How to Integrate AI Tech Into Each Step of the Customer Journey

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

The Customer Lifecycle. The Sales Funnel. The Buyer’s Journey. All of these phrases are similar expressions of the same thing. They’re used to describe the process that it takes for a visitor to become a customer.

While the models and names of stages may have changed through the years, many agree that it can be boiled down to four simple components:

Awareness > Consideration > Decision > Loyalty

The No. 1 goal for most businesses is to generate more conversions (which primarily consists of sales). This can be through their marketing efforts, sales tactics, brand communication, conversion rate optimization, and other methods. Of late, many companies have developed critical competencies in using AI to nudge customers towards sales, and have improved their numbers drastically as a result.

AI, machine learning, and big data technology can all work hand-in-hand to improve the customer experience and support an optimized customer journey, which leads to more conversions in several key ways.

Let’s talk about how you can start using AI tech in each stage of the funnel.

Awareness

Marketing strategies these days are often heavily focused on the top of the funnel to build brand awareness and attract new customers. For many businesses, recognition is nearly equivalent to the value of their brand. Elena Veselinova and Marija Gogova Samonikov explain in their book Building Brand Equity and Consumer Trust Through Radical Transparency Practices that brand impact is a continuous process that insures purchases, cash flow, revenue and share value. Brand communication and experience creates and builds a loyal base of customers that do not consider any other brand.

Creating a strong level of brand awareness takes time and strategy. Companies spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns and advertising to increase their reach and recognition, but AI tech is able to take the guesswork out of these strategies by analyzing huge volumes of consumer data for more targeted campaigns. For example, predictive analytics software can collect, track, and analyze datasets from past customers to determine which strategies or tactics performed well. These datasets are turned into reports with insights to guide marketing efforts and place relevant content in front of the most interested eyes at the right times.

With AI-assisted marketing, advertising strategies can be backed with data to optimize ad placement. Machine learning systems can even identify the best influencers for brands to partner with in order to reach relevant audiences and grow brand familiarity.

Credit: Venturebeat.com

Consideration

The next step of the buyer’s journey is often overlooked by marketers because it can drag on for a long time, depending on the product and the customer’s needs. During the consideration phase, a customer is already familiar with a brand or product but are unsure of whether or not to actually purchase. Customers will typically research the product’s reviews, compare prices to competitors, and look for alternatives during this stage. Due to this, the number of potential customers tends to narrow down considerably as they move from this step to the decision phase.

Brands must work to combat each customer’s concerns and questions standing in the way of a purchase decision. One of the best ways to do this is by offering personalized content that is relevant to each person, making it easy for them to find the information they are seeking.

AI systems can be used to predict a customer’s needs based on consumer data and previous online behavior, and then encourage conversions with a tailored UX or even a completely customized landing page that displays content relevant to that customer.

For example, if a site visitor has viewed a certain product page and played a video demonstrating its features, these actions can trigger an AI system to target them with personalized content that prompts a conversion if they don’t proceed to buy immediately. This content could be something as simple as an email message with more information or a display ad with a special offer for the specific product.

Credit: Personyze.com

Then there are platforms that use conversational AI tech (such as chatbots and voice assistants) to power automated, text- or audio-based interactions between a business and its customers. These platforms can understand speech, decipher intent, differentiate between languages, and mimic human conversations with great accuracy. Increasingly, they are advanced enough to even understand individual context and personalize the conversation accordingly.

Based on data insights, AI tech can curate content that matches up with the issues that are most important to that person, whether it be product features, immediate delivery, long term savings, etc. Customers respond quite well to personalized offers — an Accenture study reported that 91% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that sent them targeted deals or recommendations.

Decision

Once a customer moves from consideration to action, AI tools can be used to support a positive sales experience and eliminate any bumps along the way. If a customer encounters an issue while browsing the site, or during checkout or payment, it could be an instant sales killer, if it isn’t handled immediately by something like live chat.

According to multiple studies, one of the most frustrating parts about online customer service is long wait times. By using AI-enabled chatbots, companies can instantly answer common questions and resolve issues or roadblocks affecting the progression of the buyer’s journey. And customers certainly appreciate these quick response times. AI systems can significantly increase conversions with effective personalization and swift customer service.

