Justin Hitt, President of iunctura.com consultancy, markets his services to C-level executives - CEOs, CIO, COOs and CMOs.
He started by testing banner ads (link to samples below), with mixed results...
"They pulled an average of 0.5%, but [rose to] 1.5% to 4% on highly contextual pages well related to the target audience. But the number of exposures was so low it didn't produce the volume worth running them extensively."
Plus, he discovered that even at targeted sites, surfers who clicked on banners weren't highly qualified leads because they weren't in active consultant-seeking mode.
"Regular executives (outside of CIOs) don't spend a lot of time surfing Web sites. They are primarily information gatherers, forging here and there for specific bits of information, often through a secondary gatherer -- i.e. 'Go find me information about CRM ROI and send me a report by Friday.'"
Last but not least, even when Hitt's campaigns generated the right lead, the prospect wasn't about to order consulting services right away.
Hitt needed to build a relationship through a series of interactions that might someday turn a lead into a client.CAMPAIGN
After examining data from all of his campaigns, Hitt discovered one traffic-driving tactic was generating better leads than the rest. So, he bailed on much of his other marketing efforts to focus efforts on refining this one:
-> Step #1: Drive traffic through professional forum postings
C-level execs and their researching underlings don't tend to participate in online community as such on an ongoing basis. They aren't frequent posters, they don't return to sites often.
Instead, they search online forums and bulletin boards only when they're seeking the answer to a specific question. It's forum as encyclopedia versus forum as community.
To take advantage of this, Hitt surfed search engines using terms his prospects and their researchers might use when seeking answers online. Whenever he spotted a bulletin board or forum question or answer listed in the results, he dove in to examine it more carefully.
If the question or the person posing it appeared to be perfect in tone and subject for his target marketplace, Hitt would compose a thoughtful reply note to post publicly in the forum. (See link to samples below.)
Critical - these notes weren't openly salesy. He always included tips and/or data a researcher would find highly valuable. Then at the end he put a low-key offer inviting them to visit a particular Web page (his landing page) for more info.
"You don't want to interrupt them in the middle," says Hitt. "Give them good information and they will feel warm towards you and they will come."
-> Step #2. Test landing pages to maximize conversions
Instead of being content with a single landing page (aka splash page), Hitt continually ran tests, A/B splitting traffic from each posting to two different pages each with a slight difference.
Among the many elements he tested were:
a. Headline copy
It's said that headlines determine 70% of a print ads success. Hitt suspected Web headlines were just as important, so he constantly tested tweaks. For example, he tested:
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b. Body copy
Hitt tested wording, and also long copy versus short copy. He expected long copy to win because in direct response longer letters often do.
Hitt tested classic white paper educational-style offers versus an online survey form that asked questions related to his services (link to sample below.) For example one five-question survey was entitled, "Executive Opinions of Building Business Relationships Online."
While the surveys asked for contact information, they appeared to be something that a formal researcher might ask for a true study versus simply a lead gen form.
d. Amount of data requested
Again, Hitt tested everything from asking for very, very little - just a name and email address - to asking for the full Monty including address, telephone, fax and demographic information.
-> Step 3: Follow-up campaigns
Hitt tried three automated tactics to continue the new relationship with leads so it would ultimately turn into a request for an RFP --
a. Confirmation pages that work harder
When prospects clicked submit to enter their data in the initial form, Hitt didn't want to send them to a generic "thank you" page. Instead, he created a special matching confirmation page to continue the visitor's experience.
While the confirmation pages definitely included a thanks in their headlines, their main focus was to get the prospect to continue interacting with Hitt's site and brand immediately. Why let a lead drift off when you've got their attention?
So each included multiple links to other educational items -- white papers, etc -- on the same topic as the initial posting they responded to. (See link to sample confirmation pages below.)
b. Email autoresponse series
Hitt set up an automated series of four email letters that each lead would get over a two-week period after they entered the system. (See link to samples below.)
Instead of selling, each contained useful information on the topic at hand, such as an article Hitt had written. He hoped this demonstrated value would remind prospects of why his firm would be the best consultancy for their needs.
c. Monthly email newsletter
Hitt also tested sending leads a monthly email newsletter. (Link to sample below.) Again it was more informational and valuable in content than salesly. In fact, Hitt always isolated sales copy into a single section at the bottom with the tongue-in-cheek title, "Shameless Self Promotion."
