Most companies need one thing: more leads.
I surveyed 300+ marketing agencies and consultants recently and asked them what the number one thing was that Credo could provide for them. The answers were as I expected:
More qualified leads
More qualified clients who have the kinds of businesses I serve
After running a company that generates leads for others for the last 3.5 years, I’ve learned a thing or two about lead generation. As such, it’s time to share the lead generation strategies that have worked well for our business so that you can try them for your own.
What’s a lead?
As a quick primer, let’s talk about what we mean by a “lead” before getting into it.
There are many levels of “leads”:
- A “lead”, which is most often generated via a content upgrade or similar (such as a quiz) that is essentially an email address (and maybe a first name);
- A “marketing qualified lead”, or MQL, which is one of the above which has turned into more than that as the potential customer is more engaged on your site, maybe downloads multiple pieces of content, and ultimately contacts you about your services or for a demo (depending on your offer);
- A “sales qualified lead”, or SQL, which is a marketing qualified lead that has spoken with the sales team and deemed to be qualified to be taken down the sales funnel and ultimately to become a customer.
In this article, we are mostly going to be talking about the first because the second and third usually require a combination of channels and touch points from a real human.
Without initial leads of course, you can’t get MQLs and then turn those into SQLs.
Here is the full list of strategies we will cover in this article:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Consistent editorial content
- Content with proprietary data
- Content upgrades
- Guest posting
- Dominate your search results using other sites
- Be a podcast guest
- Incentive-based referral programs
- Organic social media
- Build an email list
- Hold webinars
- Throw an online summit
- Try live chat
- Social media advertising
- Niche conference sponsorships
- Podcast advertising
- Local event sponsorships
- Join a (paid) mastermind
- Simplify your landing pages
- Invest in a copywriting course
- Build your brand
- Leverage case studies
- Speak at conferences
- Write a book
- Invest in less popular content types
We’ve broken them up into three sections:
Organic lead generation strategies
First let’s cover the organic lead generation strategies. While these take a bit longer to get going than paid strategies, they are also more consistent and do not require a constant input of direct budget to keep them working. Of course, even “free” channels require an investment of at minimum time and if you want to scale them then they require monetary budget as well to keep them going strong and continuing to grow.
Let’s cover each strategy individually!
Search Engine Optimization
Everyone talks about SEO, and that’s because it is still the best way to drive leads online. In many industries, SEO traffic is still the #1 driver of volume and quality and it converts extremely well to paying customers.
SEO can seem like a black box, but it doesn’t have to be. In its simplest form, SEO is comprised of three things:
- Solid technical SEO;
- Solid keyword research and content;
- Promotion (including link building)
With SEO you can target specific keywords that are relevant to your product or business to drive traffic to those pages that can convert into paying customers (or demos, whatever your metric is).
Consistent editorial content
Content marketing is a great way to build both organic traffic and leads because it gives you the chance to create more pages at different points in your customer’s buying journey and target those keywords (see above for SEO) so that you can begin to capture your ideal customers higher in the funnel than just when they are ready to convert.
There are over 4 million blog posts published every day, which means that there is a lot of content out there.
Lucky for you, a lot of it is bad.
If you can consistently produce helpful content aimed at your target customers, you will see more leads. It’s an investment, but one we make here at Credo and one I will make all day. In fact, here is our own traffic to content (by month) since January 1, 2017:
If you want an example of a single piece of content producing a lot of links, check out how many links Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO has:
Proprietary data (surveys and internal data)
Speaking of content, one of the best ways to build links and your brand with content is by publishing content never before seen. Too many companies lock up their data and hold it close to the chest, so if you can empower your customers to know more you’ll not only get more customers (because people are hungry for the data), but will also be able to charge more.
This is why we invested in our digital marketing pricing survey, which as you can see below has had over 30,000 visitors and 53,000+ pageviews since it first launched in February 2017. It’s been copied and replicated many times, but ours is still the industry standard.
“Ok”, you might say, “so I write content to get traffic but how does that turn into leads?”
Enter, the content upgrade.
Once you have a piece of content driving good traffic, you can layer on a piece of content that is only available in exchange for an email address.
Say you are a local plumber and write a piece of content for “how to fix a leaky faucet”. That piece of content starts ranking well in Google.
Next, you can create a “5 more common bathroom issues that you can fix yourself” PDF (I recommend spending no more than an hour writing it), put it into your favorite email software (we’ve used both MailChimp and Drip here at Credo), and use their built-in forms to show the form on your piece of content.
This one has received over 100 email addresses in the last couple of weeks:
A great way to engage in content marketing and build links back to your website is guest blogging. That is, writing content and posting it on someone else’s website because it adds value to that site’s audience and that audience will also be interested in your website and what you have to offer.
