Digital marketers encounter two types of buyers: those ready to buy now and those who need some time to think about it. People in the first group are direct response buyers. They see an ad and take an immediate action—or don’t. They usually shop via e-commerce and deal in short-term buying cycles.

The second type of buyer usually deals with long-term, big ticket items. Marketers use lead-generation techniques rather than direct response methods to market to these buyers. Marketers build leads over the long term, spending more money per potential customer, and tracking individuals along their months-long (or even years-long) buying cycles. Even if ultimately only a small percentage of consumers buy, the higher cost of lead-gen is worth it because consumers purchase items worth hundreds of thousands, not hundreds of dollars. If direct response is like being able to pick up last minute items at the supermarket checkout counter, lead generation is like getting your items shipped by freight train. The train travels down the sales pipeline with a load of cargo too large for any checkout counter to manage it. Lead-gen has greater potential for bigger items, but it involves a longer buying-cycle.

Sell a Solution

When you conduct direct response digital marketing, you try to solve these problems: What do customers want to buy now, and how can I get that product to them ASAP? You’re not out to solve the same problem in lead generation, which usually has high-profile buyers who are much more discerning than their direct response counterparts. That’s why you can’t just give make an SEM offer for your product and expect these buyers to act.

You need to answer different questions for lead-gen buyers—what solution does my product offer to consumers, and what problem does my product solve? To answer these questions, you need more than just a few lines of copy. You need to show your buyers that your product offers the most extensive solutions, is worth their significant investment, and will be the most beneficial product to them in the long run.

A Trade-Off

Before you can show consumers that your product is the solution to their problems, you need to get your foot in the door. Lead generation is a lengthy process, and the first step is to gather information. Customers are unlikely to give their information away for free so you will have to offer them something of worth in exchange for their information, which becomes a potential lead. What you offer should be a solution to a problem and should also move potential buyers down the sales funnel.

Whitepapers are probably the best solution service to offer high-profile customers, but some companies also offer other services such as webinars and price quotes. These services resolve problems and answer questions for qualified customers. Whitepapers don’t come cheap though. You’ll either have to purchase one from a third party, or you’ll have to contract one to be made. Third-party sources create better whitepapers because they are unbiased and more reputable, so customers will trust them more. They can offer valuable information on subjects related to or similar to your products, and in exchange for the free whitepaper download your customers give their information and become a submission into your customer relationship management system. Thus begins the long lead-generation process.

Follow the Leader

Once you gather a lead, you’ll need to figure out whether it is qualified or not. Qualified leads are those that are likely to eventually buy your product, or a product of its kind. Qualified leads have the means to purchase your services and have a need that your product can fulfill. Qualified leads deserve more focus and investment than unqualified leads. When dealing with lead generation it is extra important to have qualified leads considering how much time and money you are investing into each potential customer.

Once you get your leads you need to follow every touch your leads make with your product or associated. Gather as much information as you can to move your leads down the sales funnel. You can have a sales rep call qualified leads, or you can send automated email reminders. Keep in touch with your leads so they are actively involved with your product. To be successful in lead generation, you need to make sure your offers are good, your products are great, and your leads are on track.