-> Step 4: Handcraft your lead database
Now that Hitt was focusing his traffic-driving on more qualified leads, each lead was worth more personal attention.
Instead of just dumping them in a database, he and his team began to lovingly track, polish and add to each lead's record.
Every contact with iunctura.com was carefully logged into a master file. Then the most qualified were entered into a Gold Mine database of prime prospects. "Take pains to enrich your data," Hitt advises.
As expected, many leads were assistants researching on behalf of C-level execs. So, Hitt's team identified the company from the domain name, checked Edgar filings to discover who the key executives are, called the company to link executive with assistant and popped all of that into the database.
Repeat contacts were also carefully noted. Hitt says there are only about 120,000 qualified prospects in his total universe, so over years of marketing it would make sense many would have entered his net more than once, sometimes repeatedly.
He expected that these repeat entries would be more qualified leads.
Over the past 18 months, Hitt's tactics have generated almost 600 leads who are overall far more qualified than the leads generated through past banner ad efforts.
He notes, "While the volume isn't spectacular, the quality is very high. I'll run 15 or so of these lead generation tools at any given time, some running as long as years. At an average of a dozen leads per month, per campaign, it keeps this consultant very happy."
More results data:
- Postings on most online forums live for years. Hitt has had success posting answers to questions that were literally years old but still got traffic.
He's also found that his old answers keep pulling in leads months and months later as the subject waxes and wanes in popularity with information seekers.
"For example, I've posted on CRM-Forum.com answering a user's question then mentioning for a tip sheet on the topic, they could visit a coded URL. After the response I received 91 leads requesting the report, then response tapered off by halves. About 5 months later I received 124 leads with response tapering off by halves again. Then another period of nothing, maybe a 6 month after the last peak, then a burst of 64 leads."
- Hitt learned that posting too much could hurt results.
"Infrequent targeted posts are more powerful than regular contacts through that brand. Choose to respond only to those requests that are from targeted buying prospects, don't respond to respond, answer people's requests to connect with buyers.
"If you answer every post you just look like a guru with a lot of time on your hands."
- Tweaks in landing page headline copy produced up to 60% differences in results. The punchier landing page headlines tended to work the best for direct-response offers. More formal wording worked best for survey-style landing pages.
- Shorter copy always worked better than long copy on landing pages for no-cost offers. When Hitt gave the bare facts in short paragraphs, he signed up twice as many visitors than when he provided justification and 'reasons why'.
The optimum body copy was whatever could be read at one glance - 25 to 30 words max.
"Long copy is still better when you are trying to actually sell them something," says Hitt. "But short copy wins when you are trying to get them to sign up for something such as a newsletter subscription."
- The survey offer was the killer app for Hitt. Roughly 20% of visitors completed the survey forms which required contact data as well as general answers. The number jumped to more than 30% when they were told the purpose of the survey and how the data would be used.
- Five items beyond contact data was about the limit in terms of information responders to any offer would give Hitt initially.
The exception was surveys. If the survey topic was interesting, visitors would give him all the contact and demographic information he asked for. Many would also 'let it all hang out' in the comment boxes.
- Tweaking the way in which a response form asked for information also helped results. "They are coy about things like annual sales and won't give it to you," says Hitt. "But if you give them pre-specified sales ranges, they will tell you where they fit in.
Similarly, many will not tell you what their title is but they will tell you what role they play."
Also, "what they tell you depends on what they think you need. If your offer is an emailed report, they won't give you an address. If your offer is a white paper in the mail, they will give it to you."
- Between 10-23% of visitors who reached the confirmation pages took the chance to click through on another link immediately and continue learning from and interacting with the site.
- While registrants enjoyed the autoresponse emails, Hitt found his email newsletter worked better over time, partially because it was a longer-term communication. Now he focuses more on the newsletter and less on autoresponse.
- Hitt discovered it took an average of six interactions for a lead to migrate to a lucrative relationship.
"They might begin by subscribing to my newsletter, or downloading a couple of white papers or buying a low-cost report," he notes. "Eventually I get them as consulting clients."Related links:
Link to creative samples of banners, forum posts, landing pages, thank-you pages, and emails sent to leads generated:
Hitt's consulting firm