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Lead generation and going to the bar

Lead generation nowadays is very akin to craft mixology.

Here’s what we mean: if you put a lime in your mouth, that might be a little bit gross. Some might like it, sure, but on its own, it’s not that great.

Same with dripping Bitters on your tongue. On its own, not much.

A sprig of parsley to gnaw on? Same deal.

But when you start to combine these elements, the end result — the cocktail in front of you — is awesome.

The cocktail is the sum of multiple parts combined in an attractive way.

That’s all lead generation is in 2018 too.

Lead generation is a mix of inbound and outbound methodology

Most know this already, but —

Inbound refers to laying out a trail of information and incentives (content) that your prospects can follow in towards your company. It is the individual prospect who chooses the type and timing of the interaction.

Outbound is interaction you push outward, i.e. cold calling and emailing. You’re determining the type and interaction, not the prospect.

Inbound became popular because (a) it’s less interruption and people generally prefer that — and (b) it reflects the way in which we have all evolved to tune out sales and marketing efforts, preferring to research products, services and solutions ourselves before contacting sales representatives. Isn’t that essentially how we interact with Amazon?

But as inbound became popular, outbound didn’t die. In fact, the phone might have become more popular in some ways as a sales channel since the rise of inbound.

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A look at inbound lead generation

There are four cornerstone questions if you want to embark on inbound lead generation:

  • What traffic channel?
  • What copy?
  • What content?
  • What lead magnets?

Let’s go one-by-one.

Traffic channel: This usually refers to social platforms, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Reddit, Pinterest, or niche platforms based on what you sell. It could also refer to Google Ads or ads on any of those platforms. This is where people are going to see your content. Where do your buyers hang out?

Copy: Not everything is written word, but a lot of inbound lead generation materials are. So what copy are you going to need? And who’s shaping the messaging for the copy? Oftentimes, companies will outsource the actual writing of the copy, but the messaging comes from someone internal. That relationship needs to be high-touch and high-context or else the copy won’t reflect the true value of the service, and that’s unattractive to prospects (or attracts the wrong ones). Important: copy has to reflect the value and business impact of the particular offering.

Content: Written? Video? Infographics? Case studies? Data sheets? Solution briefs? Product briefs? eBooks? White papers? Cartoons? What will be the mix for your audience?

Lead magnets: “Lead magnets” are pieces of valuable content — traditionally white papers and eBooks, but can be others — that you “gate,” or put behind a download wall. In order to access the paper, which is ideally of value around a topic a prospect might struggle with, they need to provide you information such as email address, phone number, company name, company size, job title, etc. Now you have a “lead,” and the “magnet” to get the lead was the quality content. Normally what companies do is create a lead magnet, funnel Google/Facebook Ads towards it, and tie smaller pieces of content (blogs, etc.) to it so that if a prospect lands on their site multiple times, they keep getting moved towards this asset. Finally they (ideally) want it and provide their information. Now you can nurture them in other ways, like email automation or outbound SDR activities

Outbound Lead Generation

The first thing you need to realize here is that a lot of people think of “inbound” as “the digital stuff” and outbound as “the traditional sales stuff,” but that’s not really true. They overlap a lot. In fact, we can start with an example of how a traditionally-inbound element (your website) needs to have outbound-type methodology.

Look at this graphic; it’s from a B2B buyer’s survey done by DemandBase:

Lead Generation Thought Leadership

If you look for the blue sections — what B2B buyers are saying is important to them — then far and away, this is what buyers really want:

  • Easy search navigation and tools
  • Easy access to content
  • Easy access to pricing/competitive info

This makes sense. B2B buyers are busy. Who wants a bunch of white papers (thought leadership) when you’re probably researching 12-15 different options?

You want quick and easy search with transparent pricing info. You want to find the info you need (91% view as important) as opposed to being asked to give your email in exchange for an eBook (76%).

This rolls up with other research about online B2B lead generation: it’s really more about ease of use and interface than any overall “strategy” you put in place. Focus on making your site easy to use and navigate for potential customers. The thought leadership component is less important, at least per this research.

All this said, many people view “outbound” as:

  • Cold calling
  • EMail prospecting
  • Relationship selling

Let’s break this apart.

Cold calling vs. cold email prospecting

GDPR is going to change a lot of this globally (and big-time in the EU), but here’s a general framework on cold calling and email prospecting.

Effectiveness: Look, to be honest you can find a study to prove almost anything these days — for example, this article cites one study where the cold call success rate was 0.3%. The BizXpand crew has been doing sales for years (decades!) and never seen, or personally experienced, numbers that low. (The sample size on the study in question was a little over 6,200 calls.) In that situation, the best bet is that people were quite literally doing it wrong.