Credit: AIMultiple.com

Loyalty

The last step of the customer journey is possibly the most valuable. Over half of customers reportedly stay loyal to brands that “get them.” Returning customers also tend to spend more money than new ones, and an oft-reported stat says that on average 65% of businesses’ revenue comes from existing customers.

Businesses (and customers) can benefit greatly from loyalty programs that are backed with machine learning technology. Starbucks famously uses AI tech to analyze customer behavior, improve convenience, and identify which promotions would perform best based on that person’s drink or food preferences, location, and purchase frequency. Their loyalty program uses this data to send out thousands of offers each day for the products their customers are most likely to buy. Their customer loyalty program grew 16% YoY last year as a direct result of their Deep Brew AI engine.

Credit: Starbucks app

While a positive shopping experience and great products are certainly important factors in a customer’s decision to buy again, data-driven marketing campaigns that encourage loyalty can also help a company to grow their numbers of repeat sales. Again, AI-assisted personalization techniques can boost the chances of a customer coming back for more, especially if they receive targeted offers or shopping suggestions based on previous interactions.

Credit: Accenture.com

The Wrap

AI is proving to be the tool of the future for marketers. It allows marketing teams to use predictive insights and analytical data to encourage and assist every micro-decision taken by consumers. AI systems not only help customers move along the buyer’s journey, they can also provide a more meaningful experience along the way, leading to more conversions and brand loyalty down the road.

4 Mistakes Multichannel Marketers Make and Lose Customers

Most businesses today understand the importance of multichannel marketing. They invest in SEO, PPC, social media, and even trade shows and conferences. However, if your hard-fought marketing budget is not able to increase your customer base or pool of prospects consistently, then you can be sure your funnel has developed a few holes in the wrong places.

Most businesses today understand the importance of multichannel marketing. They invest in SEO, PPC, social media, and even trade shows and conferences. However, if your hard-fought marketing budget is not able to increase your customer base or pool of prospects consistently, then you can be sure your funnel has developed a few holes in the wrong places.

Unfortunately, both B2B and B2C businesses are guilty of making sales-killing mistakes again and again; oftentimes, putting off customers without realizing it. These simple blunders could cost your business big-time, hurting growth opportunities and diminishing returns from existing customers.

Here are four pitfalls you should be wary of while implementing an integrated, omnichannel marketing strategy, so that you don’t lose any targeting opportunities. All of these tips apply to the technology, methods, and tactics that are currently used by entrepreneurs, companies, and marketers, cutting across industries and geographies.

Preferring Safe Over Sorry

Taking risks is a big part of running a business, and something that many entrepreneurs are used to. However, once they start experiencing success and growth, many begin to shy away from taking chances.

In the long run, many business owners admit that playing it safe was one of their biggest mistakes. In terms of marketing and sales, going the safe route can actually hurt your brand. Why? Because it is simply boring.

According to a study by Adobe, 54% of marketing experts know that they should be taking more risks, and an alarming 82% of companies believe that they need to reinvent their branding in order to succeed. Remember, your customers’ needs and mindsets are constantly changing. If you rely on the same tactics, the same advertisements, and the same marketing messages, people will eventually get bored and your results will diminish.

multichannel graphic
Credit: Adobe on SlideShare.com

Reassess the methods and tools you use for audience analysis, and take a look at how the demographics have shifted over the years. Compare your past results with your current numbers to see if there are any noticeable differences. It may be time to take some risks, try something new, and see what happens.

Relying on Imperfect Bots

Saving on customer support by passing on the majority of your customer service workload to an automated chatbot system sounds like a dream come true. If used correctly, these bots answer customer inquiries, resolve issues, and even make sales. This is why the AI-powered chatbot has exploded in recent years, with 15% of consumers reporting that they have used one to communicate with businesses over the past year, according to Drift’s 2018 “State of Chatbots” report. (Opens as a PDF)

However, just because this customer service channel may be working for some businesses, it does not mean that it is a one-size-fits-all solution. When creating a chatbot, the overarching goal is to solve the cognitive puzzle that fills in the gaps between a bot conversation and a human conversation. When a conversation is initiated, in any capacity, there is an exchange of data that sheds light on emotional engagement between the two parties. Take away the emotional exchange, and empathy is unachievable.

