How content accelerates your lead generation

Nels Urtel April 27, 2017

The way marketers measure success seems to change about as quickly as my computer makes me change my password (usually about the time I finally memorize the old one). One day, it’s traffic. The next day, it’s engagement. The day after that, open rate. It can be enough to make your head spin.

The B2B world, in particular, has seen an interesting shift in how marketers view success.

While website traffic has been the most common success metric for B2B marketers in the last several years, a Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs study conducted late last year suggests the most important content marketing metric these days is sales lead quality.

The more we dig into this concept, the more it looks like lead generation may be the most valuable concept you can use to grow your business. Let’s look at why.

Lead generation and the death of the cold call

Generally speaking, a lead is someone who is likely to value the products or services your company offers based on a set of predetermined characteristics. They have a a desirable position at a company of a certain size in any number of ideal industries. A salesperson might pursue this lead by sending an introductory email or dialing up a cold call.

But here’s the thing about cold-calls: Salespeople don’t really like making them and consumers don’t really like receiving them. They’re certainly an important part of the sales and lead-generation process at many companies in many industries. But, at best, the effectiveness of cold calling has been stagnant over the last five years, according to sales and marketing expert, Toby Marshall. At worst, they’ve seen a moderate to dramatic decrease and no one is lining up for its funeral.

That’s because content and inbound marketing is making cold calling about as relevant as your uncle’s LaserDisc without the warm fuzzies of nostalgia. A finely tuned lead generation and qualification practice allows your marketing team, working in tandem with your sales team, to leverage quality content to turn distant prospects into a more qualified lead.

A qualified lead is simply a person who has expressed interest in your organization’s products or services through measurable interaction with your sales and marketing content. How you define a “qualified lead” is really up to you, but for most organizations, it’s the product of measured content interaction. The more of your organization’s content they interact with, the more interested they are in what you offer, the more likely they are to make a purchase.

So what does lead generation actually look like? Lead generation is simply a process by which prospects exchange information about them (name, title, email, etc.) for valuable information. And if you have an effective way to capture that information, your content really starts working for you.

Content’s role in lead generation

The reason lead generation and qualification is important is the same reason content marketing has garnered so much attention over the last few years: Providing your prospects with useful, valuable information is an extremely effective way to both establish credibility as a brand and build invaluable trust between you and your audience.

[Check it out: Lead Generation vs. Demand Generation and How to Develop Content for Both]

Coincidentally, content marketing is the clear winner when it comes to lead generation tactics. According to the same CMI/Marketing Profs study, 85% of responding B2B marketers placed lead generation as their number one goal for their content marketing practice.

The only place the survey found different priorities were enterprise marketers or “organizations that are taking the first steps of their content marketing program.” And even in those cases, lead generation was still a close second or third.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five pieces of content and how to turn them into lead-capturing and lead-qualifying machines.

1. Automated emails

Obvi.

Automated emails do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to lead generation, especially if you’re implementing a marketing automation program. It’s so powerful that 71% of B2B companies use email marketing for customer acquisition and 68% use it for customer retention, according to Act-On and Gleanster research.

[Check it out: “How to create better automated emails]

Although it doesn’t take much to sign up for an email newsletter, it’s at least a small indicator someone is interested in your brand and your content. It’s also a good way to nurture your prospects and allows an easy way to communicate directly with your audience.

Pro-tip: Use your automated emails to distribute other “heavier” pieces of content.

If you’re producing “heavier” pieces of content, like e-books, case studies and white papers, your automated emails are a great way to encourage further engagement with your content. By tracking audience’s interaction with those emails, you’ve got an efficient way to both distribute content and qualify leads.

2. E-books

E-books make an effective content type for lead generation for two reasons:

  • You can pack it with useful, in-depth information
  • You can gate it

You can gate an e-book because it typically contains the kind of information a prospect would pay for. PricewaterhouseCoopers actually predicted e-book revenue will reach just over $8.5 billion in 2018.

That’s all well and good. But, for your organization, the most valuable currency for your content isn’t money. It’s info.

