Question: All small businesses have three types of customers, but which are the actual key to success?
A. Existing customers. Current customers are of course vital to any business because they are our bread-and-butter. They are our customers for a reason; they like us, what we do, and are willing to continue to be paying customers, time and again. How great is that?
Indeed, it would be difficult to say that current customers are not our most important customers.
But they’re not.
B. Departing customers: Customers leave businesses for all sorts of reasons. It may be that they are moving away, or found something more convenient, or less expensive. Maybe their habits or needs changed. Maybe they got pissed at the owner. Who knows?
Whatever the cause, the fact is, customers leave, for reasons good, bad, reasonable, unreasonable, dumb, logical, and confounding. Given that, I think we can agree that they are certainly not our most important customers either!
C. New customers: New customers don’t yet know how great our businesses are. Oh sure, they have an inkling, but our hold on them is tenuous. If we don’t woo them with our prices, services, selection, location, style, good looks, whatever, they will be departing before you know it.
So which is it—new, present, or old customers?
Let me suggest that then that the answer is in fact, C, new customers, and here’s why:
New customers become current customers and current customers eventually become departing customers. Given that, the only way to feed the machine and make sure that the customer assembly line keeps chugging is by replenishing those leaving customers with new customers. And that requires an ongoing lead generation campaign. Absent new patrons, the whole thing comes to a grinding halt.
What exactly is “lead generation”? Good question. Lead generation is essentially attracting people (leads) to your business and turning them into customers.
Below are a bevy of lead generation processes and tactics that work great–digital, analogue, old school, new school, lead magnets, and more. These ideas can really help attract those prospective customers and refill that departing customer pipeline.
Digital Lead Generation Strategies
In the new world, if you aren’t using the internet as part of your marketing campaign to generate leads and create inbound traffic, you are missing a golden opportunity.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is a tactic where you place an ad online and only pay when a user clicks on that ad. There is no cost to place the ad. I repeat: There is no cost to place the ad. You’re only charged when a user engages with the ad.
Pay-per-click ads can show up as search results on places like Google and Bing and on social media feeds as well as other websites.
Consider what a remarkable thing PPC is. You only pay for an ad once someone sees it, likes it, clicks on it, and then surfs over to your site. That, my friends, is called a “qualified lead,” and–even better–a powerful lead generation tool like this turns out to be an incredibly affordable marketing strategy.
There are, of course, no shortage of places where you can place your PPC ads. Google ads is, well Google ads—the grandaddy of all online advertising. Beyond that, consider (by importance):
- Facebook Ads
- Bing Ads
- Twitter Ads
- LinkedIn Ads
The trick in this process is to find and use the right keywords, that is, the keywords that your potential customers are using to search and find your landing pages. You want those keywords to be part of your ad. Once their keywords and your ads are the same—bingo! You have a click and a lead. The buyer's journey will lead them down the Yellow Brick Road…to you!
Important: When it comes to choosing keywords for your ads, don’t guess. There are plenty of high-quality tools out there that will tell you what terms people are using to search. The top tool is again a Google product–its Keyword Planning Tool. Other similar tools include SEMrush, Moz.com and Wordtracker.
Getting someone to opt-in, that is, to give you their email address and join your email list, is just about as good as getting them to click on your PPC ad, and maybe even more effective insofar as generating qualified leads goes.
When someone opts-in, they are giving you permission to contact them again. In fact, that is what opting-in is: It is the person saying, “Here’s my email address. Please send me more info/send me your newsletter/tell me more about your special…” Their e-mail is vital lead information.
Opting-in is a rare event in the world of marketing because, frankly, how often do people give you their contact info with the intent and desire that you contact them again? With opt-in in, they want to hear from you. Wow.
This is lead-gen heaven: High-quality leads, target customers, inbound marketing, and marketing automation—all rolled into one.
So how then do you get people to become part of your future email campaigns via opting-in? So many ways! Have them:
- Sign up for your free e-newsletter (it better be good!)
