Wasn’t this easier a few years back?

Not so long ago you could easily throw up a landing page, do some rough and ready SEO, or point some cheap Adwords traffic at the page and you’d have as many leads as you could handle.

If you’ve seen your advertising slide,  if you’ve seen costs go up and the quality of responses go down, then your only consolation is that you’re not alone.

Whether it’s Google, Facebook, or even press ads or leaflet drops, businesses are finding it harder and harder to get their message across.

The reasons are some trends which are here to stay:

1) The internet brings global opportunity, but also global competition.

Thew internet opened up a global market for new products, and companies that were early to exploit the new communication channels profited from huge new revenue streams.

But as more companies caught up, the reality of global competition set in.

Bigger companies were now able to service local customers, and low-cost suppliers found a way to compete without the added costs of middlemen,

More people competing for the same customers means the price of media is only going to go up.

2) The customer is now in charge.

Salespeople used to be the ones with the power. They know which products worked and which didn’t. They knew the deals that could be had. They knew which features to push for any given customer.

Now the customer has access to that same information.

Youtube videos show the product in action. Sites like Checkatrade and Trustpilot give feedback on customer service quality. Price comparison can now be done in-store on mobile phones.

67% of the purchase decision is now made by customers before they make any contact with a salesperson.

3) Knowledge you once got paid for, you now pay to give away.

The rush for the prize of top rankings in Google means feeding the search engine’s voracious appetite to answer every question their users have.

Just last weekend I was following Youtube videos to do cycle repairs that a local mechanic used to do, saving myself about £100 in the process.

Admittedly I then had to buy some screen wipes to get the oily patches off my iPad, but that’s a small price to pay.

Have you noticed how customers now arrive already knowing what they want, and just needing someone to execute the final difficult steps?

Well that faulty self-diagnosis could also be our route to salvation.

The new lead generation process – getting in at the start of the conversation.

What’s clear is that to have any influence over the customer’s buying decision, we need to get into the conversation much earlier than most companies are managing to at the moment.

And that’s not surprising. Just take a look at this landing page for a law firm’s personal injury service – one of the most competitive places on the internet.

It’s likely that Mr Hudgell will have paid up to £10 to get the click that took me to this page…

As landing pages go it’s not terrible. It’s got solid calls to action, some attempts at a Unique Selling Proposition (although they’re the same as every other site – “we’ve got years of experience”, “we’give great service” – I’d be concerned if the didn’t!)

It makes a huge assumption though, which is that the prospect’s only barrier to working with this firm is that they haven’t picked up the phone yet.

Even in a relatively urgent distress purchase like hiring a lawyer there’s a mountain to climb before your prospect will want to do that. And given the legal profession’s reputation for racking up a fortune for every second spent with them, this is a big trust hurdle to get past.

So, here are a few tips which will help in any lead generation campaign, not just legal services:

Your prospect wants to self-diagnose, so help them.

Once your prospect forms an opinion about what should happen, it’s far harder to dismantle, so get in on the ground floor.

As well as the “call me” calls to action, offer something for the prospect who at the moment is just tyre-kicking. A guide on “What to do to help your personal injury claim move faster” would give them a real benefit, and give you the opportunity to capture an email address.

These “soft” calls to action are missing from so many landing pages, and yet the website’s blogs are usually brimming with helpful information, or worse, it’s being given out one person at a time when calls are received.

While you’re at it, make sure the same soft calls to action are well used on your blog, or where any SEO traffic is going to. These are the same “self-diagnosing tyre kickers” and you want to bring them round to your way of thinking before it’s too late!

Keep them coming back

You have competition. Accept that. Your customers are going to shop around, if not on price then on quality.

Unless you are a huge brand at the tip of everyone’s tongue, it’s very likely you’ll be forgotten as they look for alternatives.

Once you’ve paid to get someone to your site, if they don’t act straight away, then you may well lose them for good, unless you can find a way to remind them of your existence.

This is where “retargeting” comes in.

Those irritating ads that follow you around the web aren’t so irritating when you’re actually ready to buy something.

Once a prospect has landed on your site just once, you have the option to get in front of them again on Facebook, in Google search results, on almost any site that carries advertising, even within mobile apps.

The clickthrough rates on ads from brands which people recognise are so much higher, and the audience is so small that this extra boost in numbers can often be had for a fraction of your original budgets.

Follow-up relentlessly

There are some shocking statistics about how few times sales teams follow up on leads (once or twice) , compared with how many contacts a prospect takes to actually buy (seven or more).

When challenged, the sales team will tell you that the leads aren’t qualified, that they’re just tyre-kickers.

Let me tell you something. Great leads are made, not born.

It’s your job as the marketer to take these people from “just browsing” to “shut up and take my money”.

There is a big gap between a lead you can market to and a lead you can sell to, and you need to bridge that gap.

You need to help them understand what it might be like to work with you by using video or great imagery. You need to show your capability by showing case studies. You need to reduce risk by offering guarantees.

And you need to stop thinking you’ve done that just because that information sits in the depths of your website.

That’s too much information and you need to drip-feed it to the customer, but drip-feed it quickly, while they are still thirsty for knowledge, and email is about the only medium that is guaranteed to reach them, wherever they may be.

Watch for buying signals

There are buying signals before someone picks up the phone. Looking at pricing pages, looking at lots of pages, spending more time watching and reading your content. These are all signals that your prospect is much more active than the average user.

They shouldn’t be too hard to spot, after all the average user on your site probably looks at a couple of pages and disappears in a couple of minutes. If you’re thinking those numbers sound low, check your stats. You’re probably keeping an eye on the averages for these metrics, but average visitors don’t buy. The numbers will be pushed way up by the activity of people who do.

After you’ve had the right systems in place for a while you can look at the people who bought for you and find patterns in how they behaved before they bought. Look for those signals happening again, and use them to create alerts to your sales to get on the phone, and quickly.

Use what you already know

As you gather more leads, make sure you are feeding back the information about them into your advertising.

First Facebook, then Google have launched “lookalike audiences”. These are targeting options that look at your existing customers and all their preferences and interests, and create far more targetted lists to  advertise to, than you could ever do using the usual targeting criteria which usually sound like: “high income male 25-55 with an interest in football” – i.e. about 1/3 of the owrking population.

This type of targeting has been around in direct mail for decades, and is finally making it’s way into real-time online advertising.

Refine, Rinse, Repeat

This process never ends. Very few campaigns hit gold at the first attempt, but it’s far more likely that you can make a reasonable traffic source work for you over time.

Saw it, bought it is now well behind us. In fact Google’s research has shown that on major purchases our buying cycle has got longer as we check and re-check that we’re making the right decision before we buy.

By adding in advertising and email retargeting options, soft data-capture options,  relentless follow-up, and working on the more traditional conversion tactics such as social proof, I’ve seen campaigns multiply in their ROI, loss-making campaigns which turned the corner given 2-3 weeks of improvements, and businesses who were ready to quit with digital who now have it as thier main source of leads.

So, how are we doing?

If you’ve got a campaign that you’re running, or planning to run, and you want to know how to really wring every last drop of value from it, you might want to talk to someone who is independent of the advertising networks and technology companies, with no axe to grind.

We often run campaign critiques for the blog, and we can do these in private also.

If you’re interested in how we can help, drop me an email to stephen@visiblybetter.net and we can set up a call to help you work out where you can make the biggest improvements in your campaigns.