We talk about increased website visitors, fans and followers, but not about how they relate to the cold, hard cash your business needs to survive. 

Connecting those two key areas--communication vehicles and how to influence customers to buy--is essential in order for those efforts to be valuable investments of time and resources. Here is what you need to know about generating leads and driving sales from online communications. 

1. Use content.

The very best way to generate leads is through content. Think about content with two perspectives: Free and paid. Paid content doesn’t necessarily mean money is going to change hands. Instead, paid content means you’re getting something in exchange for your content, such as an email address or phone number. 

Let’s say you want to have a free monthly webinar, but people will have to register to attend. This is both a free and “paid” model. They are paying you with their email address, which means they have given you permission to market to them, and they’re getting an informative, free webinar. 

For the most part, the people who register for your webinar are qualified leads. Some will be competitors because they want to see what you’re up to and will want to mimic you, but most will be people who want to do business with you.

Once the webinar is finished and you have a list of attendees, you can decide about whether to hand those leads over to your sales team or to put them into a lead-nurturing program to receive additional content, and push them through the marketing funnel to a decision. 

2. Use the right tools.

Small business owners might not have any customer relationship management software, so you track everything in Excel. That’s okay as long as you’re tracking leads somewhere. Of course, this also means you’re manually tracking how leads are finding you, what they do once they land on your site, where they go from there, and whether or not they end up buying. The more leads you generate, the harder using Excel or a whiteboard becomes. 

An example of a good combination of tools might be Salesforce for customer relationship management, Marketo or Infusionsoft for email and marketing automation, along with advanced Google Analytics. If your organization can’t afford that combination, consider cost-efficient alternatives such as Highrise or MailChimp, which can help you track customer action and conversions more accurately. Don’t wait until you can afford enterprise-level software, but use what is available to you now in an effective way. 

3. Track how someone found you.

Did they subscribe to your blog or follow you on Twitter? Did they download a white paper, attend a webinar, attend a live Q&A you hosted through Google Hangouts, or did you meet at an event? 

Knowing that will help you determine the types of content they need next to make a decision. And, when you track where they came from and what they did through the sales cycle, you can begin to pinpoint what kind of content works best to drive sales. Create a holistic approach with all of your media efforts, and you’ll soon become a necessary hub in the wheel of information.