As a small business owner, I use the Internet and social media for 80 percent of my lead generation for my business. (20 percent comes from appearances at conferences and sales of my books.) What I like about the Internet, and especially social media, is that it affords me some nuances to my marketing and my lead gathering that aren't easily matched by traditional methods. Here are some thoughts about how to use social media to build your leads.
Oh, I mentioned that this is a lobsterman's guide. I'm originally from Maine. I've eaten several hundred lobsters. I've never fished them, though my Uncle Paul did for a year. Just the same, let's get to it.
What Are You Fishing For?
My first piece of advice when thinking of social media as a potential lead generation: friends aren't leads. Followers aren't leads. The people using social networks like Facebook and Twitter and even LinkedIn aren't there for your plucking (no, not even LinkedIn). Your prospective customer is someone who could benefit from your product or service. Finding them is step one.
Listening tools help. You can use Google Blogsearch, Twitter Search, and Google Local. There are all kinds of web-based places where your prospects are spewing their information. These are ways to find them. Once you mechanize a few sources, be like a lobsterman and check the traps often. (Hey, I'm from Maine. Makes sense to me.)
Content: Delicious Bait for Your Lobster Traps
As I said, 80 percent of my leads come from social media. A good portion of those leads come from blog posts I've written at chrisbrogan.com. If I write about tourism, I'm lucky enough that someone in the tourist industry will ask for more help. If I write about how retail sales can benefit from social media, I'll hear from someone. This is by design.
A good blog with fresh content that equips your prospective buyer is the best way to find leads that I've found. Why? Because it works while I sleep. It works because I can create information that's useful to my buyers, that they can use without hiring me, but then some portion of those people want more, and they become my prospects.
What's good content? Whatever you think will help your buyers. Maybe it's a series of videos that help your would-be buyer with something outside of what your product does. I shot a video the other day about my new Eagle Creek carry-on bag. I'm not in the suitcase business, but I'm a business person with a need for a good suitcase. Why offer to this to my audience? Because it's a sign that I'm not just selling marketing consulting or professional speaking. I'm equipping people for their own success. See my point?
Want some help with some blog topics? I've written blog topics for business to business customers, and also 50 blog topics marketers could write for their companies.
Check the Traps
Developing leads and converting them to sales is a different animal in social media. The goal is to build relationships before the sale. Meaning, you have to get to know people and communicate with them about their stuff long before you ask them about your stuff. If I were to advise you on how you'll be most successful using the social media and social networking channel, that's it. That's the biggest piece of advice.
So what do I mean? For instance, if you have a CRM database (Batchbook or a Google Docs spreadsheet or whatever), then keep notes there. Follow these people on Twitter; read their blogs; connect via LinkedIn. Keep a pulse going. And talk to them about THEIR stuff. Any time there's something pertinent that you want to remember, write it into your contact database. Then, you'll start to remember more and more about them with repetition.
This helps for a much warmer lead-to-sale conversion, as it gives you much more common ground. It builds a relationship, and if you're genuine, it proves that you want the person to succeed, even if they're not a buyer in the end. (Oh, quick "avoid being a jerk" note: if the person isn't eventually a buyer, it'd be nice if you still said hi every now and again, but make sure you move the person out of your "sites" so that you're not pushing them for a sale after you've washed them out of the process.)
Let Them Bite the Bait Themselves
Make it easy for them to do business with you. On my site, I have very simple-but-striking buttons that call out the actions I want people to take. I don't overcomplicate it. There are a few sales chutes that people can walk into and self-select how they want to do business with me. Review your site to see if it works the same way.
Want an example? See how my friend Lisa built her pilates workout Web site. Can you tell which actions she wants you to take? It's simple, and her lobsters bite the bait without much hesitation.
Same Boat, Different Traps, Same Lobsters
Your goal is to develop leads and convert them into business (or that's one of your goals). This kind of lead generation and cultivation is nothing different than when you stick an ad in the local paper, or buy radio time, or go to networking events to meet people who need your service. It's just new tools, tools that allow you many more ways to connect.
Find your prospects. Lure more prospects in with good content. Work your databases. Make it easy for your leads to self-sell, or at least take your bait. That's it. Let's you and me start a lobstering business, eh? It's hard work, but you get a great view.