Now, this isn’t just writing a piece of content and cold emailing asking to publish it somewhere. That rarely works.
Instead, you go out and make friends with others in your industry (especially if a tech company) who also have blogs. After an amount of time, ask them to guest post on your site. Then, later on, ask if you can publish a piece on their blog.
Dominate your search results using other sites
Let’s say you want to rank for the term “best hr software”. Here’s the search result once you get below the 4 paid ads (which take up the whole screen on a 15″ laptop):
Would it not make sense to reach out to Finances Online and get listed there in the top 7 so that your site shows up there at the top for your main keyword?
Sure, it is ideal if your website ranks for the term itself (and you can work towards that), but it’s a competitive term. Realistically, it’s going to take you a few years to rank for this term, if at all since it seems Google thinks this term deserves roundups/lists:
But if you can be in the top 5 on all 5 of those lists….
Money in the bank.
Be a podcast guest
Podcasting is on the rise, with over 700,000 shows in 2019 which is up from 550,000 in June 2018. I have personally found podcasting and being a podcast guest to be a great way to build my audience and connect with others in a format other than writing (which is where I am most comfortable, to be honest).
Before I get into how to become a podcast guest, I want to make clear that you should be an expert in your area. It also helps to have an interesting story to tell and to be willing to be transparent with business numbers, lessons learned, and to share things they haven’t heard before.
Also, podcasting isn’t big in every industry. It’s big in tech, but other industries are just catching on to it. If you’re a small business owner then there are small business podcasts, so think broader than just your niche (HR) and consider what other people might be interested in your story.
(And sorry local businesses, there are very few local podcasts. You’re better off starting your own or going for local news).
There are a few ways to approach being a podcast:
- Make friends with those who run them, then ask if they are looking for guests;
- Pitch them an interesting story with you as their guest.
I’ve been able to leverage my name and experience (all built through content marketing) to be on over 60 podcasts in the last two years.
So how do you turn these into leads?
There are a couple of ways.
First, on podcasts you can offer the listeners something like a cheatsheet or a downloadable resource/guide that they’ll be interested in. Most guests ask where people can find you, so you can reference it there (this is also a great way to build links).
Second, they are hopefully referring people to your site. From there you can remarket to them on Facebook or offer a content upgrade (or discount!) on the page. This works especially well for ecommerce or local businesses.
Incentive-based referral programs
Sometimes you have to pay to get referrals, and if your business model supports it then building an incentive based referral program (sometimes known as an “affiliate program”) can return big dividends for your company.
These programs work great for all sorts of companies, including:
The program will look different for each, but here are a few ideas:
- If a software company, then a true affiliate program where you pay a percentage of the sale or lifetime value to the person referring the customer to you;
- If a local company, give a customer $25 off their next service for referring a new customer their way;
- If an ecommerce company, give a percentage of the sale.
Organic social media
When marketing professionals talk about social media, it’s usually in the context of paid social media in the form of advertising on the various social media channels.
But when business owners or non-marketers talk about social media, it’s usually organic social media. We receive a fair few clients at Credo looking for “organic social media posting”.
The right strategy is usually a combination of the two, but the reality is that organic social media has become more difficult to make work effectively (depending on your niche and type of business). Here’s an example in the evangelical content space, where Pinterest has been a great acquisition channel for them in the past but in recent years has been more difficult to leverage:
While not a B2B company, this shows the challenge that even the most female and visual focused companies are having driving traffic and leads from organic social.
But does this mean that you should not be investing in building an organic audience for your business?
Definitely not, but the strategies and reasons to do it have changed over the years.
First, your social media accounts should not be your main place that people interact with your brand. If you build your brand on someone else’s platform, at some point they will reclaim that platform in order to monetize it. Just look at what Facebook has done with organic reach for groups.
Second, you can automate a lot of your organic social media posting using tools like Buffer or MeetEdgar. While this is great for automatically sharing new content or updates posted elsewhere, it is not sufficient for building a following on social media channels as that comes from engaging with others. People do business with people.
Third, choose your channels wisely. B2B businesses should invest in LinkedIn without a doubt and likely Facebook. Ecommerce brands should invest in Facebook and Instagram, and likely Pinterest still.
To drive leads from organic social, you need three things:
- An engaged audience;
- Consistent value-adding content;
- A consistent cadence of posting, while also not overwhelming them.
The most important thing to keep in mind with organic social is that you want to take that audience you’ve built there (on that social platform) and convert them into something you own (an email list) so that you are future-proofing yourself from platform changes and can control your messaging more carefully (and get into their inbox more directly).
Build an email list
Continuing on from the above, email has consistently been one of the most profitable channels for businesses.
