≡ Menu
Generating leads is a competence all sales and marketing people should possess to some degree.
Image: Designed by vectorjuice / Freepik

The following post first appeared yesterday in the online Brand Equity edition of the Economic Times. I am reproducing this here, along with a little supporting data that has not been published in Brand Equity.

Here is a quick overview of lead generation, based in part on my own long experience. Less experienced sales and marketing people will find this useful. Others will also surely find a valuable nugget or two.

The importance of leads
Every individual needs a ‘lead’, some time or the other. Our parents accumulate tips on which school to send us to, we look for leads on which career and job would best suit us, we often even ask around for persons who we can choose as our life partner, enquire which home to rent or buy and so on and so forth. Leads are a fundamental aspect of our lives 😊.
Organizations too need leads. The difference: as individuals we usually need a handful of leads as we have just one ‘buy’ or one ‘sale’ (one school, college, life partner, job, home etc.) to make, while organizations usually need a large and an ongoing number of leads.

Lead generation by industry and type of lead
It’s also important to acknowledge that what a lead means differs from industry to industry. To a credit cards or insurance provider, it is a database that is pre-qualified as per a few data fields. In other industries, like university admissions or clinic appointments, the lead must necessarily be a warm one and generated exclusively for the brand in question, in effect it needs to be an enquiry.

Some organizations don’t need leads for their core business. E-commerce organizations – Amazon et al – have no need for leads. Nor is there is a need for free service like Gmail.

On the other hand, wherever prospective customers need time to think or need to wait before buying a product or a service, lead generation is a must have. Let’s call these the NUCCEA organizations viz. organizations with products or services that are new, unknown, perceived to be complex with many specific features (think consumer durables and industrial goods), in competitive industries (like university admissions), high value or expensive (think automobiles) or which need appointments (clinics, service engineers for fridge & TV).

Leads differ according to the response mechanism to gather the lead. The response can be a request a callback, request a demo, request a quote, confirm an appointment, register for a webinar, download a brochure or company deck, collect an offer or coupon, collect a resume etc. Requesting a callback via a form is the most common but by no means the only way of lead generation, it all depends on the industry and the context. We have seen that innovation in response methods as well as the use of multiple response methods (giving prospects an option) results in a significant increase in leads, other things being equal.

Online lead generation and some reflections on B2B and B2C
In the old days i.e. in the offline world, lead generation methods were cold calling, direct mailing, couponing and catalogs in print magazines, door to door sales visits and referral networks like BNI. And spam calls and SMS are a legacy of the growth in mobile a couple of years ago, all of us have experienced this not so effective lead generation method.

The advent of the Internet changed lead generation, with new response methods such as email replies, form submissions, inbound calls, callback requests and web chats. And the wide reach or user base of the Internet has made lead generation both scalable and much more commonly practiced than earlier.
Online, there are three ways to generate leads: via paid media (online ads), owned media (websites & SEO) and earned media (social media). Let’s examine each in turn. Before we do that though, let’s also bear in mind another trinity of online lead generation: leads quantity (or volume) of leads, lead relevance (or quality) and lead cost.

Social media for leads works well when one has a one-time requirement or one requires a small number of leads. Say, if an organization wants to hire a vendor or some developers and needs referrals for this. It cannot however be a key source of daily leads for the business per se. E.g. even if Domino’s Pizza India, which has close to 7 million Facebook followers, makes an innovative offer on its page on a weekend, it will not materially increase leads or sales for the brand: such an offer can at best make a small contribution to the overall business. However, the leads would be mostly relevant (all for pizza) and low cost (cost of the offer).

Next, let’s look at organic media viz. websites and SEO. Great B2B brands with large websites do generate a good number of leads. Thus, for example, one expects IBM’s website to do this well. In general, however, B2B brands do need to make a special effort with their websites and their content to be able to get more organic leads. Barring the most innovative of companies, this is usually possible only with large, established B2B players. For most other B2B brands, competition with other websites online and a small product assortment result in a low number of leads organically.