Programming an online bot to handle all sorts of customer queries and interpret exactly what someone is looking for does require a bit of technical knowledge and understanding, despite what off-the-shelf chatbot sellers will have you believe. A poorly programmed chatbot could easily result in lost revenue.

Just one bad or frustrating experience with a chatbot will likely push away 73% of customers forever. If a bot is simply not answering their question or simply offering irrelevant information, then it is doing your business far more harm than good.

multichannel chatbot
Credit: SherpaDesk.com

In order to determine whether or not your chatbots could use some help, take a look at some important metrics. Has your sales cycle lengthened? Are fewer leads moving down the buyer’s funnel? Are you facing an increase in helpdesk escalations, despite an improvement in response times? An effective sales bot should be boosting conversions — or at least micro-conversions — so if numbers are shrinking, that’s a definite red flag.

You can also try adding a short satisfaction survey at the end of each chatbot conversation to gather some customer feedback and help identify any weak points that are killing the customer experience.

Ignoring the Micro-Influencer

It seems like everyone and their grandmother is “leveraging” influencer marketing these days, trying to reach the promised (read, purported) 11-times ROI of other digital marketing methods. It is easy to get blinded by the numbers; especially in terms of “reach” and “engagement.” Just because an influencer has a huge following doesn’t necessarily mean that their promotion will help your business.

Micro-influencers (accounts with 100,000 followers or fewer) actually perform better, in terms of audience engagement and actual “influence” — purchase rates. In fact, these smaller accounts generate over six times more engagement than influencers with massive followings. Customers are also more likely to buy a product that is recommended by a micro-influencer than they are to purchase something recommended by a person they know. Additionally, the cost per lead and cost per acquisition is lower than paid ads and regular influencer marketing.

multichannel chart
Credit: Mavrck.com

If your brand has dabbled with big-name influencers in the past, it may be time to consider a partnership with a micro-influencer to reach more relevant audiences. Because these accounts have smaller followings, they tend to be niche-focused, meaning that their content is highly pertinent to their audience’s needs and interests.

Obsessing Over Any One Stage of the Sales Funnel

Marketers love to talk about the importance of the sales funnel and creating marketing plans designed to “nudge” customers through it. While the sales funnel is definitely a great blueprint to guide your strategies, getting caught up in any one phase could spell disaster for conversions.

Remember, every visitor, prospect, lead, or target must go through several steps, go back, forward, and run around in circles before they become a full-fledged customer. They must be introduced to your brand during the awareness stage, learn more about your business and products during the interaction phase, get interested and place their trust in you, and ultimately make and stick to a decision to buy from you.

However, many marketing teams tend to forget this trajectory and get caught up in either building brand awareness so potential customers grow bored, or spend too much time promoting sales jargon that people totally disengage, due to advertising fatigue. If your customers are unfamiliar with your business (thanks to a lack of top-of-the-funnel marketing), the pressure to “Buy Now” will be ineffective.

Keep in mind, it might take up to 13 interactions with a brand before a lead can even be classified as a sales-qualified lead (SQL). Focusing on any one section of the sales journey can narrow the funnel significantly, meaning that fewer people flow through.

Focus a good chunk of your efforts on educating and raising brand awareness. Once people start tuning in, give them more specific information about your content and everything you offer. As you gain serious interest, then it’s time to start talking about price points, deals, and how potential customers can take proper action.

Most importantly, you need to place emphasis on the transitions between stages. They need to be smooth and organic if you want your sales funnel to function properly.

Fix Your Strategy, Fix Your Sales

Selling is an art form that no one has truly perfected. There are so many ins and outs, little details, and psychological factors that play into it — making it a deeply complex and ever-evolving practice. Online sales add another layer of complication by removing that up-close and personal factor. However, once you’ve plugged the leaks in your sales funnel, you’ll see a larger number of customers coming in and coming back. Good luck!

7 Outrageous Lead Management Errors and How to Fix Them

In last month’s blog post we introduced the five core marketing processes essential to effective and efficient marketing operations. This month we will delve into the first, and most important of these processes, the lead management process.

Stop LightIn last month’s blog post, we introduced the five core marketing processes essential to effective and efficient marketing operations. This month we will delve into the first, and most important of these processes, the lead management process.

