to-B and B-to-C marketers to generate tangible business leads and sales using tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs and video.

Why is it so difficult to generate sales leads using social media? Probably because we’re all busy creating “quality content” (whatever that is!) rather than designing content to generate leads. At the risk of my wife divorcing me, I decided to take a year off and find out how businesses who actually are quietly succeeding with social media are doing it. A year’s worth of research confirmed my suspicions about the so-called “social media revolution” and revealed an exciting opportunity: A chance for more B-to-B and B-to-C marketers to generate tangible business leads and sales using tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs and video.

The secret is now revealed: Selling with social media requires shifting the paradigm away from being thought leaders and toward being thought provokers.

These Brands Are Making Social Media Sell
My research revealed how people like Laura Messerschmitt of Intuit are convincing more and more customers to sign up for the Online Payroll product. I learned how investment and property management firm, Jones Lang LaSalle is generating tangible leads on seven-figure commercial real estate deals using YouTube. I discovered how Wisconsin’s AnchorBank and the Queensland Teachers’ Credit Union are increasing share of customers’ wallet and acquiring new customers at record pace.

This Is How They’re Doing it
What’s their secret? Turning friends, followers and content into sales, leads and subscribers means solving customers’ problems in ways that nurtures demand for larger solutions. These companies are helping customers gain clarity on complex problems and then leveraging that clarity. How? By answering questions in ways that make it increasingly rewarding for customers to take action, identify themselves as a lead.

Selling with social media demands brands become thought provokers, not just thought leaders.

Design to Sell, Become Addictive
Successful social sellers know: Engagement is not an outcome. It’s an opportunity to create response. But not by chance. Engagement must invite customers’ questions and respond to it in a deliberate way, as part of a social media-driven direct response marketing plan. This design gathers up customers’ itches (problems), scratches them (gives answers) in yet in incomplete ways. Holding back on providing the full solution is key.

The formula is incredibly close to the illegal narcotics trade. You give customers’ a sample providing momentary satisfaction, but not enough for the desire to be completely sated. In other words, here… have a little bit. You will feel something that you’ll enjoy but it won’t be enough, you’ll want to have more of it. In order to have more you’re going to have to talk to me—and you may even find yourself wanting to buy some from me!

Today’s true thought leaders are thought provokers. They are putting interesting, valuable, addictive thoughts “out there” in ways that prompt customers to ask for more, more often.

Take Action
Make social media sell. Ask yourself: are you giving customers a reason to talk to you on LinkedIn? Are your blogs so bold they provoke action? Does your content marketing strategy show customers ways to avoid risks they don’t yet know they have? Do your YouTube videos or white papers reveal hidden opportunity? Are your campaigns designed so that customers will contact you—so they your team can help them more clearly understand what you just provoked?

How to Know What to Blog—Always and Forever

How do I decide what to write about in my blog? What’s the right balance of “providing value” and my product/service? These are great questions and everyone is asking them. So here I am answering them. In doing so I’m demonstrating how I, myself, generate leads for my business. Sure, I’m about to provide you with value, but if this story is going to serve a business purpose I need to write it as part of a larger plan, a content marketing system designed to produce leads and sales.

How do I decide what to write about in my blog? What’s the right balance of “providing value” and my product/service? These are great questions and everyone is asking them. So here I am answering them. In doing so I’m demonstrating how I, myself, generate leads for my business. Sure, I’m about to provide you with value, but if this story is going to serve a business purpose I need to write it as part of a larger plan, a content marketing system designed to produce leads and sales.

And by the way, I like writing this stuff. I do it with pleasure and so can you, providing you take pride in serving your market.

Gotcha With the Headline
As you can see, my headline got your interest enough to earn your click. it was pithy, useful, unique and very specific to a pain you’re experiencing. So make sure your headlines on Twitter, your blogs—anywhere and everywhere—are the same.