While this is not a top of funnel lead acquisition strategy (getting someone onto your email list is technically a “lead”, but you don’t drive them to the email list from that email list), it can be a VERY effective Lead -> MQL or MQL -> SQL strategy for B2B businesses.
Bonus strategy: email as an acquisition strategy
Now, if you want to turn email into an acquisition channel there is indeed a strategy for doing that.
It involves creating best-in-class content, then do outreach to those who run the largest newsletters in your industry and ask them to include it in their newsletter! This can drive thousands of visitors to your site in good situations, and if you then offer a content upgrade from there you can gain a LOT of new email subscribers.
This one dovetails well with the above of building an email list, but to get incredibly valuable leads you have to provide outsized value to people of value.
One of the best ways to do this is by basically doing a conference presentation online – aka a webinar.
Now, the real “trick” to being successful with webinars is not to make it a veiled pitch for something else that seems to be legit and just value-adding, but is actually just an upsell.
People see right through now. Everyone has signed up for a lot of webinars and then not attended them, or stuck around for just a few minutes because it’s all about YOU.
Instead, make it all about them. Provide as much value as you can in return for their email address. You’re not trying to monetize them directly! You have their email address, so you can monetize them later.
Webinars should be only to teach, and possibly to point them to something of even more value to learn more and go deeper.
Throw an online summit
This one is hit and miss depending on how you do it, but can be a great way to basically through an online conference where your guests provide the content, you moderate as the interviewer, and it goes extremely deep in one area.
This is basically a webinar on steroids.
One of the best online summits I ever attended was a bootstrapped web summit from the now-defunct The Foundation because it was structured as starting, six figures, and seven figures. I learned a ton.
There are also cautionary stories out there about these summits only adding a few hundred or so email addresses to their email list, even though the content was world class.
If you’re going to invest in this, know that it will take a lot of time and effort especially if you are interviewing a lot of people. You’ll need to do upfront interviews, record the interview, edit it, and ultimately you’re going to have to do a big launch and promote it.
It’s not to be taken lightly, but if you’re producing a summit that is perfectly in line with your audience then it can be a huge boost to your email list and reputation in the space.
Try live chat
This one is more tactical, but can be useful depending on your company.
Live chat can be HUGE for your business. For example, here’s how Backcountry.com does it:
And most SaaS companies do it, such as Proposify:
Live chat can be a great way to save people who are bouncing or have additional questions. I’ve used it on Credo before, but it never really got good contacts and questions and I felt tied to my business as opposed to free to do the right things.
Paid lead generation strategies
Now let’s look at some paid lead generation strategies that you can try, and if they work you can then double down on them.
Social media advertising
We talked about organic social media earlier, so this is the paid side of it.
First, let’s make it clear that your audience is on social media. I don’t care if you’re selling blue widgets or multiple six figure parking systems, your buyer is on social media.
Your buyer might not be on every social media platform, but they are at minimum on Facebook (because everyone is). They might be on Instagram, they might be on Twitter, they might be on Pinterest. You need to learn where they are first before you start spending money.
Now that we have that settled, let’s talk about social media advertising.
It’s a huge topic to cover, and thus I’ll just say that you should be at minimum doing retargeting, which is advertising to people who have been on your website in order to get them to come back and do deeper in their engagement with you.
I primarily do this on Facebook, but you can also do it on Google and places like Instagram.
Niche conference sponsorships
Conferences can be a great way to get in front of your target audience, and depending on the size you can sometimes get these fairly cheap and get a lot of exposure to everyone at the conference.
I say “niche” because you should have a specific offer for each audience and have a direct way to track if someone is coming from that conference so that you can track a return on that investment.
But that said, it is often very hard to track ROI from conferences. I’ve sponsored a few conferences (and plan to do more) and always went into them with the mindset of getting at least one customer, because that would pay for the whole sponsorship.
After that, I view conference sponsorships as a branding exercise. It’s amazing how sponsoring conferences puts your brand into another level where enterprise brands are more likely to trust you.
Podcasts and voice driven content are some of the hottest and fastest growing types of media today. In fact, according to Podcast Insights:
“There are also over 29 million episodes as of April 2019.”
Podcasts have a captive audience and most advertising done on them is read by the host, making it more authentic than radio or something else, and can be a great way to get in front of a captive and engaged audience.
It’s basically niche conference advertising on steroids, and is easily trackable if you send listeners to a specific landing page only heard on that podcast!
Local event sponsorships
If you’re a local business, sponsoring a local event can be a great way to get your brand out there and known. It’ll be relatively cheap, and your physical presence there will mean the world to the audience.
Join a (paid) mastermind
This one is a bit outside the box, but I firmly believe that as your business grows you need to get access to people who are doing big things that can teach you, promote you, and more.