I believe it is the most important because, if poorly designed and executed, marketing cannot accurately determine how many quality leads it is passing to the sales channels, and how much influence its activities are having on revenue. What could be more important than that?

List of Ingredients for an Effective Lead Management Process

The lead management process outlines the steps for tracking and reporting on leads as they are created and move through a funnel. During this process leads become qualified or disqualified, and eventually pass on to a lead development team and finally onto sales or channel partners.

A typical lead management process includes the following six components:

  • Definition of a sales ready lead
  • Definition of the various lead statuses in the CRM defined funnel
  • Design of the lead processing, routing, and related notifications
  • Design of the lead scoring algorithm
  • Development and agreement on a service level agreement (SLA) between sales and marketing
  • Establishment of funnel metrics

In the process of adding more detail behind each of these, I will include examples of these 7 egregious errors in each, and how to avoid them.

  1. Failure to involve sales in defining a sales ready lead
  2. Failure to add lead status values for purchased list imports
  3. Inclusion of call dispositions as lead status values
  4. Failing to create and use a contact status field
  5. Failing to periodically review and refresh the lead scoring algorithm
  6. Failure to measure and enforce the sales and marketing SLA
  7. Funnel metrics that fail to account for unusual lead flow patterns

Definition of a Sales Ready Lead

Simply put, if you are in demand generation, your output is largely sales ready leads that have the potential to become opportunities for the sales channel. As such, you absolutely require an agreement between sales and marketing as to what constitutes a sales ready lead. And the error too many firms make is allowing marketing to decide what constitutes a sales ready lead all by themselves.

The result is that junk leads from events and the website are tossed over the fence to sales, who quickly recognize them for what they are, and learn to ignore leads from marketing.

It is very important to get sales people and sales management in the room with marketing and knock out a definition that both can live with. Marketing may not be able to get the B.A.N.T. criteria (budget, authority, need, time frame) without the help of lead development reps (LDRs). So what info can marketing solicit through forms, data appending, firmagraphics and observed behavioral data? What info does a LDR have to add? All of this info will inform the lead scoring algorithm discussed below.

Definition of Lead Statuses

Ah yes, you might think this one is easy, take the standard set of values including Inquiry, MQL, SAL, SQL, and Disqualified, and we’re done … right? Wrong. There are a couple of errors here that I see too often.

Better Together: Pair Google Analytics With Google AdWords for Stronger Campaigns

If you have not yet linked your AdWords campaign with Google Analytics, you are missing out on some much deeper tracking possibilities that can ultimately help you build a stronger campaign. Here are a few things you can do with Google Analytics.

If you have had a Google AdWords campaign up and running for a while, you are probably already familiar with the various AdWords tracking tools. With a simple bit of code, you can track every conversion that takes place on a particular “thank you” or receipt page. You can also import offline conversions, which are a bit more complicated to set up, but very much worth the effort. If you have not yet linked your AdWords campaign with Google Analytics, however, you are missing out on some much deeper tracking possibilities that can ultimately help you build a stronger campaign. Here are a few things you can do with Google Analytics.

User Behavior Tracking
Google AdWords lets you track conversions. However, it doesn’t give you much insight about the visitors who did not convert. Learning more about their behavior on your site can help you identify areas that you can improve, ultimately increasing your conversion rate.

For example, Google Analytics will tell you how many pages the prospect visited, the amount of time they spent on your website, and whether or not they immediately bounced away. In other words, you can track the user behavior of your AdWords traffic to see what those prospects are doing.

Think of AdWords conversion tracking like a light switch. It’s either on or off. You either have conversions or don’t. And when you don’t, then excuse the pun, but you’re in the dark about why the AdWords visitors are not converting. This is why Google Analytics is such a great tool to add as you analyze your advertising performance.

E-commerce and Funnel Tracking
Google Analytics allows you to go deeper than Google AdWords conversion tracking does. If you sell products online, you can use Google Analytics’ e-commerce tracking to monitor specific information about product revenues, transaction details, and length of time from initial interest through completed sale.

Multichannel funnels in Google Analytics allow you to see each incremental step that buyers go through on their way to a completed sale. For example, your AdWords campaign may be driving 100 sales per month, but your AdWords reports do not tell you if those customers interacted with any other marketing campaign. By using the Multichannel funnels reports, you’ll see if organic search, referrals, email marketing, or another channel is playing an important role in your AdWords conversions.

