How to Convert Raw Leads into Best Friends Forever

Digital Marketing


Filling the pipeline with leads? Good for you. But how many of those leads – which you worked so hard to generate – get lost in the ether of the digital world?

Forget that. Let’s use digital to turn those leads into buyers instead. Or even better, let’s get them applauding for our products… Why settle for buyers when you could have best friends?

Instead of letting those leads evaporate (or, on the other end of the spectrum, scaring them with aggressive conversion tactics), let’s use digital channels to cultivate and develop them into powerful relationships that lead to bigger purchases, more sales, and greater advocacy.

Sound good? Here are my three secrets to help you form and deepen relationships online, effectively converting raw leads into your new best friends.

Make customers feel like people and not just numbers. Learn how by reading the ebook 10 Steps for a Successful Personalized Web Engagement Strategy.

1. Stop Dehumanizing Your Marketing

Today’s organizations are focused on sales metrics – things that you can count. Leads. Prospects. Opportunities. In fact, the entire culture of sales and marketing in the digital world dehumanizes the conversations you’re trying to nurture.

The problem is that we don’t sell to numbers – we sell to people.

Digital marketing should be anything but dehumanizing. Ultimately, people want to connect with one another, and digital empowers the entire human race to do so.  Our brains have evolved to be social and form relationships; digital just feeds that need.

So while pipeline is important, don’t forget what powers that pipeline – people. Use digital to humanize your marketing, whether that means reaching out to potential buyers directly, initiating conversations on social channels, showing off your amazing sense of humor, sharing emotionally compelling customer stories, or using your company blog to let your employees express themselves in a human way.

2. Score Your Relationships, Not Your Targets

Everyone in your pipeline has a different relationship type, relationship need, and relationship potential.

That means that every interaction you have with someone, whether it’s direct or indirect, through a page on your website or a Facebook conversation, contributes to those relationships – whether you’re starting a new one, or building another one out. You may already score and segment your database based on title, company, industry, or product interest – why not “segment” them by relationship progression as well?

relationship pyramid

This is what I refer to as a “relationship pyramid.” People move up and down the pyramid based on the depth, frequency, and sentiment of each interaction they have with your organization. The higher a person is on the pyramid, the more valuable the relationship and proclivity to purchase, or more importantly, recommend you to others.

Once you’ve determined the relationship level of people in your pipeline, you need to start moving them up the pyramid. Provide information, converse on a topic of interest, help solve their problem, offer a suggestion. Appeal to the different kinds of relationships that people want to have with you.

4 relationship types

Adjust your content to map to relationship need. Who wants an email? Who would prefer to live chat? Some people love social media, some don’t “get” Twitter. Don’t force a single message in a single format on the entire pipeline.

3. Build on Relationships

I like to talk about all human relationships as composed of nine elements – need, history, curation, faces, stories, authenticity, consistency, credibility, and helpfulness. These elements have a place in our physical relationships and our digital relationships

Need. Everyone needs something. When you meet someone’s needs, or they meet yours (whether it’s a need for advice or a need for a product), a positive relationship is formed. In the digital marketing world, creating buyer personas is a great way for marketers to understand audience pain points, challenges, and needs.

History. At the heart of any deep relationship is history – a repeatable pattern of interactions and engagements. Even when a deep relationship is negative, it’s defined by its history. In digital marketing, a shared history is established through lead nurturing and personalization. By presenting content that is responsive to past behavior, you demonstrate your awareness of each lead’s history with your company.

Curation. A good relationship between an organization and its audience has to involve curation. We go to Home Depot to because they can offer so many products in one place, and because we trust their selections. In the digital world, curation means giving our audience a single destination for the content (whether it’s an ebook, a slide deck, a data sheet, or an explainer video) that they need. This might take the form of your company blog, a “resources” section, a newsletter, or all three.

Faces. We are wired to look at faces. Good relationships are formed based on face-to-face interaction because it helps us gauge reactions and emotions. In digital marketing, we use video to show our faces. There’s nothing like video to mimic a face-to-face interaction. This is also why so many companies include an employee page with photographs of their team members.

Stories. Stories allow us to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes, bringing us closer to one another. In digital marketing, we tell stories about our customers, because they allow potential customers to imagine their own problems being solved with our products.

Authenticity. Nobody likes a fake, or to feel like a person/organization doesn’t genuinely believe in their own story. Social media provides a digital way to show your human side, earn your audience’s trust, and make it clear that your company is the “real deal.” This goes back to the idea of humanizing your marketing.

Consistency. How hard is it to have a relationship with someone who acts differently each time you interact? In digital marketing, prove that you’re consistent by serving your audience a seamless experience across every device – all of your content should be responsive and optimized for consumption on any web browser, as well as on smartphones and tablets.

Credibility. We tend to form relationships with people and organizations who demonstrate expertise in something, whether it’s installing software or providing relationship advice. Content marketing is the best way to demonstrate expertise and credibility.

Helpfulness. People want relationships with people who are helpful. It’s tough to form strong relationships when the other party isn’t doing anything to benefit you (whether it’s providing great content to help you solve your problems, or giving you a piece of gum when your breath smells bad). Be helpful by developing a strong inbound marketing strategy. Use content marketing and social marketing to help your company be found.

Stop Converting and Start Cultivating

Take a look at the diagram below – ideally, if you’re tapping into those nine elements, you’re also creating a cycle of interactions that moves people towards intimacy, promoting them up the relationship pyramid and through each phase of your relationship.

relationship cycle

Relationships are the new currency of the digital world, and they are the ultimate competitive differentiator. You can’t steal them. You can’t fake them. You can’t copy them. That’s why marketers should stop focusing on conversion, and start focusing on relationships – conversions will follow. You can’t convince someone to buy, but you can cultivate a relationship over time. When someone converts from a lead to an opportunity to a customer, it’s because positive interactions beget more positive interactions.

For more ideas about becoming best friends with your audience, check out Jason Thibeault and Kirby Wadsworth’s new book, Recommend This! Delivering Digital Experiences that People Want. Marketo is pleased to feature Recommend This on our Marketing Nation Book Club for the month of May. You can also check out co-author Kirby Wadsworth’s appearance on the Marketing Nation Podcast