Sunday, September 09, 2012

SEO: Don’t bet your future on it

Here is a popular recipe for launching a successful B2B software startup:
  1. Build a great product that solves a real problem
  2. Put together an awesome website
  3. Invest in SEO (organic search) and/or PPC (paid search)
  4. Capture tons of leads from your website and close lots of deals
  5. Live happily ever after…
Pretty easy, isn’t it?

If you are lucky enough to have it work that way, power to you! For most of us, reality is a bit more challenging.

#1 goes without saying. I have yet to see a software startup that doesn’t have a great product, at least in the eyes of the founders and funders. That’s a topic for another post, so let’s assume for now it is taken care of.

#2 is obvious. You need a website so people can see how great your product is and how it will make their lives so much better. Some sites are better than others, but most companies can check this point and move on.

#3 and #4 is where things get murky.

But SEO is great, you say, so what could the problem be?

The problem is that SEO is extremely important and valuable when you are fulfilling demand, but has limited value when you are trying to create demand.

Most potential buyers are content with business as usual. They are not searching for solutions. Your challenge is to make them realize the price they are paying for sticking with the status quo and the opportunity they have to improve on business as usual and the associated outcomes.

For that reason, I know very few B2B startups that can fill up their pipeline with enough prospects relying on inbound leads only (be it SEO, PPC, or social media).
Even if you are one of these lucky few, acquiring a new lead is just the beginning. No matter how you get your leads, most of them are not ready to buy today (the statistics say only 5-15% are). The bottom line is that for most startups, SEO alone will not do it.

So what should you do?

Step One: Build a target prospect database

To being with, put together a list of the companies that fit your target buyer profile based on industries, geographies, company size, etc. Knowing these companies by name is the first (and relatively easy) step, but too many companies don’t even do that.

Finding the right contacts within each company would take a more substantial effort. You can do it through content syndication, rental lists, telemarketing, or research tools such as LinkedIn, ZoomInfo,, and the nifty new LeadSpace. If you get SEO leads, you can add the ones that fit your target profile to your database. 

Any way you do it, acquiring these contact names and their email addresses is an investment. To maximize your ROI, use offers with a broad appeal to capture as many prospects as you can. Surveys and industry benchmarks are great examples of content that generates exceptionally high response rates for lead acquisition.

Step Two: Engage buyers by offering content that delivers value

Once you have the contacts and their email addresses in your database, your next challenge is to establish a dialog and keep prospects engaged until they are ready for a sales conversation.

Think of it as a dating process. It requires patience and perseverance. Trying to rush things will only backfire -- especially beware of the killer demo!

Reach out to your prospects with content that highlights the problems you can help them solve and the opportunities you help them capitalize on (notice I didn’t say product or solution). Case studies and best practices surveys and tips make for good lead nurturing offers.

At the same time, don’t be shy about reaching out to your prospects. As long as you deliver value, more is better!

=> Get practical “how to” tips: Download the eBook

Step Three: Follow up!

We live in a busy world. Even the prospects that are interested in your value proposition are too easily distracted by the day-to-day demands of their jobs. It’s up to you to keep your issue at the top of their agenda.

Too many good lead generation efforts go to waste due to poor follow-up. Some research claims that left to sales, up to 90% of the leads would never be followed up. A hot lead that is not followed up in a timely manner will cool down very quickly. Your ability to reach the prospect can diminish by 50% if you wait just 48 hours, and as much as 90% if you wait a whole week.

One company has seen a dramatic improvement in follow-up success rates by aiming to reach every new lead within 45 minutes. Sounds aggressive, but it works!

You can use tools such as LeadLander or most marketing automation systems to alert your reps when a known prospect is visiting your website, so they can catch these prospects when they are most likely to pick up the phone.

Last but not least, the success of your lead conversion requires complete alignment between marketing and sales. You can read more about it here.

Back to SEO.

No matter how many SEO leads you can get, a solid lead nurturing strategy is a must if you want to create a healthy pipeline that translates to predictable sales growth.

Companies that do it successfully typically follow this 3-step process by actively targeting buyers, engaging them in a dialog, and diligently following up to qualify and convert them into sales opportunities. 

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