The hands-down source for just about everything blogging is Brian Clark’s Copyblogger. At the end of this article I’ll give you a link to his Magnetic Headlines resource that will give you the practical knowledge, inspiration and motivation to write nothing but magnetic headlines.

It’s About the Problem, Not ‘Value’
Ok, so you’re still reading. Why? Probably because you think I have the cure for your pain. I effectively secured your attention and now am beginning to scratch an itch you have (your urge to find a better way to blog). Of course, I’ve also set your expectation and had better deliver! I’d better provide value.

My point is focus this: Focus on customers’ problems. It’s not about providing value. Providing value is a meaningless industry buzz term, folks. Functionally it’s a cop-out. Your success at lead-focused blogging (and keeping your sanity if not finding a bit of joy in your work) depends on addressing your customers’ problems in a systematic way.

The System
The best way to describe the system is this: Be an answer center for your customers. Good news! This is a familiar concept to many direct marketers. But those who aren’t traditionally “direct savvy” are getting in on the game too.

The idea of being an answer center for prospective and current customers isn’t new to Amanda Kinsella of Logan Services. It’s what this residential heating and air conditioning product and services company has been doing for many years offline—at home improvement shows, for instance.

What works in blogging is rooted in an old idea: trading answers to serious problems with customers for insight on their “state of need” as a way to nurture leads (not just relationships) to fruition. “Then we can be there when prospects need our products and services,” says Kinsella.

Think about it in terms of your business. Might you already be helping customers solve problems in ways that capture information on the prospect’s “state of need” in return? When you answer questions for customers do you ask them in ways that lead customers to asking more? This is the key.

The Purpose of ‘Providing Value’
Ms. Kinsella says hammering away at calls-to-action and constantly asking for the sale won’t work. Because it never has. It’s not very sociable. What will? A more traditional, familiar tactic: answering questions that are important to the prospect in ways that entice them to ask more.

That’s providing value, yes, but Logan Services always provides this information in return for insight on their prospect’s need—where they are in the purchase consideration process, for instance. These details always-always-always connect to a lead-nurturing process. That’s the purpose of providing value. Right? The trick is to answer questions in ways that prompt more questions.

One Simple Idea That Works
Put this idea of answering your customers most frequently asked questions (or FAQ’s) to work today. Make the questions your headlines and the answers your bait. Make the answers complete (valuable) but always leading to more questions.

Dangle a hook nearby (in the form of a call to action) for a “complete guide to” resource that requires email registration, for instance. But resist rolling into the office and asking, “How often should we post stories on our blog, and on what day is best to get re-tweeted?”

Be like Amanda. Ask a different question. “What problems do my customers need solved? What itches can I scratch for them today?”

“How can I measure the value of a blog subscriber? How much engagement on her blog or re-tweets on Twitter is needed to have a positive effect?” People like Amanda don’t know—and don’t care. Because they know it’s the wrong question.

Here’s that link to Copyblogger that I promised!

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part Two

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

Today, I’m wrapping up the list with even more tips and tricks to get the most out of your marketing efforts (and marketing budget!) this year.

7. Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. If PPC is new for you, then don’t start out with the big guys like Google or Yahoo, run your “test” campaign on smaller search engines such as Bing, as well as second-tier networks, such as Adbrite, Miva and Kanoodle. In addition, you must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

8. Free Teleseminars or Webinars. These are a great way to collect names for list building, then cross-sell to those names once they’re in your sales funnel. You can use services like FreeConferenceCall.com, where it’s a toll (not toll free) call. But in my experience, if the value proposition of the subject matter is strong, people will pay that nominal fee. Promote a free teleseminar or webinar to prospects (that is not your internal list). Remember, this is for lead generation. So your goal is to give away valuable information in exchange for an email address. You can have a ‘soft sell’ at the end of the call and follow up with an email blast within 24 hours. But the most important thing is getting that name, THEN bonding with them through your editorial.

