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Leads and Social Media and Referrals, Oh My!

BtoB Magazine reported this past week on a study published by email marketing company Constant Contact. Constant Contact surveyed 1,000 people who are part of Constant Contact’s Small Business Research panel in May 2012 in an effort to find out what’s on their minds. The results were crystal clear. BtoB notes, ” 76% of survey respondents said attracting new customers is their greatest concern, followed by better engaging with existing customers (49%) and gaining referrals (41%).” The survey also uncovered the fact that out of these three important issues, the one small business leaders felt they needed the most help with was social media.

We thought perhaps these three issues were on your mind as well, even if you weren’t surveyed by Constant Contact this time around. If they are on your mind, we wanted to give you a brief reprieve from your worries with some easy ways to attack all three of these important subjects. This is just a quick review. We’ll dig deeper into these categories in the future, but this will be enough to get the ball rolling for you.

Leads

One easy way to get a grasp on leads and new business is to remind yourself what a lead actually is. With the onslaught of new marketing channels, the definition of “lead” has gotten  muddy over the years. It has become commonplace to call a website impression a lead, for example, but that is not really accurate. An impression just means someone’s eyeballs rested on your page. Some people measure email opens and say that those are leads, but opens are not a great measuring stick either. In fact, in a lot of email programs, the preview window can be counted as an “open.” That means you might be calling someone a lead who actually never even REALLY read your email.

Get back to the basics in your organization. How do you define a lead? From there, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How do you nurture that lead down the sales funnel?

2. Who is responsible for that lead?

3. What is your best bet for converting a lead into a buying customer?

If your concern is where to find leads, do not assume that social media is your best bet. Social Media is not a silver bullet any more than phones, the fax machine, or emails were. It can be a powerful tool, but you need to do some research first. Are potential customers of yours using social media in the first place? Focus on what has worked and then explore ways to build on that solid foundation.

Social Media

Social Media is of course a huge topic. The Constant Contact survey focused primarily on whether users were familiar with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. This doesn’t even touch other web 2.0 platforms like the Blogosphere, Google Plus, YouTube, or photo sites like Instagram. Did we mention the questions and answers site called Quora or the hot little engine that could, Pinterest, a site that essentially allows people to engage in online scrapbooking? The options in the social media sphere are dizzying, and they are only increasing. It’s no wonder this is of concern to so many small business owners, and perhaps a concern for you.

Breathe.

As we mentioned above, despite all of the hype, the first step is to do your research. Are your competitors using social media? Are your existing customers or potential customers there? How are they using social media? What are the conversations like? If your customers are online, are they talking about anything that has to do with your products, or are they there for other reasons?

It’s possible that social media could be an important tool in your marketing toolkit. It’s also possible that you could continue to find new business and maintain current customers without a significant increase in online activity. Don’t feel like you have to jump into everything online full throttle. Think about it. Incorporate social media into an overall strategy. Give the process some time.

Referrals

We are a little surprised that concern over referrals didn’t outrank concerns about social media. Factually, if you build a good system for referrals, your concerns about leads/new business will also be taken care of. One of the best resources we have found on this topic is a book called The Referral Engine, by John Jantsch. Jantsch rose to prominence in 2007 with the publication of his ground-breaking book, Duct Tape Marketing. The Referral Engine offers a similar kind of no-nonsense advice, but the entire focus is on how to create a referral creation system in your company. Social Media is not as necessary to this process as some might have you believe, although testimonials on LinkedIn can really help in this process.

One major take-away is something you can start on right away. Ask for referrals. Think about who could give you the best referrals, and then ask. Too often companies are unaware that they are sitting on a gold mine of happy customers or satisfied vendors who would be more than willing to offer a referral, to make introductions, or to write a complimentary testimonial.

Which of these three areas is of the greatest concern to you? What do you find most intimidating about these subjects, or is there something else that’s on your mind as we begin to turn our attention to 2013? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/theatrebhs/5610503771/ via Creative Commons

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