Prospect Segmentation and Retargeting
Retargeting, or displaying your ads to prospects who have recently visited your site, is an important part of a solid Google AdWords strategy. Google Analytics can streamline this process for you by automatically segmenting your visitors and creating lists of people who are likely to buy. If you prefer to create your own segmented lists manually, Google Analytics helps you drill down to find your prospects’ demographics, location and online interests.

Split Testing Landing Pages
Success with AdWords advertising is not just about correctly setting up and optimizing your campaigns within Google AdWords. You must also properly setup and optimize your landing pages to maximize your sales. That means split testing your landing pages to find the best copy and layout for your target market.

Luckily, Google Analytics provides a simple and free tool called “Experiments” to split test your landing pages. By using Experiments within Google Analytics you can test two different landing pages to see which one converts more visitors into sales.

Layer New Dimensions onto Reports
The power of the Google Analytics and Google AdWords pairing is even more evident when you run reports within Google Analytics. For example, you can review ad performance for per ad placement on the page, mobile user behavior per keyword, and many other reports to learn more about your ads performance.

Of course, these techniques are just the tip of the iceberg. Both Google AdWords and Google Analytics provide strong, dynamic tools for monitoring your website and ad campaigns. When paired together, they allow you to sift through the data in whole new ways. Think outside the box, play around with the tools, and find your own preferred tracking combinations.

Hottest 2014 Marketing Tip for Small Business? Put Aside a Budget!

Over 50 percent of the working population (120 million) work in a small business, and that trend is growing. According to the SBA definition, there were nearly 28 million small businesses in 2013, and 6 million of those had employees beyond just the owner

Over 50 percent of the working population (120 million) work in a small business, and that trend is growing. According to the SBA definition, there were nearly 28 million small businesses in 2013, and 6 million of those had employees beyond just the owner.

Judging from the number of small business attendees at webinars, online and at events and conferences on how to grow your business, they’re craving solid marketing advice. But unfortunately, it seems no one told them that marketing takes time, costs money (more than you’d think!), and doesn’t pay out instantly.

So I dedicate this blog post to all the small business owners out there who want some solid marketing advice—for free. Here are eight marketing tips that every business, no matter what size, should take to heart:

  1. Create a Clear USP
    This is the secret sauce missing for many companies—your Unique Selling Proposition. What makes your business different from the next guy’s? Why should I do business with you at all? If you’re a dry cleaner, it’s all about location and ease of access (including parking). But if you’re an accountant, how do you distinguish yourself from every other accountant? Are you more current on tax codes? Are you faster and therefore more efficient on the preparation of my tax return? Think about why you started your business in the first place and what makes your customers loyal—those can be good foundations for a marketing platform.
  2. Build and Maintain a User-Friendly Website
    Your website is the face of your business, and too often there hasn’t been enough time, effort or thought given to this critical calling card. Broken links, typos, lengthy copy that rambles on and on (without a point), too many navigation options, poor design choices (tiny type, or worse, tiny type reversed on a dark background) are all the hallmarks of a bad first impression.
  3. Create Marketing Solutions Based on the Business Problem You’re Trying to Solve.
    There’s too much emphasis these days on generating new leads. Take a look at your existing customer base—is there an opportunity to sell them more product or additional services? Examine your sales funnel—where’s the drop-off point? Why do people start a dialogue with you and then discontinue? I worked with one company recently who focused their entire effort on “new lead” volume, but after auditing their sales funnel discovered they weren’t adequately following up with leads after a key decision-making point in the conversion process. Once we adjusted that process, they doubled their sales (even though they maintained their lead level).
  4. Smart Marketing Costs Money
    Many smaller businesses hire a marketing person and expect them to understand marketing strategy, planning, art direction, copywriting, HTML, SEO, SEM, printing techniques, database design and management, analysis, web design, and email blasting. But the reality is, most marketers at this level are simply good project managers. As a result, the creative work is unsophisticated and the strategy non-existent. Different aspects of marketing should be handled by different professionals—I have yet to meet that “jack-of-all-trades” who is also “master-of-all-trades.”
  5. Respect Marketing Professionals
    If you do hire help, fight the urge to ask your friends and neighbors to review/assess the marketing advice/creative recommendations you’ve received. If you’ve spent the time and energy to vet professional help before you hired them, then trust them do their job. If they know what they’re doing, they should be able to develop a strategy (which you approve) and work with other professionals to develop the media and creative to support that strategy (with rationale). You don’t need to rewrite headlines, make color change recommendations or choose your favorite font. That results in bad, disjointed work … period.
  6. Social Media Is Not the Answer
    While there’s plenty of good that can come from social media marketing, it’s highly unlikely that it will keep your business thriving by itself. You can spent a lot of energy generating Facebook “likes” which result in $0 sales. Instead, think about your target audience and their media consumption habits. Then, as the cliché goes, fish where the fish are. And yes, that means spending some money.