9. Free Online classified ads. Using CraigsList or similar high traffic classified sites is a great way to sell a products or get leads. The trick is ad copy that is powerful and persuasive, as well as geo-targeting—picking the right location and category to run your ad in. Hint: think of your ideal audience. Ads are free, so why not test it out.

10. Reciprocal Ad Swaps. One of the best kept secrets in the industry: Some of your best resources will be your fellow publishers. This channel often gets overlooked by marketers who don’t give it the respect it deserves. In the work I do for my clients, I spend a good portion of my time researching publishers and websites in related, synergistic industries. I look for relevant connections between their publications (print and online) and list (subscribers). Let’s say I come across a natural health e-letter that has a list of readers similar in size to one of my clients, who is a supplement manufacturer. Since many of their audience share similar interests, cross-marketing each other products (or even lead gen efforts) can be mutually rewarding. Swapping ads will save you money on lead-generation initiatives. Since you won’t be paying for access to the other publisher’s list of subscribers, you can get new customers for free. The only “cost” is an opportunity cost—allowing the other publisher to access your own list. It’s a win-win situation. This technique also opens the door to potential joint-venture opportunities for revenue sharing (sales).

11. Guest Editorials and Editorial Contributions. Another popular favorite used in the publishing industry is editorial contributions. This is where you provide quality editorial (article, interview, Q&A) to a synergistic publication and in return get a byline and/or editorial note in your article. In addition to an editorial opportunity, this is a marketing opportunity. You see, within the byline or ed. note you can include author attribution plus a back-link to your site. Some ed. notes can even be advertorial in nature, linking to a promotional landing page. Relationship networking and cultivation come into play when coordinating these, as it’s usually someone in the editorial or marketing department that spearheads such arrangements. These are great for increasing exposure to other lists, which can be beneficial for increasing market share, bonding, sales and lead generation efforts.

12. Snail Mail. Direct mail is still a consumer favorite—and another good way to get your sales message out. It can be especially effective used in conjunction with another effort, such as an email campaign. Studies indicate that 70 percent of respondents prefer receiving correspondence via mail vs. email. As with any marketing medium, though, you can end up paying a lot between production costs, list rental costs, and mail shop/postage costs. The most costly direct mail packages are magalogs and tabloids (four-color mailers that look like magazines). However, 6 x 9 postcards, tri-fold self-mailers and simple sales letters are three low-cost ways of taking advantage of this channel. Note that copywriting, list selection and geo-targeting can be crucial for direct mail success, no matter which cost-effective mail format you pick. Although 100 percent ROI (return on investment) is what you should aim for, many direct mailers these days are content with 80 percent returns. This lower figure takes into consideration the lifetime value of the names that come in from this channel, because they are typically reliable buyers in the future and snail mail address are more solid—they don’t change as often as email addresses.

13. Print Ads. This is another channel that gets a raw deal. One reason is because it can be costly. To place an ad in a high-circulation magazine or newspaper, you could shell out serious money. But you don’t need a big budget to take advantage of print ads. If you don’t have deep pockets, consider targeted newspapers and periodicals. Let’s say you’re selling an investment report. Try using the Internet to research the wealthiest cities in America. Once you get that list, look online for local newspapers in those communities. These smaller newspapers hit your target audience and offer a much cheaper ad rate than some of the larger, broad-circulation publications. You end up getting quality rather than quantity. I once paid for an ad in a local newspaper in Aspen, CO, that had a flat rate of less than $500 for a half page ad. My ROI on this effort turned out to be more than 1,000 percent. Most important rule: Know your audience. That will determine placement and price.

7 Customer Survey Tips, or How to Know Your Customer For Increased Leads & Profits

Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you, one of the most important rules of thumb is “know thy customer” (KTC). For many years, I’ve found the best way to KTC is implementing periodic customer surveys, then creating a “customer profile” sheet. 

Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you, one of the most important rules of thumb is “know thy customer” (KTC).

