Lead generation measuring tool pointing to sales.

The New School Rules of Old School Lead Generation

Contrary to popular opinion, online marketing has not eliminated the need for older-fashioned lead generation to bring customers to a small business or start-up. Indeed, while the rules and technologies for lead generation have changed, many experts still see it as the most effective way for businesses with limited budgets to maximize their return on marketing investment (ROMI).

One of these experts, David T. Scott, just published a new book that I like, The New Rules of Lead Generation, highlighting the changes brought by the internet and social media. Here is my summary of the seven most successful lead-generation vehicles he recommends today:

1. Search-engine marketing.  For small businesses to get the phone ringing, search engine marketing (SEM) is still one of the most cost-effective and scalable lead-generation approaches. It’s also one of the most accountable, with in-depth data provided by search engines about performance. You can start an SEM campaign with a relatively small budget today and get results very quickly.

2. Social-media advertising.  Social-media advertising relies on popular social media sites (such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter) to generate leads through pay-per-click ads and tweets on sites that target customers in specific demographics or under specifics contexts. In other words, you can get your ads in front of a targeted audience very simply, and send your message out to ONLY that audience – when done right, this practice tends to turn up more quality than quantity, which isn’t such a bad thing when resources are limited.  You bid on the amount you are willing to pay for a click or promoted tweet (such as $2), and a daily budget (like $1,000).

3. Display advertising. To use online display ads to generate leads, you post ads on websites frequented by your target audience or ones with content related to the ad. Display ads on mobile devices, including video and audio, also offer a new opportunity to reach target customers. Again based on contexts of user patterns, display ads get placed in front of the right people at the right time.

4. Email marketing. This one has been around a long time but still works well if your target demographic is well defined and you do your homework to buy or rent a top-quality mailing list. New technology allows for psychographic targeting (such as finding people who like to travel) and geotargeting (specifying a certain neighborhood) for improved response and spam avoidance.

5. Direct mail marketing. Some consider direct mail very expensive or dead as a lead-generation tool. Yet it is more alive than ever before. About $20.5 billion is being spent annually on direct mail, according to the U.S. Postal Service; the amount has been increasing each year. Compared with other methods, it does require the largest up-front investment, mostly for printing and shipping but tends to yield surprising results in this digital age.

6. Cold calling. This is still one of the best vehicles if your business has a small, well-defined purchasing audience as do government agencies or medical establishments. You need to first purchase or build a targeted list of clients from a trustworthy source, then refine it with some new tools, like LinkedIn and Gist, before contacting them with a good script. But do make sure the script is good… or don’t even bother.

7. Trade shows. Such forums are still the best opportunity for you to meet face-to-face with people who should be interested in your products or services and to display your goods in person. Pick the right shows, start small and work hard ahead of time on your marketing materials, promotions and especially booth staffing.

In all cases, it is crucial to set specific goals for each lead-generation campaign, keep track of the overall costs and measure the return on your marketing investment in terms of cost-per-action and cost-per-sale. Don’t hesitate to use small test projects to compare the results of multiple approaches.

Technology and consumer feedback have indeed changed the landscape. Telemarketing and robocalls, once a popular approach to lead generation, have been the subject of recent legislation, which many believe will soon eliminate these options. The last thing a new business needs is to antagonize potential customers or become embroiled in controversy. The antithesis of the famous Nike mantra: “Just Don’t Do It”

Plus lead-generation strategies can now be easily updated by the flood of new technologies and software, including use of near-field and Bluetooth communications, QR codes, social check-in promotions, mobile search, mobile web, text, SMS, MMS and geolocation. All Beautiful, trackable stuff if you’re a marketer.

Whether you are an entrepreneur with a new startup, or a mature business charged with improving your growth and competitive posture, don’t fall into the trap of assuming that the new social media initiatives and focus on viral will mitigate your need to do proactive lead generation. Mix the old-school in with the “newish” school and you’ll find a balance engineered to boost business.