So here’s the big “AHA!” that’s missing in most marketing efforts: It’s called a marketing budget.

Want folks to find your website? That means your site needs to be optimized for Search (SEO)—and you need to some money on key words, banner ads, etc. Think about the role that Yelp might play in your business and consider an ad campaign on Yelp.

Just because you build a business doesn’t mean they will come. It will take time—and money—to drive traffic to your doorstep. Visiting your website is only half the battle, so you’d better be diligent about figuring out how to convert that traffic into buyers or all the effort you’ve spent to drive them there will be wasted.

Collaborating With Sales for Sales

I presented the Bottoms-Up Marketing webinar a couple weeks ago, and following the event found the same question had been submitted by a number of attendees. The question? How does a marketer get sales to follow up with leads? I came away feeling I had done a poor job of helping the audience to understand, it’s not

I presented the Bottoms-Up Marketing webinar a couple weeks ago, and following the event found the same question had been submitted by a number of attendees. The question? How does a marketer get sales to follow up with leads? I came away feeling I had done a poor job of helping the audience to understand, it’s not, “how do you get sales to do what you want?” it’s “how do you give sales something they want to work with?”

The premise of bottom-up marketing is that we marketers are only half the equation. Yes, our skills and expertise are critical to the campaign design and architecting process. But for the sales funnel requiring a closer, we must turn to the experience of our sales and CSR teams to understand the traditional process our business has used to convert leads to customers.

When a marketer asks the question, “How do I make sales do their job?” I immediately know this is an organization where marketing and closers are firmly pitted against one another and conversations and collaboration are a thing of the past—if they ever were. It’s a terrible question and says much about how you see yourself and your department in the sales funnel. If this is you, prepare yourself for a chewing out.

Resolution of discourse comes only where there is conversation and compromise.

Identifying prospects and warming leads without the input of the very people who close those leads is like writing a script without considering the audience. Oh sure, you can do it, but how many people from your audience will buy a ticket to your next event if you write only for yourself?

We marketers know better than to act as an audience (focus group) of one. Our job is to develop content for our mass audience. The people within our business with the best understanding of our audience is the closing team. Our closers, be that sales, CSRs, or another department, has a front-row seat to what our customers need, want, and require, and you would do well to pay attention.

Stop wondering how you can manipulate your sales team and start involving them.

At the very beginning—when you are brainstorming your next campaign—start at the bottom of the sales funnel by meeting with your closers to get their insight on crafting a digitized version of their warming process. You will not be able to duplicate all of their functions—and as they are people who bring unique personalities to the closing process, you shouldn’t try—but ask your sales team about resources and processes and contribute where you can. Move the easy rocks—use nurture emails to provide instantaneous responses for form completions while setting the stage for a sales call, provide links to videos, enroll them in a demo—do the rote work that capitalizes on your automated-campaign processes.

Our closers excel in so many areas we marketers guess, struggle, test and analyze—all in a never-ending effort to learn more about:

  • Finding prospects
  • Distilling prospects to leads
  • Determining which leads are qualified leads
  • Nurturing leads through the sales funnel
  • Converting leads to customers

Take the short cut. Your closers already have a great deal of this insight and are usually willing to impart at least some of it to you.

Look at it from their point of view: If you were in sales and the marketing department was delivering you qualified/hot leads, wouldn’t you rather process those than start anew with a cold call? Of course you would. So do they.

So how do you make the closers do their job and close the sales you give them? Invite them to participate—from the bottom up.

My 9 Insider Tips to Build Your Email List For Low or No Cost!

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel. 

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel.

