Steady flow. Qualified leads. Sales pipeline. If you’re a business owner, those three phrases are a major key to your success. They describe the essence of lead generation. It doesn’t matter what type of business you own or manage. Having a steady flow of qualified leads in your sales pipeline (or sales funnel) is much better than suddenly being inundated with too many requests for products or services that all need to be fulfilled immediately. That concept applies to both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) companies.
For example, in the B2C arena, if you run a restaurant, a steady flow of hungry patrons throughout lunchtime is much preferred to having a mass of people walk in the door at noon. If you’re an online retailer, a steady flow of orders throughout the holiday season is much better than receiving an overwhelming glut of orders a couple of days before Christmas Eve. Both UPS and FedEx can verify the holiday headaches caused by that scenario.
If you operate a B2B company, a request for a proposal or quote (RFP or RFQ) is your bread and butter. However, a competitive response to an RFP/RFQ takes considerable time to put together. If too many requests arrive at the same time, your sales team will not be able to sufficiently respond to all of them by the deadlines.
So, what is an effective way to develop a long-term lead generation program? Let’s take a few moments to look at how you can create a steady flow of qualified leads through your sales pipeline.
Lead Generation Step 1: Create a Strategic Marketing Plan
The first and most important aspect of lead generation is to determine what a good lead looks like to you. But before you can determine that, you first need to figure out who you are and what benefits you bring into the marketplace. You can’t sell everything to everyone. You can’t even sell just one thing to everyone. You can only sell products and services to a select group of people who want or need the benefits of your offering. That means you need to create a strategic marketing plan that outlines those benefits and your advantage over the competition, as well as which target audience(s) is most likely to purchase them.
To acquire a better understanding of the process of developing a marketing plan, read this article: Three Critical Elements to an Effective Marketing Plan Process.
Now that you know the process you need to undertake to create your plan, take a few more minutes to learn about the five basic elements of the strategic marketing model: Strategic Marketing 101 for Sales Managers.
Lead Generation Step 2: Tactical Implementation
After your executive management team has developed a strategic marketing plan, it is up to the sales and marketing team to put the tactics within that plan into play. We understand that for some small companies and entrepreneurs, those teams may be the same person (you) or people, but that’s not the issue. The issue is developing marketing tools and day-to-day marketing activities that will effectively communicate your branding and sales message to your target audience.
Before you invest capital to develop your sales tools and devote time to daily marketing activities, you might want to have a better understanding of the seven stages of the buyer’s journey, from becoming aware of a need through actually making a purchase to solve a problem. To that end, we offer an online training course called The Buyer’s Journey: How to Take Prospects from Not Interested to Buying!.
The stages of the buyer’s journey somewhat correspond to the stages of your sales pipeline, which will contain prospects classified from warm leads to hot leads to buyers. The names applied to the stages of a sales pipeline or funnel can vary, as well as the number of stages in them, but they all describe the same lengthy process of converting a non-customer into a customer.
As prospects move from stage to stage in their personal buyer’s journey, they will likewise be moving through the various stages of your sales pipeline. The trick is to properly identify the stage each prospect is in and to deliver timely and personalized marketing communication messages that match a prospect’s mindset in each stage.
To create a steady and manageable flow of sales, rather than having too many or too few, your sales pipeline should eventually have an even distribution of prospects in each stage of the sales cycle. For a preview of the stages in the buyer’s journey, you can read this article: An Evaluation of MEMO’s Course: “The Buyer’s Journey”.
Some Marketing Tactics To Consider
It’s easy for us to state that you need to implement the tactics of your marketing plan to generate leads, but that does not really give you an idea of what it actually entails. So, here is a brief list, in alphabetical order, of some of the marketing tactics that will help reach and effectively communicate with your target markets:
- Blogging: Buyers want to know you are an expert in your field, so they can trust your products and services. Blogging helps to create a voice for your expertise. Learn more here.
- Case Study Creation: Buyers do not want to be guinea pigs. They want to be 100% confident your solution is a proven method of solving their problem. A case study is a great way to show a buyer that you have previous experience solving someone else’s problem that is just like their problem.
- Copy Writing: In today’s marketplace, you have very little time to capture a buyer’s attention and then deliver a meaningful message. Good copywriting is an essential part of marketing communications.
- Customer Relationship Management: Your lead generation efforts will encounter prospects at various stages of the buyer’s journey. After you convert prospects into customers, they will have have multiple needs during the course of that ongoing relationship. Keeping track of all of that information—and using it to your advantage—is critical to not losing the benefits of your past efforts and profiting from your future marketing activities.
- Customer / Secret Shopper Surveys: You cannot assume you know everything about what your customers think about your products or the quality of the service you provide. Your best guess about their feelings may not be accurate, so it is incumbent to find out the truth. Surveys and secret shopper campaigns help you dig below the surface to root out your misconceptions.
- Email Marketing: People are very protective of their email address, because email overload consumes precious time. If you have permission to send email to a prospect or customer, you have a valuable ability to communicate one-on-one, which is why segmented email marketing can be one of the most effective methods of delivering your marketing messages, especially to existing customers.
- Graphic Design: The importance of good design cannot be overstated. Poorly designed marketing materials will be rejected in a heartbeat, because they do not convey a sense of professionalism or trust.
- List Building: Perhaps the most essential element of your marketing efforts will be your list of prospects and customers (who are also your best prospects for additional sales).
- Market Research: Deep and broad knowledge about your prospects’ behavior patterns and trends in the marketplace will provide you with an advantage over your competition. Guessing is not sufficient when it comes to determining whether or not your products will sell in sufficient numbers to meet your sales goals.
- Public Relations: Good or bad PR can make or break your brand. Having a positive presence in important trade publications or news outlets can be worth its weight in gold. Properly responding to your audience is also a key to protecting the perception of your company, which is integral to your branding efforts.
- Sales Support Materials: Your sales team most likely will need collateral material, such as brochures, white papers, price lists, etc. Without the proper tools, your sales team will be left in the dust as your competitors steal your thunder.
- Social Media Posting / Management: To effectively reach your targeted prospects, you need to be where they are. These days, they are increasingly logged into social media sites. Be there or be square—yes, we said it. By the way, social media is very much an extension of your public relations, so understand that activity on social networks can also have a make or break affect on your brand. Learn more here.
- Website / SEO: Your website is basically today’s version of your business card, corporate brochure, and storefront window all rolled into one. To compete in the ever-increasing digitalization of the marketplace, you must have a website and it must be good (and mobile-friendly). Search engine optimization (SEO) is perhaps the best long-term investment you can make for generating self-qualified warm and hot leads. Learn more here.
The list above does not include quite a few other possible B2C and B2B marketing tactics to grow your list. It also does not mention advertising, which is a whole other multi-faceted discipline that is frequently more aligned with branding than lead generation.
Patience is a Virtue
Generating a steady flow of qualified leads does not happen overnight. It takes a considerable amount of time and effort to grow your list and to successfully move qualified prospects through your sales pipeline, to the point of converting them into paying customers. Then you need to keep them happy and coming back for more, but that is a whole other story for another day. For now, let’s just focus of establishing and growing your lead generation program. To learn more about Lead Generation and other Marketing Tactics, download our eBook below: