Whether you run a small business or a large ecommerce operation, having an online lead management process is critical to building sustainable growth.
For ecommerce brands, leads are the virtual version of shoppers browsing through a brick-and-mortar store. They need to come across your display window (an ad, email, or post on social media), walk into your store (enter your website), browse the aisles (check out the sales pages), and either do a self-checkout or buy through a salesperson.
It’s imperative to have a systematic way to attract customers to your website and capture their interest.
I’ve helped B2B ecommerce companies generate thousands of leads and convert them into customers. In this article, I'll explain the basics of online lead management, how to implement it, what strategies are needed to energize your lead generation efforts, and the tools you’ll need to get started.
What Is Lead Generation?
When someone shows interest in your product or service and provides you with their contact information, they are a lead. The act of attracting these leads—and converting them into paying customers—is called lead generation.
There are two main strategies to obtain leads for your business, each with a multitude of tactics: inbound and outbound lead generation.
Inbound lead generation
Inbound lead generation consists of attracting new leads to your website by drawing them in with a hook—aka your marketing offer. It can be a white paper, email newsletter, free trial, etc. They might discover your offer from a Google search or social media.
Once they take the bait—they fill out a form to download a white paper, for example—they become a lead because you now have their contact information and permission to follow up.
Outbound lead generation
Outbound lead generation is when teams directly market their product to their target demographic through paid ads, cold emails, direct mail, targeted social ads, etc.
You can remember outbound as going “out” of your way to capture your potential leads’ attention, while inbound is where they find you on their own through your demand generation efforts.
An example of outbound marketing is a promoted post on LinkedIn, like this one from Reddit:
Inbound vs. outbound: Which strategy is right for you?
For newer brands that need to increase sales fast, outbound will most likely show results quickly. Inbound takes a longer time to set up, but it can lead to sustainable and predictable leads coming in continuously over time. You can almost set it and forget it. Leads will stop coming in when you stop working on your outbound strategy.
The most successful brands combine inbound and outbound lead generation to maximize marketing goals and KPIs related to brand awareness, lead generation, and revenue.
Depending on the industry, some channels will saturate faster than others. For example, the cost-per-click will increase when several companies bid on the same keyword for Google Search Ads. At some point, running those ads will no longer make financial sense. So, you can’t rely on any one channel.
On top of that, the online landscape and buyer behavior is constantly changing. Suppose you are 100% reliant on Twitter ads, for example. You might end up in hot water if Elon Musk transitions Twitter’s business model from being supported by ads to being a subscription-based business.
To reduce risk, you should consider diversifying your online lead management and lead generation strategies with inbound and outbound tactics spanning multiple channels.
Types of leads
Now that you know the two main ways to get leads, let’s discuss what leads are. When B2B companies attract leads, they generally classify them into one of two categories: “marketing-qualified leads” (MQLs) or “sales-qualified leads” (SQLs).
An MQL is a lead that could potentially develop into a business opportunity because it meets specific intent and demographic criteria. Once a lead becomes a sales opportunity, it is flagged as a SQL. A salesperson will then reach out to the lead, going through a set process of sales activities to convert them into a new customer.
A sales-qualified lead generally:
- Shows interest in the product or service.
- Has the willingness to buy or talk with a sales rep.
- Fits the criteria of your ideal customer. (For example, they are a decision-maker whose company could benefit from your product and have the proper budget.)
MQLs and SQLs are primary metrics for your lead generation strategy, aiming to obtain and convert as many SQLs as possible.
How Does Lead Generation Help Businesses Grow?
Lead generation helps sales teams save time and focus their energies better. It is rare to find a sales professional talented at generating leads (prospecting and appointment setting) and selling (demoing the product, overcoming objections, and closing the deal).
Typically, this is why there are dedicated roles for the two activities: business development rep (BDR), focused on outbound lead generation, and account executive (AE), focused on closing deals.
While sales work on outbound lead generation and selling the product, the marketing team is usually responsible for executing the inbound strategy and enables the BDRs and sales team with assets needed for outbound: ads, email copy, brochures, etc.
When sales, BDRs, and marketing join forces to generate leads, the company can grow faster by shortening the sales cycle and growing the sales pipeline with highly qualified prospective buyers.
How Online Lead Management Works Within Your ecommerce Branding Strategy
How you choose to generate and nurture leads should be one element of your overall brand strategy. Your content, ads, email copy, etc., should stay consistent with your brand’s voice, tone, and visual identity. Fortunately, when you generate leads, you can simultaneously strengthen your brand and top-of-mind awareness at the same time.
If your brand targets Gen Z customers who value sustainability, for example, then your online lead management should reflect that. You might create organic content on TikTok about being more eco-friendly, pointing people to a link on your website about sustainability and how they can get involved (i.e., give you their email).
How to Boost Your Lead Generation Strategy in 6 Steps
Here are the exact steps you can take to set up lead generation and online lead management:
1. Develop a marketing offer or campaign
Your marketing campaign or offer could be a contest, giveaway, event, new piece of content, webinar, limited-time sale, etc.
2. Place the offer on your website
Where it makes sense, use your website and any other prime real estate to get the word out about your marketing offer. You can put it on your website as a pop-up, banner, or sidebar ad pointing to a specific landing page or event sign-up page.
Don’t forget other spots like your header images on social media and your employees’ email signatures.
3. Build automated workflows
When you capture a lead from a marketing offer, it is crucial to follow up right away and nurture them automatically.
