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.