Lead generation is what it’s all about at the end of the day: all business owners and marketing professionals essentially want to increase leads or opportunities for creating repeat customers or new business.
However, what happens when you are ready to sell the product and/or service but the lead (potential/returning customer) is not ready to make a purchase just yet? I recently had unpleasant experiences both offline and online with organizations forcing sales when I wasn’t ready to purchase. It was these experiences which motivated me to dig deep into this topic by writing this post, hopefully shedding light on the new lead nurturing etiquette which seems to be gaining higher relevancy in our ever evolving B2B, B2C and P2P (person to person) interactions.
A Bit of Context
About a month or so ago, I visited a furniture retail store with my girlfriend to look at potential pieces for my long-overdue transition into home ownership. As soon we stepped into the store we were greeted by a sales associate – asking if we required any assistance, informing us of the current sales promotions and to come see him should we have any questions. Great – we had a person for all my answers. We thanked him for the introduction and told him that at this point we are just looking around and getting ideas, not purchasing anything.
Unfortunately, as we began to walk through the furniture show room we noticed that we were being shadowed by that same person – every section we went to, he was creepily walking behind us. When we would look over our shoulder he would pretend to be looking at, or fixing up the arrangement of some nearby furniture products. As I began to have discussions with my girlfriend about what would look good – he would jump in our personal conversations and try to tell us what would work.
As we were leaving the store, the sales associate told us that if we left a deposit NOW we could get it back even if we change our mind later on. No thank you – our response. Yet, he kept selling: if we left our deposit now he would try to get free shipping if we spent $450 or more dollars. No thank you – our response yet again. Both of us left the store feeling creeped out, uncomfortable and unsatisfied.
As a matter of fact we found dinning furniture which we thought would work – but decided later on to buy from another store with a similar style that actually cost more in price. Why? Their sales associate’s introduced themselves – let us figure out what we want, and essentially we came back to them to make the purchase. They did not try to force it on us, they were there when they needed to be…and gave us space when we needed it. As a matter of fact, we tried to get free shipping or a price discount – which were pleasantly denied by the furniture store. We still bought the furniture!
Online Store XP
Free stuff – who doesn’t like to receive it? Particularly when its downloading stock photography, for 7 days. That’s right – there was an offer to download ANY of the images of a certain stock image website for 7 days, at absolutely no cost. Great sales tool – I sign up, give my personal information and join there lead funnel…I on the other hand, get to check out their photography, try it out on a trial period and see if it would work as a long-term solution. Sounds like a match made in heaven right? Not so much…
After the 2nd day, I found that the images were decent – but not exactly up to par of some of the other popular stock photography websites. I downloaded images for about 2 days and decided to unsubscribe and remove myself not only from the free offer, but from the email promotions and newsletters which they started to send me. To my surprise, the emails still kept coming – I unsubscribed again and went to my “online profile” where I removed myself from ALL email communications. Yet the emails kept coming. I had to block the address in my email account, yet again that was not the end of it!
A day after blocking the messages, I had a sales associate email me directly asking if I would take a 75% discount on an annual membership…a “special offer” just for me. I blocked that email address as well. My inbox was full of spam messages and I have been completely turned off from downloading any images from their web store – whether free or at a significant discount.
Sell Smarter: Help, Inform and Educate
So, what does any of this actually have to do with this lead generation? Everything. These are not just rants of an unsatisfied prospect; these experiences are far too common in the age of personalized communication, customer knowledge and social interactions.
Having the right tools or interactions at a specific time in the buyer process will be the determining factor in actualizing a transaction (or whatever the ultimate goal may be). As someone who has unsubscribed from a FREE offer and the email communication, would I have really fit the criteria of a qualified sales prospect? I have indicated my lack of interest – which should eliminate me from the funnel, helping the company focus on other leads which exhibit higher potential.
Here are alternative options that can and should be utilized as opposed to forcing promotions and hard sales offers down prospect’s attention span:
Newsletter Sign Up
If done correctly (example of what NOT to do illustrated in the story above), email newsletters can be a great way to keep potential leads informed and engaged while they build up to a purchase. If a prospect willingly opts into your email communications it means that they are interested in learning more – keep your newsletters informative with customer reviews, success stories, newest developments, etc. Going beyond just promotional pricing and discount specials can increase the level of engagement. The more you teach the prospect, the more likely they are to stick with your brand.
Download Our _______________ for Free
How I would have preferred for the furniture sales associate to suggest downloading a “Design Guide” based on their latest furniture items instead of trying to force discounts to close the sale. Much, much more!
The blank can be filled in with any educational or informative materials useful to the prospect:
– Customer Success Stories
– EBooks (like this one we’ve created for improving small business SEO)
Depending what your organization specializes in and what prospect interests are, these downloadable materials can vary. Could consist of a combination of more than one, an in-depth ebook or even a simple template to make their decision process easier.
Encourage Event Participation
Majority of the world is in some way active on social media – they can be connected to your brand if you give them reason to do so. Are you currently running a contest? Giveaway? Do you reward people who actively engage with your social media outlets?
How awesome would it be if users got perks for sharing stuff on a brand’s Facebook page? Not only would the engagement increase for the brand, but the audience would be more connected, increasing the likelihood of achieving set goals…and most importantly establishing long-term interactions. Again, the difference is centered around the user experience NOT sales rep salesmanship.
This is a hard one for small business owners who are not comfortable with social interactions and newer ways of interacting with prospects. I was recently working on a social media overview webinar with a small business marketer and after mentioning that social media should be fun, even in B2B organizations their response was surprising: “That scares me – I always think of men and women in business suites at a meeting table. How do you have have fun when you’re trying to close business?”
Easy: how do you have fun outside of work? Post funny stuff, center your campaigns around humorous content, instead of pricing promotions – include funny content as part of your email communications. Believe it or not, business owners or “upper management” are people too. They enjoy the same types of laughs as the rest of the world – of course you have to be careful not to step over the line with certain material. Keep it friendly, fun and share-able! Good example below from Stone Temple Consulting using cats for their SEO round-up news called “Caturday” on Google+ (cats, puns and SEO information = great combo):
You may be asking yourself: that is a lot of effort to just nurture a lead that MIGHT buy something…is it really worth it? It absolutely is, the same argument can be made for sales associates: they are not guarantee to close a sale. Similarly, this content and new way of lead generation does not necessarily replaces a sales person – they can work together to provide the right assistance at the right time. This ensures that your brand is always present for the prospect, not in a sense of sales messages but informative engagement where they are learning something new, useful and helpful.
Shift the focus from TELLING someone why to buy and HELP them make a decision on their own. The landscape has already shifted to a customer-centric interactions, has your brand?