Knowing who your customers are—not just on a superficial level, but also on a deeper level—is fundamental for business longevity. It can help your business with most any targeted marketing efforts such as social media marketing (communities with like-minded interests), direct mail and email list selection, copywriting, media buying, affiliate marketing and more. It can also help with bottom-line goals such as bonding, lead generation and sales.

For many years, I’ve found the best way to KTC is implementing periodic customer surveys, then creating a “customer profile” sheet. Ideally, you want to survey at least two times per year, especially after large attrition or list growth.

The profile sheet is important, as it’s a quick reference of your “Joe and Jane” customers, as well as your ideal ‘target’ lead. After all, your prospecting efforts should be a reflection of your current customer base.

But surprisingly enough, not every business knows how to effectively implement and data-mine its online surveys and the respective results.

Here are some quick tips to get the best performance from your customer surveys for business growth and retention:

1. Keep surveys easy and short. The ideal length should be no longer than 10 to 20 questions and questions should be easy to answer. That means thinking of typical questions and having pre-populated multiple choice answers that only need a mouse click.

2. Go 360. Questions should cover demographics, geographics and psychographics. Also, for potential joint venture or advertising opportunities, it’s smart to also ask some competitor and purchase-behavioral type questions.

3. Segmentation is key. Send at least two separate emails to your list. One survey to paying customers and one survey to non-paying customers (leads). It will help later to have these two segments separated when you review response results. If one segment is less responsive than another, you can isolate future “bonding” strategies.

4. Offer incentives. I like to offer free, immediate and easily accessible gifts for survey participation after completion of a survey. Once users submit their last response they are redirected to a download page to free reports or similar. People are taking time out of their schedule and should be “rewarded” accordingly.

5. Be creative with the email subject line. I’ve found that response is greater if the focus of the subject line is more on the reward, rather than the goal. Readers respond better to the mention of freebies and gifts (the “what’s in it for me”), than asking for survey completion. Survey subject lines are viewed as clinical and boring, thus glared over in the inbox.

6. Embrace online tools. Use an easy, cost-effective online survey, such as SurveyMonkey.com. There’s different options and price points, varying on need and robustness. But ideally, you’d want to be able to collect emails and tie responses down to the user (email) level.

7. Allow feedback. Always have an “other” field for open comments. People like to either vent or add praise, so don’t limit them with only having all multiple choice. I tend to make this option the last question.

If you’ve set up your survey correctly where you can drill down responses to the user (email) level, you can then created “buckets” (categories) of common themes. For example, buckets could be based on RFM (recency, frequency or monetary) or on other categories such as interests.

You can then use this information for database marketing efforts and send more personalized messages to your list by group (or “bucket”). This targeted marketing approach has been proven to increase open, click, response and conversion rates by more than double!

Not surveying your list is really doing a disservice. You are not really getting to know your customers; thereby, aren’t offering your best editorial or promotional messages, or creating the best products.

If you’re truly looking for better retention, more customer engagement, and increased sales or leads, then make the time to survey your list.

If you’ve never done this before, then you’re truly leaving money on the table, my friend.

An Online Lead Generation Chat With LeadsCon Founder

Jay Weintraub, founder of LeadsCon, a conference and expo focused on online lead generation, believes that online lead generation is alive and well — and getting stronger. That’s what he told me during the recent discussion we had about online lead generation, and he certainly ought to know: Following stints with Advertising.com and Oversee.net, Weintraub’s annual LeadsCon conferences have taken off since the first one was held in April 2008.

Jay Weintraub, founder of LeadsCon, a conference and expo focused on online lead generation, believes that online lead generation is alive and well — and getting stronger. That’s what he told me during the recent discussion we had about online lead generation, and he certainly ought to know: Following stints with Advertising.com and Oversee.net, Weintraub’s annual LeadsCon conferences have taken off since the first one was held in April 2008.

