I know that there are many people out there who, like me, have had an idea to start their own business.
But because of the complexities of marketing and minimal knowledge of where to begin some give up or stall because their business never gains the momentum necessary to sustain itself.
There are as many resources for starting a business as there are components to running one.
But, when anyone asks me, What’s the best advice for someone starting a business, my answer always is, every business starts with a sale.
More specifically, I begin with online lead generation.
The idea is that in order to get sales you need leads (yes, in many cases your first customers will come from friends, family, your network, but after this list is exhausted, and if you want to grow a sustainable business, you need leads). And the best way - most effective and efficient - is to get these leads online.
That’s my focus - helping entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, small businesses generate leads for their business so that they can get more sales to grow and sustain their business.
The important thing in starting a business, and lead generation, is to really understand your target market, your customers. You have to know their specific needs and wants, what questions they ask when first considering your product or service, then when they've narrowed their choices down to a couple options, what questions they ask when more seriously evaluating these options, then what questions they ask when making the decision to buy, what questions they ask after they have purchased, etc.
This information, along with where they get the answers to their questions, is the starting point for how you will market, how you will reach and most effectively communicate with potential clients.
In addition, you need to identify the channels where your clients get their information, where they get the answers to their questions.
When you know the questions your customers’ want answered and where they go to get their answers you can create marketing that . . .
Provides answers to every conceivable question they have along the customer journey (the consideration, evaluation, purchase, customer experience phases of an engagement with a business like yours) and . . .
Provide the answers in a format that is best suited for the marketing channel your customers use to get their information.
If, for example, most of your clients get their information online, then you'd target that channel, if they primarily get their info through some other marketing channel, such as trade shows, then that's where you'd focus.
Most of the work I do is with businesses that are using online channels to reach their customers. Within online there are multiple channels (e.g., email, search engines, social media, etc.) so in many cases you’ll have multiple channels or sub-channels.
Does this make sense?
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The next step is to focus on the questions your prospects ask at each stage of their decision process. Document these questions by writing them down, and add to the list as you encounter new questions. Categorize the questions into the different stages of the customer buying cycle - initial consideration, more serious evaluation, looking to buy, immediate post-purchase, (e.g., I’m a new customer, now what?), longer-term post-purchase (e.g., I’ve been a customer for a while and I have questions about how my business grows with your company).
Documenting these questions, and then writing answers to each question, becomes the foundation of your marketing material. By providing answers to these questions, you will be able to differentiate yourself, provide value to your prospects and customers (at no cost), and build trust.
If the majority of the information your prospects are seeking is found online, then you'll obviously want to have a website and other online marketing that provides the answers to your questions from above. There are different forms and formats to create this content for specific online channels (e.g., if you want to rank high in the search engines), but this is getting into the details of marketing tactics and execution, which is another topic.
If, on the other hand, most of your prospects get their information at trade shows, you'll want to have printed material that provides the answers to their questions. For example, if someone makes in top-of-the-funnel query, you would maybe have a small, tri-fold brochure that addresses their initial question set.
But the key, and core, of what you will want comes from creating a description of your ideal prospect (and you are going to have more than one prospect, most likely three). If you are selling training to sales reps, for example, you’d have three prospect types: someone who is brand new to sales, someone who has been in sales for years but whose career has stalled, and someone who has been in sales for years and who is performing well but still wants to get better). After you have these prospect types defined, also know as personas, then, as discussed, create and answer your list of questions that these prospect types would have at each stage of the customer buying cycle.
What questions do your prospects have about your product or service, the sales process, and, after the sale, their customer experience?
By understanding your prospects’ and customers’ questions, concerns, and challenges as they go through their customer journey you will both understand your target customer better and be able to answer their questions, which provides value to them and help you to move your sales forward.
If so, here’s a sample list of questions you can ask your prospects when they are in the consideration phase, when they are first just thinking about a product or service like yours:
How does your prospect initially come consider your product or service?
What triggers their consideration?
How much of their exposure is due to your business pushing content (e.g., webinar, email marketing) vs. the customer pulling it in (e.g., recommendation from colleague)?
How much does timing play a part in the customer’s decision (e.g., is time of year important in your marketing activities)?
Does physical location play a role in their exposure (e.g., does attending a specific conference expose them to your brand and message)?
Are they being exposed to the message from visiting a specific resource? (e.g., what websites, or offline sources, are these people going in order to better educate themselves?)
What does your ideal prospect look like (what is his/her profile)?
Can you identify different types of customers and create distinct segments of customers?
How much does aspiration play a role (i.e., what is it, at the end of the day, that will make them happy customers, and is working with you a means to this end?)
To receive a complete list of sample questions for every phase of the buying cycle, you can get it here. If you'd like to optimize every aspect of your online marketing for lead generation, download our free guide: