If you're just starting out as a budding entrepreneur, or you're trying to get back on your feet after some allegedly "hot" leads dried up, then it's time to create several online lead pipelines.
Note the plural there ("pipelines"). It's important to use multiple marketing channels so that you can maximize your potential for lead generation and therefore revenue.
It's also important to know how to create those pipelines so that you can maintain a healthy cash flow.
Here are some steps you can take to do just that.
1. First, Take The Time To Determine Where Your Customers Are
The first step is to follow the money trail. And that trail begins with people in your target market.
Find out where they hang out. Then, recall Woody Allen's statement that 80% of life is just showing up.
In this case, though, we're focusing specifically on building an online sales pipeline. So you want to find out where your prospects are spending their time in cyberspace.
Here are a few places where you might locate potential customers:
Online Media Sites - Start bookmarking sites that are of interest to people in your market. If your target market consists of car enthusiasts, you'll almost certainly find more than a few of them hanging out at Car & Driver for example. Make a list of 25 to 50 of the top sites.
Communities - Think Facebook communities, Google + Groups, Twitter hashtags, Twitter chats, forums, popular YouTube channels or Periscope feeds. Find 5 to 10 of the most popular communities and add them to your list.
Influencers - There are a couple of great reasons to locate key influencers on social media. First, you can follow their followers and they might follow you back. Second, if you make nice with the influencers, they might share one or more of your updates to their large audience. It is a good idea to make a Twitter list of all the influencers in your industry. Shoot for 20 to 100 people who you want to align with. Make sure to interact with them over time. Also, add these people to your sheet.
Blogs - Aside from formal media websites, blogs are a great place to find people in your target market. Find the top 30 blogs where your customers hangout.
Referral Partners - Don't forget about current and new potential referral partners. They have websites, blogs and social media profiles too. Make sure to create a list of your current partners and the ones you want to become a partner.
Once you've determined where your likely customers hang out online, it's time to move on to the next step.
2. Rank Your Opportunities
Not all prospects are created equal. Some are more equal than others.
And not all prospecting opportunities are created equal, either.
Bottom line here: prioritize. Rank all your opportunities on a scale of 1 to 10 and work your way down the list.
3. Create a 6-Month Plan
Once you've got your list prioritized, it's time to start working on your 6-month plan.
And yes, it might take that long...
If you think you're going to nurture complete strangers into becoming paying customers overnight, you're sadly mistaken. It's best to understand that up front.
So start a plan that's basically a long-term strategy at finding prospects and leading them to a sale. Here are some action items you can tackle in your 6-month plan:
Guest Blogging - One of the best ways to establish yourself as an authority in your space is to produce content another site that customers read. That tells people you've got something to say that's worth publishing somewhere out of your own website. Make certain that your blog post offers information that's relevant to people in your market. Our company generates about 40% of leads through guest blogging.
Commenting - If you want to start the process of gently leading people through your sales pipeline, you might begin by offering comments on relevant forums and blog posts. Your comments should do two things: 1) provide helpful info and 2) reinforce your brand. Commenting is another great way to show people that you know what you're talking about. Commenting helps you build relationships with the author (who might be an influencer) and get in front of readers.
Advertising - Good, old-fashioned advertising is still a thing. Sure, it costs money, but online advertising has a couple of very distinct benefits. First, you can highly target your audience so that only people who are potential customers see your ad. Second, you can check analytics to see how well your ad is performing. Take a look at the list you have developed and allocated a budget to each of the top sites you want to be a part of.
Interacting on Social Media and Setting up calls - If you manage to engage with a prospect online so that the two of you are exchanging tweets, comments or likes regularly, it might be time to set up a phone call. They are now a qualified lead.
Be sure to tailor the call based on where you think the prospect is in the sales funnel. It's probably best to make the first call an informational one, rather than an attempt at a hard close. Think about how you can help them first.
Interviewing People for Your Blog, Podcast, YouTube Channel, Etc. - If you've managed to successfully engage with a key influencer, you can stroke his/her ego while simultaneously adding content to your blog (or whatever your chosen outlet is for thought leadership) by securing an interview. Also, key influencers are likely to share a link to the interview article on their social media channels. That will drive even more traffic to your site.
Keep in mind that the efforts above require consistency. You have to devote at least 30-50% your time cultivating relationships online or your pipelines will eventually dry up. Also, always look to build more. If you want to scale your business, you are going to need more and more leads.
The Hardest Part Is Getting Started And Staying Consistent
It's a process to develop an online sales pipelines. But once you understand how to do it, and you apply yourself consistently, you'll find that you're rewarded with steady sales growth over time.
I have personally taken many sites from nothing to hundreds, thousands and even hundreds of thousands of leads each month. Follow these steps, get scrappy and align with a great online marketer and you'll be able to reach your pipeline goals.