The key merit of organic leads is that they have high relevance, as the user locates and visits the website on her own. Another benefit is that costs are low, being essentially the cost of managing the website. However, scaling up numbers is a challenge.
B2B lead generation can certainly benefit by online advertising. B2B purchase cycles are usually long and the decision-makers reached out to are usually senior management, so one needs a well thought out campaign and content strategy on how best to be present 365 days online.

B2C brands that require leads – such sectors include education, financial services, health, automotive, real estate, home improvement services and consumer durables – cannot do without online advertising for lead generation. Neither social nor organic lead generation pull in adequate numbers: only online advertising does.

I said above that leads have three important attributes: quantity, relevance and cost. For online advertising for lead generation, if the ad spends are done as per the available demand or size of target audience, the relevance and the ad cost of the leads can be kept within acceptable limits. In practice, for each brand, there is an upper limit to the number of cost-effective, quality leads that can be obtained. Performance marketers know how to optimize campaigns to get the best results.

I have seen several cases where the number of leads via online advertising accounts for over half the brand sales. In effect, online advertising creates a new sales channel.

Lead closure
The steps involved between lead generation and sale are lead capture (lead generation), lead qualification, lead routing, lead nurturing (optional), lead scoring (optional) and lead closure (sale).

Lead nurturing is a way of igniting and expanding the interest of a potential lead, particularly in the case of high value products and services. Some ways of doing are inviting a person for a demo, a webinar or an event. Lead scoring complements lead qualification and nurturing and is used in situations where organizations would like to prioritize leads. This is done to allocate the scarce lead follow-up manpower available.

Post closure, after-sales follow-up can help to sell complementary products, to upsell and to get referrals for new customers. Another important post closure activity is reactivation of previously dead leads.

Organizational maturity
There are some well-accepted practices in converting leads to sales. One is the use of a proven lead management system, this can be a standalone system or part of a large CRM. Far too many organizations have not yet invested in one or yet to make good use of the system they have. Another is using lead analytics to optimize the online advertising campaigns.

Another proven practice is to contact newly generated leads ASAP. Research* shows that leads need to be called ASAP for best results. Consumer (B2C) leads need to be called up within an hour and all leads, both B2C and B2B are best responded to within a day. In case of no reply, 5 to 7 calls may be made over a 7 day period. New technologies like chatbots can be useful to minimize the workload on the call centre team, though it’s early days yet.

B2B organizations such as SAAS and software services have well established practices for generating and closing leads. So have many B2C ones e.g. financial services. In our experience, the average organization has yet to mature in its lead generation and lead closure practices.

Some interesting lead generation situations
I have in the course of my work encountered several interesting lead generation cases involving online advertising.
• For an accident claims company in the U.K., it was seen that the maximum claims happened starting from a Friday 5 pm till Sunday night. Motorists drove out of London and other metropolitan areas for the weekend, resulting in maximum leads around this time.
• For a veterinary clinic chain in the U.S., nearly all leads were incoming calls (not form leads) with high relevance and conversion (call to click ratio).
• A car battery company was sceptical that they could generate leads for their new battery, as car batteries are mainly provided by battery and garage service points. The company was pleasantly surprised to see calls coming in directly to the company in real time, which it then routed to their nearest dealer.
• A company into B2B services was able to generate leads from over 100 countries
• A U.S. company selling emergency equipment was able to get leads from very many fire stations in the nation.
As can be seen, beyond the commonly known industries like education, financial services, real estate et al, there are very many niche products and services that are benefiting from online lead generation.

Generating leads is a commonly occurring requirement. This primer on the subject might prove a useful refresher for today’s time-scarce sales and marketing people.

* Marketing Review St. Gallen, June 2021: “Online lead generation: An emerging industry”: Simon Stolotz et al.

The link to the article in yesterday’s Brand Equity – which is where this piece first appeared – is here.


Two big challenges digital marketers face

Digital marketing is becoming an increasingly complicated job

An article by me with the above title appeared in Brand Equity, Economic Times on July 28th. I am reproducing this here, along with a bit of supporting data (which was not there in the Brand Equity article).

