What follows are three incredibly powerful techniques for driving traffic to your business's lead capture system. If you combine them, they will be mutually reinforcing.
There are different ways to actually implement these techniques, from procuring them as a subscription service, to building the technology right into the back-end of your website. At a minimum, they require you to have an automated email marketing platform in place to collect new leads, make offers to customers, and deliver incentives. The techniques described here simply add powerful layers that make your lead capture system exponentially more effective.
I won’t get into a comparison of any specific technology to do these things, nor how MTL Advisory can implement a custom solution, because this is not a vendor review article nor a technical guide. Rather, I want to convey a conceptual framework of what each of these are, and why they are so powerful for small business marketing.
Platform 1: Niche-Accelerated Funnels (Lead Capture)
Status quo approach: Post on social media, link back to your home page, hope to drive some traffic there.
Niche-accelerated funnels: Market and deliver a preliminary service to a niche audience.
Funnel step 1: free white paper, Funnel step 2: free guided self-audit, Funnel step 3: low or no-cost consultation to review audit results and discuss other potential areas of concern.
“Gear” icon = fully automated solution delivery.
It is one thing to check a number boxes for digital marketing. It is another thing to move prospects along in a journey of becoming a customer. The big problem with with social media marketing is that so many businesses try to entice prospects right to their landing page where the hope to sell the prospect on becoming a customer. This is difficult because it doesn’t reflect the buyers’ psychological process at all, especially for high-value sales. It is the business version of trying to end a first date with a successful marriage proposal.
A far more effective approach is to create a funnel, or process, through which you can qualify prospects and let them experience a small benefit of being your customer in advance. Consider your normal process of on-boarding a new customer. You might provide some free education on the problem you or your product is solving, and you may not have considered whether it carries value distinct from the rest of your offering. You could present this as a first-step service whereby you achieve a “foot-in-the-door”, and fully automate the delivery. If you are providing it for free (save an email address for service delivery), you will have relatively few objections to overcome.
One reason that this is so powerful that it forces you to get very specific about the end benefit for a preliminary service early in the process. But this can be taken a step further. The best way to design the funnel is to take one of your flagship services and focus your content around that service, or a “horizontal” niche. Then to niche down further, identify an ideal type of customer (perhaps in a specific industry) that benefits the most from that specific service (a “vertical” niche). By making the target audience very specific through both service selected and customer persona, it becomes very easy for this audience to recognize the service has been tailored to them, letting them select in to your funnel process.
For example, if you provide accounting services to restaurants, you might create a lead funnel that starts by educating restaurant operators about how changes to the tax code can impact their profitability. As a second step in the funnel, you may encourage them to engage in a more interactive way with a self service audit program built into your site. A final step would be to offer a free consultation to review their self-audit results, and discuss other potential opportunity areas. Each step in the process allows the prospect to become more familiar with your expertise and style with minimal risk. By the time you are conducting a consultation, the prospect will be warm lead, and you’ve had time to assess their fit with your services through the first two funnel steps.
Pro tip: Sometimes marketers will try to create “lead magnet” collateral such as white papers and and videos to suit the broadest audience possible in order to justify the time and effort to create them. Instead, apply both horizontal and vertical narrowing of the audience scope. This will allow prospects to more easily select in and will lead to a far more successful campaign.
Platform 2: Peer Referral Incentives (Lead Capture)
Status quo approach: Hope that happy customers will tell their colleagues and friends about you.
Peer referral incentives: automatically reward your customers and prospects for enrolling colleagues and friends with a similar need.
Step A: an enrolled customer invites a colleague to also sign up for the offer. Step B: once the colleague signs up, points are automatically added to the referrer’s ledger. Step C: the process is repeated after the colleague invites another colleague.
“Gear” icon = automated incentive delivery for referral sign-ups.
“$” icon = incentive points redeemable for a reward, such as free or discounted product or service.
