Segmenting is the recipe for warmer leads

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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. The more that's at stake, the smaller the market and the longer the sales cycle.

Generating better leads can make a major difference 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 your No. 1 priority. Think again. If you want highly qualified, warm prospects, focus more on pre-conversion segmentation than conversion. That means focusing on a guided path of choices, not just a single landing page. And focusing on segmentation also brings you more conversions, so you're not missing out on anything.

Of course, pre-conversion segmentation must serve your respondent's interest while serving yours as well. Remember, industrywide, 95 percent of e-marketing respondents abandon without converting. Properly designed pre-conversion segmentation can entice 40 percent to 80 percent of all 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 walk through an example of an enterprise software company selling to elusive decision makers like chief information officers, chief technical officers and CEOs. Say you promised a white paper to entice the first click. Immediately upon their landing, offer versions of the white paper that let you segment respondents in a way that's strategically valuable to you.

Perhaps your software is especially effective within certain industries. In that case, offer white papers that are industry specific. With this next click, you've earned trust by keeping your promise, you've made respondents want the white paper even more by making it more specific to them and you've learned their industry. Now you can use sub-segmentation to weed even further.

You need to determine whether the respondents are decision makers. Perhaps this time you offer industry-specific pain point choices that help you determine their 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 solution choices to ferret out the C-levels from the rest.

You should be getting down to some extremely good prospects. Now it's time to convert them to leads.

The last thing you want to do is lose your highly qualified respondents before you get them to submit their name and contact information. The last thing they want to do, now that they're engaged and invested, is miss out on 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 phone. 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 all respondents, not just on the few who end up converting. What's better is that your investment in targeted post-click messaging and content will reap two more benefits: higher conversions and warmer leads. You can track the pre-conversion data back to your traffic sources to know which vehicles and messages deliver your best prospects. And you can compare pre-conversion and conversion profiles to know whether you're converting your most qualified traffic. If not, adjust your conversion mechanism until you are converting the best respondents. Pre-conversion segmentation is the backbone of an efficient, high-quality, lead-generation machine.

Before you convert a respondent, you should use multistep segmentation techniques to learn where your best prospects are coming from. Also use that segmentation information to tailor targeted messaging that sub-segments and sifts 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. By focusing on what happens after the click, you can make e-marketing your best source of high-quality leads for complex or high-ticket items.

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