If you have already read it at Brand Equity, you may choose to skip!

Here it is:

Most of the discussion on digital marketing is by industry outsiders looking in or by digital marketers indulging in geek speak with each other. Very little is talked of by way of the real-life issues facing this sector. As an industry insider, let me talk of some complexities digital marketers encounter day-to-day.

Digital marketers today face two big challenges:
1. An increasingly diverse set of clients and uncommon expectations
2. Ever-shifting ad platforms and Web technology

1. Clients and their expectations

1.1 Newbie marketers and digital marketers

Today, just as things digital have become all pervasive, within marketing, digital marketing has moved to the centre stage. And while marketing has been best practiced by organizations in a select few consumer industries e.g. FMCG, consumer durables, automotive, BFSI and telecom, today almost every organization is interested in implementing some digital marketing – even if this means just having a good website or doing effective email marketing. To illustrate this with some numbers, an agency like the WPP group has just a few thousand clients worldwide but the number of Google Ads advertisers worldwide is over twenty million*. In India, tens of millions of SMEs as well as the 2 million odd companies in the country constitute the market for digital marketing. Each one of these organizations can benefit from a good website and SEO, from a basic social media presence and decent email marketing and a large number can also benefit from online advertising. And let’s also say many of these organizations is considering or has at some point already considered professional digital marketing, in the form of hiring an external agency or in-house resource(s).

Thus, digital marketing agencies like the one I run talk to a very diverse set of potential clients. As most of these would-be clients have not been marketers or advertisers, they are looking to make their marketing debut with digital marketing itself. Unlike traditional marketing organizations who have in-house marketers who talk to agencies, in these diverse set of organizations the business head or sales manager or the CEO herself initiates the discussion – and this person is not marketing savvy. For example, such a person would not have evaluated a brand campaign before. Such organizations have two bridges to cross – kickstarting marketing and digital marketing – both together. And digital agencies and their marketers bear the burden of making this happen.

In-house digital marketers working with such newbie marketing organizations face this challenge too, they have to navigate the lack of understanding of this field among their colleagues.

1.2 Marketers without hands-on exposure to digital marketing
Secondly, when it comes to the established marketing and advertising organizations – at FMCG and other industries – the marketers are not quite digital marketing savvy. This is because doing digital marketing well requires one to practice it oneself and to do so for some time. Marketers typically have an outside-in i.e external view of what digital marketing is and what it can do for their brands and business. In my experience, this results in their forming an incorrect perception of what works. It is also reflected in marketers and their organizations having a high or a low expectation from digital marketing.

Thus, agencies and digital marketers must service organizations which are not savvy about marketing and digital marketing OR whose marketers have some misconceptions about digital. This poses a challenge as considerable hand holding of the client is required.

(In contrast, ad agencies have it much easy, every client of theirs knows what a print ad or TV ad is and most have a reasonable idea of what great advertising is. Likewise, software services companies deal with CIOs who speak the same language as them).

2. The dynamic ad platforms & web technology ecosystem
I shall restrict my comments here to a few examples from the top two ad platforms, Google Ads and Facebook Ads.

2.1 Google Ads Smart Automation has impacted digital marketers
Google Ads has made a major change in its preferred way of targeting, creative and bidding. Starting in the second half of 2021, it is making a major push for the use of Smart Automation for running its campaigns, using Google’s machine learning capabilities. I will not get into the actual details of the change. What is important to note is that Smart Automation calls for a complete change in how marketers approach Google Ads. For about 15 years, a key task for Google marketers was optimizing three types of keywords and using CPC and CPM in bidding options. The new approach encourages use of only one type of keyword viz. and the use of CPA (cost per acquisition) bidding instead of CPC and CPM, etc.

Further, in the new system, a digital marketer must be careful to allow the campaign to “learn.” New campaigns as well as important changes often require a 15 days waiting or cooling period, during which changes should not be made to the campaigns. And while Smart Automation has worked well overall for my clients, in some cases it has not worked well and we have had to devise a Plan B.

