I personally feel we should ban the term “lead generation” from marketing and sales discussions. Many companies try to set up their website or general marketing/sales funnel to “optimize” (buzzword hell) for “lead generation,” even if they have staff in place that doesn’t understand what either concept means and totally doesn’t realize the funnel has shifted 15,991 times since 2007 alone.

But if you really want to chop it up about lead generation and how to drive leads for your business, especially from the powerful little Internet? Well, let’s take a look at this post from Marketo on the topic of conversion rates:

Conversion Rates For Lead Generation Referral Still Wins

So … it looks like the best channels are:

  • Referral
  • Partner
  • Inbound (Content)
  • Paid Marketing
  • Social Media

This isn’t that surprising, nor is it that surprising that referral is so much higher (basically a factor of 4x).

Marketing departments often chase a lot of different tricks — such as automation! — as opposed to actually stopping and thinking about their overall function and how the pieces tie together. (In short, marketing needs to evolve.)

Unless you’re talking about a really small purchase, I’d say most people do these things when contemplating a big purchase/vacation/home/anything over $500:

  • Ask their friends
  • Ask their family
  • Do some research online
  • Ask more people

Word-of-mouth has been the marketing channel since just about after the Big Bang. You want trusted resources. That’s how you contextualize and arrive at big decisions in your life. Some of the most important industries in terms of our “big life” moments are almost entirely powered by referral:

  • Travel advising/agents
  • Real estate
  • Construction/contractors
  • Lawyers
  • Financial planners

If you look at the three most powerful converters in this Marketo study, here’s where I’d land as a marketing professional:

  • Set up a system of stories about your product, but not stories about the basic details of the product. The stories need to be about how the product makes a person’s life better. They need to be real.
  • Chase good, functional partnerships that can logically help you drive traffic.
  • Have solid content that explains the value of what you do and the arc of the story.

This last part is a problem for a lot of marketing departments — I honestly think a lot of marketing people don’t even understand what “content” is some days — and most of the time, higher-ups want to push product as opposed to telling a story. All marketing and branding really is in the modern era is telling a story. People can tell when you’re pushing product; they ignore that. (About the only product in the world that can be pushed directly on a consumer and they’ll deal with whatever context it comes in? Illegal narcotics.)

I’ve seen so many companies set up these big, complicated lead generation / conversion rate programs that ultimately collapse 18-24 months later because they weren’t at all rooted in how “a customer journey” actually takes place. It takes place through trusted connection, understanding your story, seeing your transparency, and realizing who you are in relation to partners. Those things drive leads and conversions. But again — it’s not necessarily immediate revenue to set things up in this way, and that’s a problem for many.

About Ted Bauer

Born and raised in New York, Ted has now lived in a variety of cities -- and currently calls Ft. Worth home. He's worked in numerous verticals, including education, sports, television, health care, and now the travel industry. His different experiences -- with cultures, and bosses both excellent and horrible -- shape a good deal of his writing, including at his personal Context of Things blog.

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