When I started with this agency in 2008, we didn’t talk about “lead generation.” In most cases, it wasn’t a feasible option – or it was, and we didn’t understand how it could fit in yet.

Today, it’s a big deal, and we talk about it several times per day. So what is it, and what do you need to know right now?

A “lead” is simply someone who has expressed interest in you. They’ve flirted a little, but it’s nothing serious… yet. Your move. Now we’re in lead generation territory.

You want to make it serious, right? I mean, we’re assuming that all potential customers are your type, but you can be picky. You can even have your cake and eat it too – which seems a bit out of place with the whole “flirty” theme I have going here, but let’s roll with it. Stay with me.

Today, the digital frontier provides people with enough information to be the starting point for 81% of shoppers. Unless you want to wait until the home stretch of the buying process, when decisions are firming up, you had better make sure your information is in the mix when that 81% goes hunting online. But just getting your information “out there” isn’t enough – or it doesn’t have to be.

Lead generation is simply the process of creating opportunities for more flirting. What if, instead of just having an informational web page on the subject that your lead is investigating, you also had a little something else to… y’know… move things along. (cue music) You know by the information your lead is investigating a little something about them, and you can use that to decide what the extra little something will be.

Perhaps she (I’m tryin’ here) was looking at a specific type of music. You can jump in and say “oh, if you like them, you’ll love this.” Or, if she’s looking at something involved in step 1 of a process, we want to make it as easy as possible for her to get to step 2 (this isn’t going South, I promise), and that’s where you can use content as a lead generation tool. Oh, you’re looking at step 1, well, here’s a one-page guide that covers step 1 and gets you to step 2 faster – and a quick way to 3 – and the same to 4 – and where applicable – to “conversion,” which is when you get married.

Here’s a bonus – steps 1 through whatever aren’t just an opportunity to move the lead toward conversion – they’re an opportunity for you to qualify the lead. By the time she travels through your funnel (quit it), she should be educated about you. She knows that you like Chinese food and that you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and she’s chosen to give you a rose. If you’re really paying attention and using tools like Inbound Marketing to track leads, you know quite a bit about her by this point too. She filled out a form on step 2 that says she also likes Chinese food, but she’s a Royals fan. Is that a deal breaker? You have to decide. It wasn’t for us. Now I’m talking about my wife and I. The storylines have merged. I no longer have control.

SO… here’s what’s important to understand right now:

  • 81% of shoppers start online
  • your information needs to be there
  • lead generation can help you get involved earlier with greater control

If you just got a little nervous, let’s talk about your business.

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