Sometimes that means paying for access for their time. Successful people are busy people, and often they won’t just give you their time for free.
If they offer paid coaching or a mastermind or an in-person event, then I recommend paying for it and going. Even 15 minutes of face time with that person can change the trajectory of your business, and the connections you make with others there can be very impactful for your business.
Longer term strategies
Finally, there are some longer term strategies that you can and should invest in to help your company grow more quickly and to build a strong base of customers and fans who will ultimately be your best fuel for growth.
Simplify your landing pages
Many of us who create content online tend to be very verbose, and it doesn’t help that we’re told that you need to create more content in order to rank better in Google and drive traffic.
While that can often be true (though sometimes not, depending on the intent of the page), there are studies on both sides of the “more or less” content debate about what converts better.
So I’m not necessarily talking about more or less content, but when we talk about “simplifying” your landing pages it is simplifying and focusing your messaging around the main topic and goal of the page.
If you’re trying to generate form submits for high ticket consulting, then everything needs to be around building trust and showing that you can solve their problem. That’s it.
If you’re an ecommerce company selling keychains, you need to not be cluttering the page with ads with calls to action all over the page or even related products that might keep the person browsing too much instead of buying.
Simplify your message and your design, and you’ll win.
Invest in a copywriting course
Good copy can be one of the highest leverage parts of your website because the difference between good and bad copy can be literally hundreds of thousands of dollars based off conversions and the quality of those conversions.
If you’re not a copywriter professionally, then you should invest in a copywriting course. I have learned a ton from the copywriters in my life and continue to learn as I write more content and operate online.
Learning how to write great copy in your customer’s words will return your investment many times over.
Also fortunately there are many good free resources out there too:
- Ultimate guide to email copywriting
- How to write copy that will blow your reader’s mind
- How to Cash in with Copy and Turn Casual Visitors into Paying Customers with Joel Klettke
Build your brand
“Build your brand” might be viewed as nebulous/unhelpful advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. We completely agree with Rand Fishkin about this:
Building a brand that has more search volume than all the unbranded keywords combined. https://t.co/GmvuAHWX6V
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) June 14, 2018
What if you could build a brand with more search volume than your main non-branded keywords, like so:
Or a tech-specific example:
Someone I used to work for talked about making their employees famous, which was good for the employees and good for the company.
So how do you build a brand that people love talking about and which then makes it much easier to generate new leads and clients (and revenue!)?
In a nutshell, to build a brand you need a combination of:
- A product people love;
- Longevity in the space to become known;
- A personality that people are attracted to;
- A brand voice that people interact with;
- A specific culture/cultural values that resonates;
- Consistency across products, teams, and messaging.
Building a brand is very hard to do and takes quite a bit of time. But if you invest in it then it is the strongest flywheel you can have to generate leads and customers and revenue.
Leverage case studies
Case studies show what your company does and who you do it for. They show your successes and how your business achieves those successes for your customers or clients.
Especially with high ticket items like consulting, case studies help your site visitors understand what you do, who you do it for, and what you can do for them.
Similar to an About page, case studies don’t directly generate leads for you but they do indirectly because more of your site visitors will understand what you do and will be comfortable contacting you.
Speak at conferences
Conferences can be a great way to build your personal and company brand, and if done well then you can get directly in front of your target customers as an authority that can help them solve their biggest problems.
Similar to sponsoring conferences, speaking at a conference shows your expertise.
Speaking at conferences isn’t for everyone, but if it is for you and you are able to get speaking slots (either through invites, sponsorships, or pitching) then it can be a great way to be seen as an authority and thus more trusted and thus generate more leads for your business.
Write a book
Continuing in the vein of building authority, writing a book is (according to many) the single best way to help others see you as the authority that you are on the topic about which you write.
Writing a book is a huge investment, especially if you go through the process of hiring an editor and doing revisions and then properly marketing it to the world to spread the word and value in the book. Thus, this is a long term strategy because it takes time to do it right.
It is possible to write a book more quickly and with Amazon’s publishing tools you can easily publish it in digital format. There are also many self-publishing tools available for print-on-demand setups for books from indie authors, so that is another route you can go to get your message out to the world.
Invest in less popular content types
Finally, if you want to stand out from the crowd in your industry then you should investigate creating content using different content mediums than others.
For example, if everyone in your industry is writing short text-heavy blog posts then you should write longer and image-rich posts.
If everyone is just creating content, then maybe you should investigate creating videos or graphics that convey the message in different ways.
If no one in your industry is really investing in social media (especially things like Instagram Stories), then that could be an advantage you can exploit.
The point here is: be different to stand out and see quicker success.