Nike reported spends roughly $3 billion on advertising on an annual basis– but there are very few businesses that have marketing budgets on that scale. Most companies, especially small businesses, work to very limited budgets, and the key to success is ensuring you use yours as effectively as possible to find and win customers at a reasonable price. But the good news is that there are plenty of low-cost lead generation techniques that can help you make the most of your budget. Sure there are agencies out there that will charge you a lot for a fancy plan (in fact I've worked for a few), but it doesn't mean that their tactics are more effective. Here are few ideas that work really well for small businesses that we have worked with over the years.
Maximize the Content you have created
Content marketing is the process of creating, curating and distributing useful, valuable content that engages, inspires and attracts existing clients and potential customers. It can take a wide variety of forms including blog posts (like this one), videos, how to guides, opinion pieces, podcasts, white papers and more. It should help drive awareness with your audience and reinforce and promote your brand message.
Content marketing is not a new tactic but it is an extremely important one and getting it right is a huge challenge for any small or growing business. Why is content so important now? Prospects today typically don’t engage with sales until they’re almost 60% of the way through their buying cycle, according to CEB research. What were they doing during that timeframe? A large proportion of this time is spent consuming content online, revealing just how vital it is to deliver compelling content marketing thats relevant to your users. Getting it right can mean you start generating leads for free, time and effort aside. Content marketing can make a big contribution to improving your lead flow without throwing money at advertising.
Improve your search engine optimization (SEO)
Of course, there’s no point adding great content to your website if nobody can find it. Your content needs to be highly visible on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). However there continues to be more misinformation out there on what actually gets your page ranked and keeps your page ranked over the long haul. While there are endless resources out there on the latest tips and techniques putting out great content that is keyword relevant on a consistent basis will lead to the best long term results for your business.
Ranking highly in search engines can be challenging as the competition is both immense and intense. But it is possible, especially for niche businesses or niche search terms. A great start is to get into the mindset of a searcher. Make sure you include words that your customers are likely to be searching for (rather than your own internal language and jargon) and include them (where appropriate) on your web pages. Over the years Google and other search engines have become a lot smarter. They now do a much better job at understanding the context of searches and the searcher intent, so it’s no longer good enough to have a keyword appear 50 times on a page. Changes from 2011 onwards have been paying close attention to the quality of content in order to deliver the best available search results based on user queries.
Your content needs to provide searchers with some ‘unique value’. Whether the uniqueness comes from the content, an opinion, or the way it's presented, is up to you. But ultimately, your content needs to be more useful to searchers in some way than the alternatives. Quality content that supports searchers and answers their questions is going to have a much better chance of ranking highly than a very salesy or branded product page.
For example if somebody was to Google ‘CRM’ what would they expect to find? CRM solutions, sure, but maybe they don’t know what CRM is. They might expect to find the answer to ‘What is CRM?’ or the benefits of CRM, or something altogether different. It could even be an acronym for an entirely different concept, company or technology.
The best brands use content marketing, then, not to ram products down prospects’ throats, but to publish content of real interest to them. They use content marketing to help their target audience solve problems, work smarter, and stay up to date on changes in legislation, technology or their own industry.
Providing content with unique value is a huge step in the right direction. When coupled with on-page search engine optimization and some promotion, your content has the best chance of ranking well. The higher you rank, the more likely you are to increase your website visitors and awareness, and in turn your leads and sales. By creating truly great content and ensuring you optimise for search, you can create a virtuous circle driving business opportunities.
Use email marketing to stay top of mind
Email marketing remains one of the best low-cost lead generation and lead conversion techniques for SMBs. With a list of people to market to and a system to mail them, this tactic can play a power role in continuing to engage existing customers and re-engage prospects that have gone cold. It can deliver subtle nudges about your products and services so you are top of mind when recipients are considering buying or have been asked for a recommendation.
Email marketing can be particularly effective for generating new leads from existing customers with whom you already have a relationship and knowledge of their business. That's because it provides a way for you to show what else your company has to offer: it’s always far easier to cross-sell or upsell new products or services to an existing customer than it is to come in cold and make a sale to someone you have no previous business relationship with.
Also, don't forget that a prospect that has gone cold is still a prospect. A carefully crafted email may be just enough to remind them of what you have to offer and rekindle a potential business relationship.
To optimize campaign performance, make sure you test things like the frequency of your emails, the day and time that you send them, which kinds of emails get the best open and clickthrough rates, and – even more importantly – which emails are converting people to leads and sales.
Use social media to drive sales
Social media has changed the way customers interact with businesses and their products. Companies can now build relationships with customers, customers have a very public medium to complain about poor products and service, and crowd-sourced review sites enable potential customers to research what people are saying about products they are interested in.
The buying process has changed significantly. Whereas in the past, potential customers may have learned about your products from advertising directed at them, or via your website, social media allows them to find out more about your company, your products and your reputation from others – and make their buying decisions accordingly.
Topo Designs and Buffalo Jackson Trading CO are great examples of small business who put out consistent & relevant content via social. Give them a follow,
Although this could be seen as a challenge it also provides you with a unique sales and marketing opportunity. It can be the ideal place to influence prospects’ buying decisions and turn them into paying customers. While it’s unlikely social media will drive hundreds of leads directly, it will result in some, not to mention the knock-on effect on brand awareness that can be a much bigger influencer of lead generation. Social media provides opportunities to start conversations, engage prospects, and demonstrate expertise. You can build trust with those you are talking to but also with anybody else who comes across your conversation. You have the opportunity to directly connect not just with customers, but also influencers and experts – all of which can reflect well on your brand.
It can also help generate qualified leads for very little cost. Social networks collect a myriad of data including demographics, interests and more that businesses can leverage to target their communications and promotions to specific and relevant audiences.
Although Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most commonly used social networks within businesses, there are so many others you can leverage, depending on your business and the kind of people you’re trying to reach. YouTube is great for showcasing product demo videos and how-to guides, while Pinterest and Instagram can work really well for design and visual businesses – for example a florist providing displays for corporate receptions.
Some professionals and consultants will respond to relevant questions on Quora to demonstrate their expertise in their reply, both directly to the questioner and to anyone else reading the thread. And Slideshare is another good space where you can share expertise and repurpose content that you have created elsewhere to create interest and generate potential sales.
Keep in mind the best strategy is one you can maintain with consistency in the online world: by nailing content, email and social media marketing you can generate the sales leads you need to grow your business quickly – without breaking the bank.
Sam Casey is the Chief Creative Officer and Managing Partner at Banyan Creative.