A popular business model by many online publishers is to bring in leads at the “free” level (i.e. report, e-newsletter, webinar, white paper, etc.), add those names to their house list and typically over the course of 30 to 90 days (the bonding time) that lead will convert into a paying customer. This practice is known as lead generation, name collection or list-building efforts.

Today, I’m going to share with you some proven online marketing methods I’ve used and had great success with at some of the top publishers in America. And bonus … many of these tactics are low- or no-cost. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Power eAcquisition Polls. In my last blog post, I wrote about using polls for lead generation. Incorporating a poll on your website or having a poll on another site is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field, which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and a free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

Teleseminars or Webinars. This is a great way to collect qualified names. Promote a free, relevant and value-oriented teleseminar or webinar to targeted prospects. You can promote it through several organic (free) tactics, such as LinkedIn Groups/Events, Facebook Events, Twitter, online press releases, affiliate marketing/joint ventures. Remember, this is for lead generation, not bonding. So your goal is to cast a wide net outside of your existing list, create visibility and get new names. Your value proposition should be actionable, relevant information that your target audience would find useful and worth giving their email address for. The trick is to promote the event in as many places as possible without incurring advertising costs; then your only costs may be the set up of the conference call (multiple lines, 800#) or webinar platform. And, in case you were wondering, I have been involved with teleseminars with non-toll-free numbers and response rates were not greatly impacted.

Co-registration. Co-Reg is another way to collect names, but involves a nominal fee. Co-Reg is when you place a small ad on another publisher’s site after some sort of transaction (albeit a sales or lead-gen offer). So, for instance, after someone signs up to the AOL Travel eNewsletter, a Thank You page comes up with a list of sponsors the reader may find interesting, as well—other free e-newsletter offers. The text ad is usually accompanied by a small graphic image representing the sponsor. The key here is to pick publishers and Co-Reg placements that are synergistic to your own publication and offer. Another important note is to make sure you follow up quickly to these names so they don’t forget who you are and go cold quite fast. I suggest a dedicated auto responder series for bonding and monetization. Co-Reg efforts can cost you around $1 to $3 per valid email address.

Frienemy Marketing. This includes JVs (joint ventures), affiliate marketing, guest editorials, editorial contributions and reciprocal ad swaps (for leads generation or revenue sharing). This tactic is extremely effective and cost-efficient. The key here is having some kind of leverage, then approaching publishers who may want your content or a cross-marketing opportunity to your current list (note: This only works if you have a list of decent size that another publisher will find attractive). In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists, thereby sending a message to a targeted, relevant list for free. Well, if you agree on a rev share, it’s free as far as ad costs, but you are giving that publisher a split of your net revenues.

SONAR Marketing. I’ve written about this many times, but can’t stress it enough. Content is king and you can leverage it via what I call “SONAR.” It’s an organic (free) online strategy that works with the search engines. It’s a comprehensive method of repurposing, reusing, distributing and synchronizing the release of relevant, original content (albeit text, audio, video) to targeted online channels based on your audience. SONAR represents the following online distribution platforms:

S Syndicate partners, content syndication networks and user-generated content sites
O Online press releases
N Network (social) communities
A Article directories
R Relevant posts to blogs, forums and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM) and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.

Search Engine Marketing. It’s a shame more marketers don’t see the value of SEO or SEM. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords and relevant, keyword-dense content, you need to make sure you have revised your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to your home page (and it’s static on all your subpages), relevant banners and obvious links to e-comm webpages. You don’t want to miss a single opportunity to turn traffic into leads or sales.

Smart Media Buying. To complement your free online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog ads or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. High-traffic blogs are a high-performing, low-cost way to test new creatives. I like BlogAds.com network and you can buy placements a la carte and search by genre.

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. 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.

Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have a content syndication blurb in your newsletter; this also encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish and share your content, as long as they give you author attribution and a back-link to your site (which helps in SEM).

The following, in my personal experience, doesn’t work for quality list building …

Sweepstakes and Giveaways. You’ve seen the offers: Win a free TV, iPhone or similar in exchange for your email address. This gets the volume, but the leads are usually poor quality or unqualified (irrelevant). The numbers may look good on the front end, but when you dig deeper, your list is likely compromised with deliverability issues (high bounce rates), inactives and bad emails. This is because the leads are not targeted. The offer wasn’t targeted or synergistic with the company. With lead generation efforts, it should be quality over quantity.