As he was preparing for LeadsCon’s third conference to be held next February in Las Vegas, I asked him about the state of the online lead generation industry. The following are highlights from our discussion:

Melissa Campanelli: How would you define online lead generation?
Jay Weintraub:
There are two distinct types of online lead generation. One type involves an expression of real-time interest by a consumer, whereby the consumer completes an online form about himself. Then, in real time or near real time, that information is in the hands of the buyer or the person who’s interested in using lead generation.

Another type involves prospecting and what people tend to also call demand generation. Here, I may sell high-end databases and I may want to purchase a large file of names of potential prospects. Then, I may follow up with them on the phone or via email. The folks I am contacting didn’t request that I contact them, but they’re part of a data set of people that fit my criteria.

These two online lead generation worlds are very different. Not one is better than the other. But it shows that the term “online lead generation” is very broad.

MC: What are some trends in the online lead generation space?
JW: I’ve seen an emergence of consumer-facing sites that offer great value but only get paid when some sort of action happens.

One example is a site called BillShrink.com, which I call “LowerMyBills.com 2.0.” The site, which compares gas prices, credit card offers and cell phone plans, and then directs consumers to buy the best plan for them, only gets paid on a performance basis. The company only gets commission when people sign up for plans they were directed to by BillShrink.com

Another example is Mint.com, which was recently purchased by software giant Intuit. This site, a provider of free online personal finance services, generates revenue by recommending personalized financial products to its users.

MC: What are some best practices for using online lead generation as a marketing technique?
JW: As dumb as it sounds, know if you’re a B-to-B or B-to-C company. Know who you want to go after. This will dictate very much which online generation techniques to use or which companies you’ll choose to work with.

Also, know your cost per acquisition. Look at what you spend today to acquire new customers, because you may very well not know, or, more likely, underestimate this cost. A referral from a buddy, for example, will most likely close at a high rate, while a lead from someone who doesn’t know you will most likely close at a lower rate. Knowing this information is prudent when trying to figure out how much to spend on online lead generation.

Also, be aware that every lead you have will not close and that it’s up to your lead provider to give you a valid lead. Finally, know what you’re going to do with your lead in advance of getting it, and be ready to follow up on it immediately.

Ed Ojdana at LeadsCon

If there truly is a rock star in the world of online lead generation, it is Ed Ojdana.

If there truly is a rock star in the world of online lead generation, it is Ed Ojdana.

Ojdana recently retired as global president of Experian Consumer Direct, a division that was created in 2002 to focus on the consumer credit management market. Experian Consumer Direct combined the operations of CreditExpert, Experian’s consumer credit management group, and ConsumerInfo.com (also known as FreeCreditReport.com), the largest provider of online credit reports and other credit-related information to consumers. Ojdana founded ConsumerInfo in 1995.

At LeadsCon, Ojdana spoke with Jordan Rohan, founder of Clearmeadow Partners, an investment firm that focuses on the Internet space. Previous to founding Clearmeadow, Rohan served as managing director and Internet analyst for RBC Capital Markets.

The two discussed trends in lead generation.

“Going forward, we are going to have to start tying more content to lead generation,” said Ojdana. “The landing page will have to have something more there than just an offer to buy a product or service. People today are looking for information.”

While Rohan thought Ojdana’s point was a good one, he wondered aloud whether or not there is a need for a “full-frontal” approach, where visitors click on a landing page with an offer they can buy immediately.

While Ojdana said there is a time and place for that kind of lead generation, the content play usually leads to better leads.

“If you’d like to just have folks buy an item on a one-time basis, that would work,” he said. “But the key to content is [how it can help build] lifetime value with the consumer, as opposed to the consumer signing up for something on an impulse.”

Rohan asked Ojdana to discuss other things a lead generator should do to generate quality leads.

Ojdana spoke of the importance of good segmentation.

“To do a good job of that, go back to your advertisers and really find out who their customers are,” he said. “ If you are [targeting ads to] a school, and 90 percent of the people who are converting are Hispanic, that means you have to get up there on some Hispanic sites, as opposed to blasting [ads] all over the place.”

He also said that lead generators should “live and die for analytics.”

All true words, indeed.