Overall, Smart Automation requires a change in mindset and some leap of faith for the digital marketer and often too for the client (who now gets a different campaign reports).

2.2 Facebook Ads: Nothing much is new?
Unlike Google Ads, where change and innovation is a constant, in Facebook Ads not much of this is seen. The main features remain the same as they were years ago. Facebook Ads includes ads on Instagram.

An important feature of Facebook Ads is interest targeting. I find that the interest targeting has not evolved at all. The interest categories are the same as what they were years ago. Further, in several cases, the interests are very U.S. centric e.g. it is possible to target ads to people in India interested in Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts but there is no way to target people interested in the premiere home-grown coffee chain, Cafe Coffee Day.

While Facebook Ads has its strengths – simplicity and practicality of its desktop and mobile newsfeed ads being one – it’s lack of evolution does pose a limitation for digital marketers.

2.3 Google Analytics: new product GA4 is adding to digital marketers workload
Google Analytics is the premier, free web analytics tool, installed in over 90% of the websites the world over. It allows one to track traffic to websites. Google is phasing out their current Analytics product called Universal Analytics (UA) and replacing it with Google Analytics 4 (GA4), a new product. Despite having various improvements, GA4 has several negatives too vis-à-vis UA, it follows a new approach and it is not as easy to use as UA but has a learning curve. Not all digital marketers are fans of the new product.

2.4 Ads Support by Facebook and Google could be better
Both Google Ads and Facebook Ads have limited support available to advertisers (agencies included). The badged agencies of Google – what they call Google Partner agencies (like the one I am at) – previously enjoyed telephonic and email support of a specified Google Ads Account Manager and Ads specialist. This team was available for assistance on all new accounts and on general matters. This has been since withdrawn. Now a Partner agency must get on an online chat with the general Google Ads support staff, telephonic support is restricted, this staff attends to all advertisers, there is no separate team providing support, and general advice which was available earlier courtesy the Account team is not available.

With Facebook Ads, support for Indian advertisers is provided from Singapore. Unlike Google Ads support, where one can ask for help on somewhat complex issues, here – in our experience – support is available mostly for frequently asked cases. One somewhat important though uncommon case took us months to resolve.

2.5 AMP for websites: a Web technology that may not get acceptance
AMP or Accelerated Mobile Pages is Google’s framework (programming tool with a ready-made solution) for creating faster, mobile-friendly pages. Google has been championing AMP for about three years now, it says it results in better SEO results for websites as well as in faster landing pages for ad campaigns. However, AMP has received critical reviews e.g. all AMP pages end up looking alike and it gives Google too much control over the Web. Hence, AMP may not get widespread acceptance. Digital marketers like us must be able to navigate such uncertainty in technology all the time, this is just one example.

The above will show that digital marketing is becoming increasingly complex. Next
time you talk to a digital marketer for your requirements, do keep the above in mind!

*Supporting data for the numbers quoted above
• Analyst Macquarie estimated in 2015 that Google had 4 million advertisers in the U.S. at a time when Facebook had 2 million.
• Separately, Facebook announced that in Q3 it had 10 million active advertisers worldwide, up from 7 million in Q1 of 2019.
• Putting the above two data together, I estimate Google has over 20 million advertisers worldwide as on date.
• WPP’s data on a few thousand clients is based on a published report of WPP that I have seen, unfortunately I didn’t keep a record.

P.S. : Here is the original article in Brand Equity, Economic Times:


The changing face of B2B marketing

In B2B, age-old ways of doing business are changing

1. B2B organizations are moving to digital marketing, slowly but surely

Digital marketing has got many organizations seriously interested in marketing itself. These organizations have never earlier spent on mainline media such as press or TV.

A related facet is the interest shown by B2B organizations, both product manufacturers as well as those in services businesses, in digital marketing. We have had the privilege of working with close to a dozen B2B organizations. This post is based on our learning.