For an in-depth e-book, give your audience the option to download it in exchange for their name, email address and perhaps a couple other pieces of information you find useful such as the name of their company and their industry.

Your prospect will happily share some information about themselves in order to access valuable insights and useful tidbits, and you get valuable info about the people who are most interested in what your brand has to say.

3. Case studies

Case studies can be a real sweet spot for lead generation. They’re typically a little less time-intensive than an e-book and can indicate an interest not only in what your organization does, but also the kind of results it has generated for others.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to case studies and lead generation. Some marketers say a case study is informative and relevant enough to gate it. Others say case studies play such an important role in building credibility that it’s silly to put a barrier between the case study and your audience. Which one works best for you might depend on how many case studies you have and what other kinds of content assets you’re working with.

In any case, make sure you’re able to track who is interacting with those case studies and try featuring at least two to three case studies for every product or service you offer. Knowing which one(s) in particular a prospect looked at can give you and your sales team a better understanding about where to start the conversation.

4. Blogs

This is an often overlooked and undervalued lead generation tactic. It works sort of like an email in that it can serve as both a demand generation asset and a lead-generating and qualifying tool.

Demand generation differs from lead generation in that the desired outcome is less about qualifying individual leads for the sales team to pursue, but increasing brand awareness and general interest in what you have to offer. Blogs can do this really well.

But it can also help you generate leads in a couple different ways.

First, you can tailor other relevant blogs and heavier pieces of content to include within the blog itself. This is a great way to both provide your readers with additional value and encourage them to engage with more content.

Another way to use your blog to actually generate and qualify leads is to build a subscribe button, allowing readers to sign up (voluntarily!) and receive your blogs via email.

This would take some additional planning, strategy and IT resources. If you’re already using a marketing automation platform, setting this up could be a piece of cake. After it’s set up, this can be an easy way to make digesting your content even easier for an already captive audience.

5. Landing pages

When you think about it, your entire website is one giant piece of content, serving to engage and inform your audience through images, video and copy.

While it may seem a little redundant, there are a few ways a landing page can serve as a lead generation tool. The most obvious way is to build a landing page that hosts your gated content forms. While an e-book is the food, your landing page is the plate that presents it. Make your gated content landing pages easy to read and navigate, and make your calls-to-action easy to find.

Another way to use landing pages as a lead generation tool is a pricing page or a “Contact Us” page. These pages must also be very well designed, easy to use and understand, and include clear CTAs.

Marketing automation’s growing role

If lead generation is the ultimate goal, marketing automation is the ultimate method.

Marketing automation, while not an easy thing to master, can be an incredibly powerful tool in your arsenal. It’s becoming so popular that 83,000 companies are using the 10 biggest platforms alone.

Marketing automation brings a new and exciting dynamic into the world of lead generation for three reasons:

  1. You can automate your marketing messages: This is an obvious benefit, seeing as “automation” is in the title. But the ability to configure certain emails to send out after certain actions (like signing up for your blog or downloading an e-book) makes this an undeniably awesome feature.
  2. You can automate (and simplify) your lead-scoring process: Organizations that have a lead-scoring strategy experience a 77% boost in lead-generation ROI. Assign different content types different lead scores and watch them travel down the pipeline right into your sale team’s lap.
  3. You can track it all: You can’t measure a return if you don’t have the proper way to track it. Marketing automation, with all its bells and whistles, also comes with the tools to capture all the right insights you need to make better decisions in the future.

Marketing automation is also helping organizations find better alignment between marketing and sales, making it a good fit for a robust lead-generation strategy. Though it might be a bit of an undertaking, it’s turning out to be a lead-generation juggernaut.

[Check it out: Pros and Cons for 6 Popular Marketing Automation Plaftorms]

What’s your lead gen strategy?

Consumers are clamoring for a better experience, one where they don’t get cold-called or given the hard-sell. Whether you’re going to start creating a little more content or dive right into full-scale marketing automation implementation, lead generation and a robust content marketing practice is the ideal antidote. And it’s earned a head spot at the marketing table.

Nels Urtel April 27, 2017

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