- Enter your contest (It needs to be something people want)
- Ask to get your free e-book (It needs to be intriguing, with a great title/headline)
- Sign in to comment on your blog, or read the rest of the blog
- Opt-in to watch the webinar (Personally, this is how I built my list of 30K people)
As long as you do not abuse the privilege of having their email address (i.e., by pestering them), your list is a list of warm leads. That is why, in fact, in marketing there is an old saying: “The money is in the list.” Continuous outreach to this list becomes part of your sales pipeline and vital to your lead generation efforts; that's why it's key.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the magic pixie-dust of lead-gen. Once you have a great site and social media page, that is, one that is populated with great content (articles, infographics, podcasts, contact information), products, and (again) keywords, Google and other search engines will notice your site and will start to send new website visitors to your site as a result.
Your metrics will explode, and in this way, Google sort of becomes your own personal influencer; a trusted "sales rep" that populates your sales funnel with qualified leads—and it doesn’t cost you anything.
Once that happens, you will be standing near the top of Mt. Warm Lead. Because, after all, if someone types a search query into Google and Google sends your desired target audience to your site to answer their question, that’s about as close to a qualified warm lead as it gets. What these potential leads do once they get to your site is up to you.
The key is to have a site that can convert visitors into customers. The essential idea is that when these warm leads come to your site to read your article or watch your video, they are encouraged to read more, opt-in to something, sign up for your newsletters, or check out something in your online store, etc.
And note this works with both B2C as well as B2B lead generation. It sure beats cold calling and pounding those old CRM files.
Tap Into the Power of Social Media
A story is illustrative:
Back at the start of the Great Recession in 2008, I knew a woman who was in the public relations industry. Problem was, when the economy crashed, so too did her business. She had no idea what to do, where she would get clients, leads, revenue.
This was also the dawn of Twitter and other social networks and she figured that she had little to lose by trying social media, and so she did.
On Twitter, she jumped into every discussion she could find that had to do with her field. She met and befriended people she otherwise would have never met. She made friends, answered questions, participated in tweetchats, and grew her network and profile in the process.
While social media deservedly gets a lot of bad press, it is also an incredible, potential, lead-gen machine. By meeting new people, by growing your brand, by participating in groups and discussions, you have a very real opportunity to meet, befriend, and woo potential customers, i.e., leads.
Old School Cool
Digital media is not the only lead-gen game in town. Indeed, people generated leads in a variety of powerful ways long before the Internet.
Use the Magic Words
Please and thank you?
Well, yes, those are great words, especially in this era when manners seem somewhat anachronistic, but no, in the context of generating new leads, there are two other words that are even more powerful, magnetic.
“Free” and “Sale.”
It is a truism in advertising that the words free and sale are the two most powerful ones in the English language when it comes to attracting attention and getting people to take an action. The email marketing hub Vertical Response lists “sale” as the #1 most effective word in marketing, noting
“Sale is the Old Faithful of marketing words. While a lot of businesses use the word “sale,” it has the power to motivate customers, and who doesn’t love a good deal?”
It notes that other, similarly powerful words for generating leads includes,
- Be the first
Employ the Loss Leader Strategy
A loss leader is an item that you are willing to break-even on, or even take a loss on, in order to generate traffic.
When you see a store having a crazy-good sale, one that is almost too good to be true, that is the loss leader at work. The company is willing to take a loss on that item in order to lead people to the door. The sale of the other goods will, ideally, make up for the loss on that one item. And for the purposes of this discussion, the loss-leader works because it gets new people–new leads–to take notice of you and your business.
Some caveats are in order: Make sure that you have enough of the sale item; nothing like running out to turn that warm lead into a cold fish. Also, make sure that the sale fits your brand. If you don’t want to become known as the “low-cost leader,” avoid utilizing this strategy too often.
What is the most popular gift in America? A few years ago, the now-ubiquitous gift card took that mantle and has never looked back. Just go into your local drug story and you will see for yourself.
Hop on the bus, Gus!
Referrals (and of your desired demographic to boot) here we come.
The great thing about selling gift cards is that they are both a sale and word-of-mouth advertising. The purchaser is telling the recipient, “This is a great store that I think you will like.” Lead-gen nirvana, my friend.
Host an Event
Finally, consider hosting an event (online or off.) It will grow your network, attract attention, and will make potential new customers aware of your business. Your event could be almost anything:
- A concert
- A pop-up
- A webinar
- A workshop
Departing customers, ta ta! Turns out that replacing you is not so difficult after all.