B2B organizations have traditionally relied on a couple of marketing channels. The first is exhibitions and events. Manufacturing companies showcase their products and new developments at the leading exhibitions in their own sector. In addition to attending exhibitions in their home country, visiting the leading international exhibition in Dusseldorf or Frankfurt or elsewhere in Europe and/or U.S.A. is de rigueur, a key part of the company’s annual marketing calendar. Similarly, services companies tend to participate in events related to their own sector – software, media, consulting or other.

The second channel traditionally used in B2B marketing is trade journals or industry magazines. I know personally of trade journals favoured by chemicals, pharma and equipment manufacturers. There are also separate magazines for HR, I.T., Finance and other corporate executives, who are all potential buyers of B2B services.

However, both the above non-digital channels have been under pressure of late. During the recent Covid-19 pandemic (Q2 2020 to Q2 2022), no exhibitions could be held. No guesses for what some of the exhibitor companies started evaluating: digital marketing. The need was felt most acutely for the international or exports business of these companies, as international travel was under a blanket ban during these two years. Not all B2B organizations considered this, of course. Some have.

The trade journals or magazines, on the other hand, have suffered declining readership for their print editions, not unlike the news and general interest publications. The online editions are getting viewership. (I don’t have readership and viewership data to support this, not yet – this is more of an observation). Yet, in my experience, B2B companies have been slow to advertise online. We have not investigated why but suspect it could be unfamiliarity with the online medium.

2. What does it take to succeed in digital marketing for B2B?

B2B businesses are often in mature, competitive industries (think manufacturing). Or, they are in industries where the product or service is new or unproven (think services). While B2C businesses have usually focused on building a brand and have been able to achieve brand recognition, many B2B businesses have not. Or, they have brand recognition, but their buyers are unsure about the differentiation this brand brings and whether it deserves any price advantage over lesser-known players.

How does one establish a B2B brand in digital marketing? Like offline brand marketing, one needs to know how the product or service is relevant and differentiated (from competition). Then one develops a brand identity, an exercise that’s largely about visual design.

A basic building block is the website. Is your website technically sound? Is it user-friendly?
Next to consider is social media. The common factor in both website and social media is content. Do you have things to talk about with regards to the product or the industry that are relevant and useful for prospective buyers and somewhat different from the run of the mill? Do you have people who can translate these thoughts into great web pages, blogs, social media posts and other content?

This is one way digital marketing for B2B unfolds. It sounds easy but isn’t. It needs the continuous creation of relevant ideas and great execution over time. Yes, we are talking in terms of 1 year+.

The parallel way is running ad campaigns on B2B ad platforms like LinkedIn. In addition to brand-building, ads help generate leads, faster than what non-paid digital marketing can. Here the points to ponder are: How do we maximize leads ? What are the proven tricks for B2B lead generation? What works best and when?

One other point. The digital marketer, whether an agency or in-house team, needs to have a deep understanding of your organization and brand. If you are a products manufacturer, the digital marketer needs to be comfortable with science and technology, to be able to market you better.

3. What are the key benefits that our B2B clients have seen with digital marketing?

Positive mentions in social media
Positive mentions are available permanently online. They provide ‘social proof‘ i.e. they work like a 3rd party endorsement.
Greater self-confidence among the sales team
We have found sales teams proudly showcasing a good website and well-made online ad campaigns to
prospective customers. Sales finally gets something interesting that helps them sell other than their standard pitch and brochure.
Larger number of steady enquiries
Great digital marketing helps establish an enquiries or leads pipeline, independent of the B2B sales efforts. The leads come in month on month, day after day.
More enquiries from remote markets
Enquiries are seen from locations where the company does not have a branch office and where salespeople do not call or visit
More enquiries from international markets
International business is an important benefit of digital marketing. Both a website and it’s SEO as well as paid campaigns help generate enquiries.
At least one large order occasionally
While most enquiries can be small, we have had clients who regularly if not frequently receive large value enquiries
Less seasonality
Digital marketing reduces the seasonal fluctuations in the business.

That’s it for now. I am trying to add useful posts more frequently than before. Your comments and/or – if you are not a subscriber – subscription to this blog will certainly motivate. You can find the subscription link on the blog home page on the top right. Ciao 🙂