Column: Segment Prospects Before Conversion

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If you sell a complex or high-ticket item, you know how hard and expensive it can be to generate quality leads. Generating better leads can make huge differences in your close rate and revenue. If you use e-mail, online advertising or search engine marketing, you can generate higher-quality leads by focusing on what happens after you earn the first click.

When you think of generating leads online, you probably think conversion is the No. 1 priority. But if you want qualified prospects, focus more on pre-conversion segmentation than conversion. That means focusing on a guided path of choices, not just one landing page. And focusing on segmentation also will bring more conversions.

Of course, pre-conversion segmentation must serve your respondent's interest as well as yours. Industry-wide, 95 percent of online marketing respondents abandon without converting. Properly designed pre-conversion segmentation can entice 40 percent to 80 percent of respondents beyond the initial click and get you valuable data in the process. Step by step, you'll engage respondents, earn their trust and profile them.

Let's use an example of an enterprise software firm selling to elusive decision makers like CIOs, CTOs and CEOs. Let's say you promised a white paper to entice the first click. Upon landing, offer versions of that white paper that let you segment respondents in a way that's valuable to you.

Perhaps your software is especially effective in certain industries. If so, offer white papers that are industry specific. This offer should be graphical - with few words - and formless. With this next click, you've earned trust by keeping your promise and you've engaged the respondent; you've made him want the white paper even more, as you've made it more specific to him and you've learned his industry. Now you can use sub-segmentation to weed even further.

You need to determine whether he's a decision maker. Perhaps this time you offer industry-specific pain point choices that help determine his role in the organization. The pain points of a C-level executive differ greatly from those of a midlevel manager, so design your white paper choices to ferret out the C-levels. You should be getting down to some excellent prospects. Now it's time to convert them to leads.

The last thing you want is to lose your qualified respondents before they submit their name and contact information. But the last thing they want to do, now that they're engaged and invested, is miss that tailored white paper. Present them with a short, simple data capture form, along with an obvious, one-sentence privacy promise. Don't ask for more than you need: name, e-mail address and country, maybe telephone. Often you can get away with one, optional scoring question like number of employees. And let them know you'll deliver their white paper via e-mail, so you're sure to get a valid address.

This example shows how two sets of rudimentary pre-conversion segmentation can yield invaluable data on a high percentage of respondents, not just on the small percentage who end up converting.

What's better is that your investment in targeted post-click messaging and content now will reap two more benefits: higher conversions and warmer leads. You can leverage the pre-conversion data and track it back to your traffic sources to know exactly which vehicles and messages deliver your best prospects. And you can compare your pre-conversion and conversion profiles to know whether you're converting your most qualified traffic. If not, adjust your conversion mechanism until you convert the best respondents. Pre-conversion segmentation is the backbone of a quality lead generation machine.

Before you convert a respondent, use multi-step segmentation techniques to learn where your best prospects come from. You also should use that segmentation information to tailor targeted messaging that sifts your respondents even further. By the time you seek a conversion, you should have built trust and you should be speaking very specifically to an individual. That makes it easier to get the conversion, and you can pass valuable behavior-based profile data to your re-marketing or sales team.

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