Why? 63% of leads who inquire about your business won’t convert for at least three months. Staying in touch is important, so they keep your brand top-of-mind.
Use an ecommerce-specific customer relationship management system (CRM system) and marketing automation software to capture the lead and send any transactional and follow-up emails as needed. More on tools later!
4. Promote via inbound and outbound marketing
There are 19 inbound and outbound channels you can use to build traction for your business and generate leads. The idea is to pick and test one or two at a time until you find the ones that generate a positive return on investment using the bullseye framework.
This framework plus these channels are the basis of Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth. Written by two serial entrepreneurs (one of which founded the popular search engine DuckDuckGo), the book was highly influential when I started working in marketing and is still one of the most important marketing books today.
The 19 marketing channels for lead generation:
- Public relations: Pitch a story to the news.
- Unconventional PR: Do something bold to catch the news’ and customers’ attention.
- Paid search ads (PPC): Bid on search terms for Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
- Social & display ads: Advertise on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Quora, Reddit, etc.
- Viral marketing: Create a movement in which customers happily advocate for your brand.
- Offline advertising: Billboards, TV, radio, and other traditional advertising channels.
- Search engine optimization (SEO): Optimize your website and individual pages so that you organically rank for your target search terms.
- Content marketing: Write blogs, thought leadership articles, and guides that entice people to subscribe to your email list or—even better—buy now.
- Email marketing: Create newsletters and nurture email campaigns to produce MQLs from your email list.
- Engineering as marketing: Create a proprietary tool your target audience finds valuable that promotes your brand, like the Turo Calculator.
- Business development: Create business partnerships, conduct outbound prospecting, develop a sales channel, etc.
- Sales: Prospecting, networking, calling, door-knocking, etc.
- Affiliate programs: Incentivize other businesses to spread the word about your product directly.
- Existing platforms: Leverage online platforms and forums like Twitter, Yelp, and Google My Business to generate awareness and drive leads.
- Events: Host an event where you can interact face-to-face with prospects.
- Speaking engagements: Promote your brand at third-party events like conferences and workshops by giving a talk or keynote speech.
- Community building: Create a space in the real world or online where you can bring your customers together and attract new potential customers.
- Targeting blogs: Create guest posts or appear on other websites with high domain authority.
- Trade shows: Go to a trade show that serves as a hot meeting spot for professionals in the industry that you are selling into to generate brand awareness and network.
5. Capture leads and measure the impact of all the elements
Once your marketing offer is up, you’re promoting it via any of the channels mentioned above, and people are redeeming or consuming it, track the success. Measure performance along these steps to know how successful your inbound and outbound activities are. For example, you will want to track your landing page conversion rates, email open rates, sales, etc.
Set up a marketing dashboard to keep track of your most important key performance indicators. This should give you a clear picture of whether or not your online lead generation strategy is working.
6. Test, iterate, and continuously improve
With your metrics on hand, you should be able to determine what things you can try to optimize. Until your online lead management produces high ROI or your cost to acquire a new customer is lower than the customer lifetime value, keep trying new things and tweak the little details.
For example, you could run a test ad campaign on LinkedIn. First, test the ad copy. Then, once you see which ad wins out, A/B test variations of the landing page copy to tweak it. Keep optimizing until you conclude whether or not this will be the ideal channel for you.
Here’s how you can put all these steps together:
Recommended Tools for Online Lead Management
Now that you understand the process for setting up your lead generation strategy, you'll want to set up marketing lead management software. Having the right tech to automate your lead management system is critical to ensure that you strike while the leads are still hot.
Here are the basic features and functionality you need from marketing automation software and ecommerce CRM software to get started with online lead management:
- Form creation: Easily create web forms and save customer data.
- Email contact list management: Add contacts to segmented lists based on the forms they submitted or actions they’ve taken on your website.
- Transactional emails: Send an automated email after someone submits a form or makes a purchase.
- Email newsletter campaigns: Promote your marketing offer to existing leads and customers.
- Automated email sequences for lead nurturing: Send an email to someone 24 hours after they abandon their shopping cart, for example.
- Integration with your sales pipeline management software: Allow sales to see what forms a contact has submitted on your website and which automated marketing emails they received to simplify the sales process.
You can find all the features above in a marketing automation platform like Salesforce, Hubspot, or ActiveCampaign. Alternatively, you could piece together multiple tools that integrate with one another.
Remember, if you use multiple tools that don’t integrate, you will spend too much time in spreadsheets and lack the real-time data to make the best decisions.
Once you have the tool(s) and functionality to achieve the above, you can make your process more sophisticated by adding:
- Lead scoring: Automatically categorize new email subscribers as MQLs or SQLs, routing them to BDRs or AEs.
- Landing page builder: Quickly make a landing page for your white paper or event registration without coding anything.
- Social media management: Save time promoting your marketing offer on social media by creating a content calendar and scheduling posts in advance.
- Outbound email software: Not to be confused with marketing email automation software, a tool like Outreach will help you to send bulk outbound emails to prospects (not your marketing subscribers) without tarnishing the reputation of your domain.
Grow Your Ecommerce Business with Online Lead Management
I hope this article helps you envision how you can get started with online lead management and streamline your sales process, helping you obtain sales-ready leads from different sources. Some strategies and tactics will take longer to show momentum than others, but I included them here because they’re all tried and tested.
For every ecommerce brand, developing sales leads should be at the heart of your growth strategy, along with having the right lead management tool.
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