Demand Generation

How B2B Marketers Can Get More Leads into the Funnel via Inbound Marketing

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At my previous company my success was measured by number of leads.  If I hit the right number, I was in the clear.  If the total lead count was high, I was awesome.  If I was short of my lead goal, I had some explaining to do.  Makes sense, right?  More leads equals more won deals.  Management could understand these metrics.  It was easy for the VP of Sales to see my results via a dashboard in the CRM system.  Life was good.  Well, that is unless you were a sales rep.  (Don’t worry. I learned the right way fast, becoming a demand generation machine!)

The problem with this kind of mindset is that more leads does not equal more deals. The goal is to find the right deals at the right time. Your sales reps know this. This is why when a marketer brings back a list of leads, they only pick out a few to follow up with.  They use their skills to tell them which are his (her) best bets and then starts working them until they purchase.

So how do marketers find the right leads?

SEO

Many marketers are now optimizing for search, but are you really getting all that you can out of your efforts?  First, you need to decide which terms you want driving traffic to your site.  If not, you may end of with lots of traffic, but no new business.  For example, a few months ago one of my top referring terms was “Power Pack”, because of the deliverability power pack that Marketo sells as part of our solution.   This meant lots of extra traffic to my site, but very high bounce rates and zero closed deals.

To make sure you are getting the right website traffic, create a list of the keywords someone looking to purchase your product, or learn about your industry, would use.  Then identify which content on your site you want to rank for each of these pages.  Optimize these pages for the terms you identified.  (Yes, I know it’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the gist.)  There are lots of free tools and guides to help with this. However, if you are a company with any marketing budget, you should really consider putting some of those dollars here.

Spending money on SEO services will help you rank for terms other than your company name or names of your products, making sure you rank for the terms that will really drive traffic.  At Marketo, I dedicate a large part of my budget to SEO optimization (via TopRank Online Marketing) to make sure we are number one for most of the top terms in our industry.  Don’t believe me- go check out terms like B2B Marketing, Marketing Automation, Lead Scoring and Demand Generation.  With hundreds of competitors, this isn’t an easy thing to do. I would have never gotten there without a professional SEO team on my side.

Content Marketing

Remember earlier when I said you need to find the right deals at the right time?  This is where content marketing comes in.  If you have content relevant for your audience, you will find the right deals.  It will give you content to optimize so you can rank in SEO.  It will give you something to share in social media.  It will give you pages for your Pay-Per-Click Campaigns.  It will give you something to write blog posts about.  It will give you something to share when you do paid advertising…

Essentially, nothing listed above will work without good content.   But good content is only half of it.  You also have to get the lead at the right time.  Just because someone is looking at your website today doesn’t mean they are ready to buy. Here at Marketo, we use lead nurturing and scoring to help us identify when someone is ready to buy.  In order to do lead nurturing and scoring you don’t just need content, you need content that indicates if someone is ready to talk to a sales rep.  An example of this is this blog post!  Just because you are reading this blog post does not mean you are ready to buy marketing automation software.  Now, imagine you come back to the site a few days later and download our marketing automation buyers kit.  That would be a great way content can indicate you are ready to buy.

Note: I will be presenting a webinar about this next month with Joe Pulizzi and Ann Handley (i.e. the King and Queen of Content Marketing).  During this webinar, we will talk about how to create the right content to make your inbound marketing machine work.  We will also talk about optimizing this content to ensure you get the most leads out of all your efforts, and can identify using content when someone is ready to buy.

And just like SEO, you may want to consider some professional help here.  At Marketo, we write a lot of our own content, but use some other services as well (like Velocity Partners to design our Definitive Guides and paid white paper and webinar sponsorships).  Don’t be scared to get paid help to ensure your content is top-notch.

Blogging

Blogging is a great way to get some of the content you need. It also has multiple extra benefits.  The biggest of these includes keeping Google aware of your site.  Whenever you blog, you are putting out new content. The more new content you add, the more Google will visit your website.

There are a couple of caveats about this though.  First, traffic to your blog is often to a sub domain of your website.  Look for ways to integrate blogs into your core domain.  We do this with our resource and press centers, which run on blogging software (WordPress).   This means Google visits our website and not just our blog, which we consider much higher-value traffic.