Email appends. According to Wikipedia, email appending, also known as e-appending, is a marketing practice that involves taking known customer data (first name, last name and postal address) and matching it against a vendor’s database to obtain email addresses. The purpose is to grow one’s email subscriber list with the intent of sending customers information via email instead of through traditional direct “snail” mail. The problem with this, in my direct experience, is that on the front end your list initially grows, but these names are not typically qualified or interested. At one company where I worked, we tracked a group of email append cohorts over the course of a year to see what percent would “convert” to a paying customer. Nearly 75 percent of the names dropped off the file during that year and never even converted. Email appending is a controversial tactic, with critics claiming that sending email to people who never explicitly opted-in is against best practices. In my opinion, it’s a waste of time and money.

Disengage: Create Response (and Sales) With Content Marketing

Does your content marketing create reaction beyond sharing? When using LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs, creating response is critical to netting B-to-B leads and sales. The key to success is getting your target market to take action—moving them off of social media. At some point you’ve got to disengage and get the inbound in the term inbound marketing going!

Does your content marketing create reaction beyond sharing? When using LinkedIn, Facebook and blogs, creating response is critical to netting B-to-B leads and sales. The key to success is getting your target market to take action—moving them off of social media.

At some point you’ve got to disengage and get the inbound in the term inbound marketing going!

Many inbound marketing experts claim being engaging within LinkedIn groups or telling compelling stories on your blog will help you net generate more leads and sales. It’s simply not very effective. In fact, most content marketing plans fail because popular wisdom the practice is fatally flawed.

Before you can net a lead, you’ve got to create confidence in potential buyers with social media. This is an exciting, effective, new way to generate business leads with social media. But where to start?

How can you start creating response-right now-without investing more time in what you’re already doing?

How to Create Response-Now!
If telling compelling, transparent, authentic stories about your brand won’t help you make sales what are you to do? Trash the idea totally? Never. All that’s needed is this to make those remarkable stories you’re telling actionable.

You’ve got to give prospects a compelling reason to ask for more content in exchange for qualitative information about them. Because when they do that they become part of your sales funnel.

I know it’s fashionable to say marketers are publishers but the truth is you’re not in the publishing business at all. You’re in the response business. Not the reaction business (ie. getting shared) but the response business (getting leads).

The success formula is quite simple.

Step 1: Create content that solves a problem.
Step 2: Locate and/or attract qualified discussions.
Step 3: Lure prospects into taking an action that connects to your sales funnel.

Create the Honey: Useful Content
Pick an itch your customer has and scratch it with blog, video or some other form of content. Solve a common problem that relates to the end goal your customer is pursuing, for instance. Whether you’re a service or product marketer, this is the best content for blogs or any B-to-B content marketing vehicle you publish.

In my case, I published a handful of stories and audio interviews on my site featuring a niche subject matter expert. My guest told readers/listeners how to take action on a burning problem-one that related to a specific solution I sell.

The idea is to use content to give confidence to buyers. The trick is to do it in ways that increase their ability to feel emotionally grounded and intellectually stronger-fully equipped to do what they want to do. Buy.

Attract the Bees
Next, simply locate and/or attract qualified “conversations” with prospects. You can hunt them down inside LinkedIn groups or blog in ways that attract search engine traffic based on questions (keywords) your prospects are asking.

In my case, I decided to begin using LinkedIn for sales prospecting. I spotted a discussion on a niche LinkedIn Group where I answered a question in a way that “brought to life” the specific valuable answers my guest expert was offering… but not in the usual way.

Provoke an Action
I did not link back to my content; rather, I quoted my expert’s best sound byte. He was honestly provocative because he shared a new perspective and unique remedy. It then became easy for me to invite my prospects to join me on a journey… one where they would receive more useful content if they opted-in.

Of course, this moved them toward (or away from) my solution.

Remember, in B-to-B marketing you’ve got to go beyond telling a good story. Start netting leads by creating content that is provocative-compelling enough to cause prospects to sign up for more content they’re craving. It can be a webinar, ebook, downloadable tip sheet, self-assessment or educational video series (like free sales training videos) that solves a common problem or addresses a popular fear or myth.

Good luck!