Not so long ago, I was engaging a proprietor of a medical centre who poignantly complained that the number of people seeking healthcare services at their establishment had plummeted. While they were experiencing a series of bad days in business, competing hospitals were teeming with more patients than they could handle. In view of the falling patient footfall, they were worried about keeping the medical centre open. The director thought that something was amiss in their sales and marketing efforts.
Certainly, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of other businesses in similar circumstances. During my interactions with prospects and clients at SMD Consulting Associates, one of the most pressing issues talked about is customer acquisition. The big question that’s always asked is, how can we get more customers? The concern is legitimate. Because for your business to survive, you need to have a steady stream of profitable customers. But how should you go about the lead generation process?
1. Define Your Buyer Persona
The first thing you need to do is to understand your customers. And doing this requires you to define your buyer persona which entails describing the ideal customer for your business by identifying their key characteristics in terms of demographic (age, gender, income, education, etc.), psychographic (social class, lifestyle, personality etc.), behavioural (purchase occasion, benefits sought, user status, usage rate, loyalty status etc.) and geographic factors (region, size, population density, climate etc.). Don’t forget to include obstacles that they are likely to encounter when making purchases. Your goal will be to overcome those objectives and make the sales process as seamless as possible.
2. Attract Potential Customers
Having identified and understood your customers, you will be in a much better position to map out marketing tactics for targeting and attracting them to your business. Depending on the nature of your business, you can deploy one or combine several tactics to lure prospects. The goal of your marketing should be to get potential customers interested in your company and its products or services. Some ways include content marketing (e.g., e-books), events (e.g., webinars), sales offers (e.g., discount promotion), and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising (e.g., Google AdWords).
3. Capture Key Details of the Potential Customer
When the prospects respond to the call to action or ‘bait’ embedded in your marketing messages, you need to capture their details for subsequent follow up by the sales team. These include their name, phone number, email address, and service/product of interest. For a long time, most organizations have been capturing sales information through lead capture forms. However, of late, many prospects are being turned off by the ‘gates and walls’ installed by the businesses around valuable content. Maybe they are not yet ready to buy but are nonetheless interested in a particular resource that you’ve shared. Thus, demanding contact information in exchange for resources seems more like coercion and leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Even though you might have succeeded in getting the contacts, the prospect’s negative experience means that the sales efforts that will follow thereafter are likely to be futile.
So, lead forms should be used with a lot of caution. There are circumstances that they’ll be relevant in capturing customer data, e.g., registration for a webinar and others not so much, e.g., download of an e-book. Instead of coercing prospects to enter their contact information, you can have a live chat and engage in real-time conversation. Of course, for offline lead generation, you can put up your phone number/email, be present on site or have a registration form.
When using lead forms, e.g., in landing pages during a digital campaign, ensure that you don’t have so many fields that will make prospects feel as though you are digging out too much information. It will be repulsive. Remember, the key is to keep the prospects interested in your business in perpetuity. Thus, don’t sacrifice a potential long-term relationship for the sake of contact details that may prove worthless if the prospect felt pressured to give them. Instead, focus on nurturing and sustaining their interest in the company by providing useful information and products/services. Keep going until such a time they will be ready to be paying customers. After all, marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
4. Convert The Leads Generated
Lead management, that involves qualification, nurturing, and conversion, is where the rubber meets the road. It is at this juncture that marketing department hands over the baton to the sales guys and marks an important point of synergy in the business. From our experience, most small businesses don’t handle leads properly. We’ve seen situations where leads fall through the cracks despite steep investments made to acquire them.
Reason? Well, most small businesses owners do not have a proper sales unit or point person who can professionally handle and convert the leads generated. For others, they take way too long to get in touch with the leads and loose them in the process. In today’s market, businesses need to be agile. Any slight delay in sales or customer service will push the prospect into the welcoming arms of your competitor. So, what do you need to do? Two things.
First, have a dedicated sales executive to qualify, nurture and convert the leads as per the company’s set guidelines which are generally modelled around four factors namely: need, budget, urgency, and authority. You don’t want to waste time pursuing unqualified leads who may not have a need, doesn’t have a budget, are not ready to buy just yet or don’t have authority to make the purchase.
Secondly, put in place system and structures ensures smooth management and tracking of all leads generated from marketing activities. Start by setting up a customer relationship management (CRM) system. From the dashboard, depending on the CRM installed, you should see all information relating to a lead, including active deals, follow-up notes and dates. There are a few that are free e.g., Bitrix and others that you’ll need to pay for you to use e.g., HubSpot.
5. Maintain Excellent Relations With The New Customer
Previously, most business development executives were only concerned with scoring a sale and moving on to the next prospect. In an epiphany, they realized transactional style is not sustainable. Sooner or later, you will reach the end of the road. Everything comes full cycle and there is nowhere to turn to, especially in B2B setting.
The approach has since shifted from a transactional to relationship paradigm. It is much easier and cheaper to maintain a customer than acquiring a new one. You therefore need to maintain good relations with your newly signed customers by keeping them delighted and engaged. It doesn’t have to be grand schemes but rather simple gestures like prompt customer service, sending them birthday messages, and sharing important information regarding their industry etc. Ultimately, you will be able to increase their lifetime value through repeated sales, cross-selling, and upselling. Go beyond the sale.
Also referred to as performance marketing, lead generation is a critical strategy in customer acquisition. Platforms like Meta (Facebook), Google and LinkedIn Advertising have burst wide open opportunities on the digital space. However, it must be done with moderation. In a rush to acquire customers, we’ve seen many SMEs investing large sums of money in various lead generation tools with little or no return. Why? Because they’ve failed in brand building.
Many small business owners would like to shove aside brand marketing and move directly to lead generation phase. But it is difficult for prospects to buy from a business they do not know. In marketing, familiarity breeds sales. That’s why you need to first invest in brand awareness. Let customers know and connect with your brand before trying to sell to them. Thereafter, you can do regular reminders while running lead-gen campaigns from time to time.
Stephen Osomba currently serves as the Lead Partner, Communication & Marketing at SMD Consulting Associates where he helps SME clients deliver value by adjusting the solutions to each company's mission, product, strategy, and industry.