If you want to use a paid blogging or content sharing software, I really like Compendium, who has services available to help you with your blog, plus some other SEO benefits not available with WordPress.  I have never had much luck with tools that bundle blogging in with other software, so please beware of these offerings.  They are often not as customizable as you may need and have trouble scaling as you grow.   Even worse, they may be able to hold your content hostage because if you leave their service you may lose everything you have written and any rankings with it.

Social Media

Social Media is also a great way to drive leads (and the links that are important to SEO) to your website.  I could write pages on this alone (and have in my Definitive Guide to Social Media), but want to mention a few tactics that stand out.

First, some of our biggest social media wins come from unexpected places.  Share your content where your prospects are, including industry-based, geo-based, and other less popular social media sites.  We get lots of traffic from social media sites outside of Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.

Second, ask those you know to share your content.  They will often have a bigger voice than you do.  This includes adding social sharing buttons to your content in both landing pages and emails.

Third, remember that people will often find your social media content via search.  This means that even if your content wasn’t retweeted, or socially forwarded to others right away, it may still end up driving traffic to your website.

Landing Page Optimization

Whether you are getting traffic to your site through your blog, social media, or search engine optimization, you need to do something with it.  The awesome content you create may educate, but your sales team now needs names in order to sell your product or service.  You get these names through forms on your website or landing pages.  However, all forms are not created equal.

Some people will never fill out forms.  Your landing pages should be able to use reverse IP look-up (don’t worry, you don’t need to know the technical parts of this) to see which companies were on the page even if they didn’t fill out the form.  The pages should then communicate to the sales reps who was on the web page by territory (no sales rep wants to see everyone else’s leads).

The pages should also drop a cookie on their computer (again, some technical stuff you don’t need to program yourself) to let you know if this person has been on your site before and what they have done.  This way, when they do fill out a form, your sales rep knows their whole history, not just a part of it.  This will also let you know what pages are found first by your prospects, which search terms are driving them to your site, and what content helps them make a buying decision.

Most importantly, these pages should allow you to test what is working.  Many people have landing pages but often  don’t convince people to sign up.  Your pages need to reassure the lead.  Many people think this is just about the right images or right title, but for us, it is a big mix of things.

First, the most important thing for our pages is the form length.  We’ve run test after test and keep seeing this result.  Shorter forms will likely get you more leads.  Our forms only ask first name, last name, email, company and title.  We need information like city, state, zip and area code to route our leads properly, however, we use our own lead management system to do reverse IP lookup to populate this information.  We also need data like industry and company size to do proper email and campaign segmentation, so we append our data with information from a third party database (Jigsaw).

Secondly, we find that a lot of other ‘rules’ for landing pages don’t apply.  For example, we have found that length of landing pages isn’t that relevant, and that the pictures can even be clip art.  Many argue that short pages with sexy designs work better, but this just isn’t the case for us.  This is cool to know, because instead of giving money to designers, I can use that for my SEO programs or other marketing initiatives.

A couple details about this post:

  • I mentioned vendors because I am often asked about what services I use.  No-one paid me for a mention. I also use lots of great vendors that I did not mention here.
  • None of the above would be much good if I didn’t have lead nurturing and scoring that could be highly customized with personalization and segmentation.  It’s why I bought Marketo at my previous company.  People that focus on inbound marketing but don’t have a way to manage these leads to a closed deal are likely wasting time and energy.
  • This post does not mention all the paid sources we use for demand generation that are also great ways to find opportunities for your sales team.  Inbound marketing can be made even more powerful in combination with paid promotions.
  • Inbound marketing isn’t free, though good inbound marketing will often be lower cost than some paid programs with higher yields.  Don’t rely on tools alone. Inbound marketing takes strategy, best practices, and some marketing smarts to achieve success.
  • Finally, I know this was an oversimplified (and super-long) blog post. My fingers are getting tired from writing so much!  For more on inbound marketing I recommend Dan Zarrella’s book, The Social Media Marketing Book.  If you happen to be the person who borrowed my copy off my bookshelf at the office, please return it soon.  I miss it.  Also, subscribe to the Modern B2B marketing Blog RSS feed or follow Marketo on Twitter to learn inbound markeitng and demand generation best practices.