Social media paid advertising relies heavily on algorithms to find users that would fall into your target audience. But wouldn’t some members of your existing audience be well qualified to identify others who are similar? Most businesses have this hope for social media sharing in a general sense, but there is a snag….most customers are too busy to think “who do I know that would also really benefit from this?” And even if they do, most people won’t volunteer to promote your brand (“What’s in int for me?"). But give them a thoughtful incentive, and the calculus shifts. Rather than pay the social media advertising robots, wouldn’t you rather provide incentives directly to your customers anyway?
This is the insight leveraged by referral-based marketing automation. To get referrals, you must actually ask customers to do so, and provide an easy to understand “thank you” for their effort. Tracking this manually can be tedious, but automation makes it feasible. Social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook, for example) prohibit outright payment to a customer for promoting your company. But you can use those platforms, in concert with email, to let customers share your promotion and grant a customer points towards a real incentive each time you get a new lead. The best part is: new referees can also be prompted to share with others immediately, resulting in compound growth. Are email sign ups more valuable than social shares? Probably; award more incentive points for more valuable customer actions. Want to drive repeat sales? Integrate a loyalty program into the peer referral program so customers can also earn points with each purchase.
Pro tip: Use your own product or something closely related for incentives, rather than an arbitrary gift, so that your referral campaigns will be recruiting true ambassadors for your brand, and not just “hired guns”.
Platform 3: Review Accelerators (After Delivery)
Status quo approach: Ignore online reviews and hope they are positive.
Review accelerators: drive positive reviews into Google Maps or other review platforms by automatically prompting customers and making it super easy for them to follow through.
Step A: after product or service is delivered, the customer is prompted to enter a brief review into the email form, following an example of a concise, helpful review. Step B: if the customer has had a bad experience and leaves a negative review, the review is routed back to the company for immediate follow-up. Step C: if the customer leaves a positive review, it is immediately published to the review platform.
“Gear” icon = automated follow up with a form for the customer to enter a review, and publishing reviews.
This 3rd technique is sometimes referred to as "review funnels", but you can think of it as “social proof on steroids”. Online reviews are getting easier to find thanks to platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and others depending on your industry. But for local businesses in many industries, there is an unavoidable contender.
These days it has become entirely feasible to run certain types of businesses without any fixed physical location. But the truth is, there are still many things that you are better positioned to do if your business has a real mailing address, regardless of whether you provide goods or services. There is a very real advantage for audience awareness in terms of search. Google has become the dominant search engine, which means Google makes up the rules for search results. And one of those rules is that having a physical location registered in Google Maps improves your search visibility.
But customers are also using Google Maps directly. It is becoming a de-facto review platform for any business with a physical presence: a jump in the number of positive reviews left on Google Maps can have a massive impact on inquiries for local businesses. If you need a plumber or a restaurant, Maps now instantly gives you almost everything you need to know, including customer experience and probable service regions.
As with incentivized referrals, customers will not automatically think to leave you a review on Google Maps or another review platform. So how do you push customers to do it? After a customer has received your service or product, automatically email them (in a receipt or confirmation) a simple form to leave a brief review, with an example of a good concise review. When they hit “submit”, this form gets pushed right into your chosen review platform. What if their review is negative or critical? Intercept that feedback from being published, address that feedback immediately, and make things right with with an offer to go above and beyond. Then request another review. Sound difficult to set up? It’s not; in fact, this approach is already being used by many businesses.
Pro tip: Use your Peer Referral Incentive system to send your customer a token of gratitude for taking the time to leave you a review.
Marketing collateral is not new. Referral incentives are not new. And asking a customer to give a testimonial or review is also not new. What IS new is the wider availability of automated delivery systems to accelerate customer acquisition. Any one of these is powerful on it’s own, but combined you will have a "league" of extraordinary approaches that, by working in concert, will produce extraordinary results for your lead capture and customer acquisition campaigns.