Similarly, this guy doing startup sales had a 29% effectiveness rate with cold emailing, but another company sent 1,000 cold emails and, after the bounces, only 12 of 700 executives replied.

A year and a half ago, Hubspot’s blog called cold calling “dead” (a popular refrain), but you need to remember context. Hubspot is predominantly a digital CRM with email marketing baked into it. So they have an interest in people thinking that the cold call is dead.

The real deal: Cold calling is still the most effective cold acquisition method. This is true for a lot of reasons, but there’s one psychological reason that people gloss over. Guys running companies — decision-makers, stakeholders — are, on average, between 52 and 56 right now. As they came up in the business world, it was all about the phone. They’ve adopted to email, sure, but a lot of them are still very comfortable with the phone — and actually might miss how much digital has replaced it.

But the problem with cold calling as you scale a team is that it’s very hard to train people in. It takes a lot of time to create an effective cold caller. They need inherent talent, they need to rehearse 100s of times on different scripts, and they need product expertise. It’s not an immediate ROI investment.

Cold emailing is. You can play around with a copywriter, some templates, and tools in sales automation suites — or LinkedIn targeting programs, of which there are hundreds — and have a pretty effective, scaled cold emailing strategy/approach in a week or two.

Just make sure you’re being compliant with GDPR and getting that official opt-in to your services or legitimate interest, however. That’s where the big change on that side will be.

So, does relationship selling work?

If you hire a sales principal (either internal or outsourced) who promises you that he’ll focus on relationship selling, this is what it commonly means:

  • He will sell to people he has pre-existing relationships with, but not necessarily your ideal customer profile
  • People end up buying from you because of the relationship and not necessarily the value of the product
  • Again, the sale is driven by relationship as opposed to buyer persona

There are a host of problems here.

We know from Matt Dixon in The Challenger Sale that 5.4 decision-makers are usually involved in the purchase process. (He’s actually ticked that up to 6.8 in recent years.) Similarly, research from Bain has shown that companies reaching a $5B valuation typically have 14 levels between the lowest employee and the CEO.

Because of this stakeholder complexity, you actually need to sell to buyer persona — selling to relationship gets you a few quick wins, yes, but it doesn’t get you long-term, recurring business. First of all, the relationship cog could leave the company. Second of all, when the sale is on relationship and not product value, the chances of renewing the contract when it’s over (1 year, 18 months, etc.) are not good. Other stakeholders will enter, assess the value, and decline the renewal option.

After those quick wins — after the relationship selling contact list is done — can you work a market strategically with relationship selling? It’s very challenging. Even if the sales principal has been in a specific vertical for 20+ years, eventually the lack of focus on buyer persona and ideal customer profile and his lack of value based selling to unknown people far outside his comfort zone will dry up the potential leads.

In fact, as Matt Dixon has also argued, selling is not about relationships.

There’s a second aspect to relationship sellers. Industry experts or industry specific consultants/agents are generally good for initial information gathering about a new market and for introductions to prospects but don’t make the mistake to believe that they actively sell for your. They don’t.

Outbound success is actually about product-market and message-persona fit

Here’s the ironic part. Most effective selling is about developing product-market fit, message-persona-fit, and figuring out how to overcome the common buyer objections. (Losing the status quo.)

Now, someone with a relationship selling background probably has enough experience in the industry/vertical to help you develop value proposition and messaging. They can be a great value-add in that way.

So while they can help you develop what you need to sell effectively, their relationships can’t be the backbone of your sales strategy or your lead generation strategy. That’s not scalable and won’t lead to predictable revenue. It’ll just lead to a few quick wins off buyers they have a long, drunken, golf-infused history with. That’s nice in the early stages — it may generate you a lot of leads from previous relationships — but does nothing for you long-term.

Beware relationship selling. Sounds nice on face and the packaging seems good – everyone likes relationships, but for long-term business growth, it’s not the right approach.

The right mixture for lead generation

It’s more than just the sum of the parts. You need the right:

  • People
  • Content
  • Strategy
  • Timing
  • Rinse/repeat or iterate/repeat

The last bullet might be the most important. Some stuff you do won’t work, or won’t work the way you thought it was going to. Test. A/B. Send new emails or try new content. Reach out in new ways. There are tools all over the Internet for various ways to get better at lead generation. Experiment. Reach out to trusted partners on it. (See below.) Keep trying. Find the cadence that gets you qualified leads and starts the sales funnel. Thousands of companies have done this successfully. You can too.

That’s our cocktail today

This is how we put all the ingredients (inbound, outbound, industry experts/relationship seller, interviews with friendly customers, etc.) together to get a well tasting leadgen cocktail:

Lead Generation Cocktail

It’s not just what you put it, it’s also when you put something in.

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Ted Bauer
About the author

I help companies to market their content in the most effective way.

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