False starts: How to avoid a lead generation fail

Rob Mitchell

Lead generation is an important objective for many thought leadership campaigns. Produce some compelling content, so the theory goes, and decision-makers will be willing to give up their details in return for your wisdom – often in the knowledge that they will then find themselves on the receiving end of a sales call.

Companies often prioritise lead generation when they produce content because it has a tangible commercial impact: marketing teams can point to the prospects who have engaged with their content and then pass the baton on to sales, who should be able to turn those prospects into customers. Lead generation promises a short-term gain for the business and should neutralise any concerns about the value of producing all this content in the first place.

Lead generation: Too much, too soon?

All this sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t always turn out well in practice. I have heard from many companies disappointed with their lead-generation campaigns because they don’t get people to ‘convert’ in the volume they expected. They are left wondering why, and blame everything from the copy on the landing page to poor SEO for a lack of inbound traffic.

These factors can contribute to the problem but are rarely the root cause. Typically, a far bigger issue is that a large proportion of your audience is simply not ready for a direct conversation yet. Lead-generation campaigns work well for those in your audience who are already considering solutions to their problems and see you as a potential partner, but they do little for the much larger group that is not at that stage yet.

The important lesson here is that you should not focus only on the buyer journey – you have to think about audience journeys, too. It is crucial to have a good understanding of where your target audience is on that path. This goes beyond creating basic buyer personas to developing a far more nuanced perspective: where are different segments of your audience in relation to your services? Focusing on lead generation alone makes the very big assumption that most of your audience is ready to have a conversation with you. In reality, that is unlikely to be the case.

Say you are a company that specialises in AI tools that automate certain financial processes. Your audience is primarily finance and technology executives in large organisations who want to simplify and streamline their operations. You are confident that your solution can help those companies. So why not set up a lead-generation campaign to ignite conversations with them and generate some sales?

It sounds simple, but the problem with this approach is that it assumes your audience already recognises that your product or service is the answer to their problem. Some will be at that point, but a large proportion will not. They may be considering a range of options to streamline their operations – other technologies, training, or reducing headcount. Rightly or wrongly, they might even have discounted AI or not considered it in the first place. Or they might not even realise they have a problem.

Prime time

To get your audience to the point where they are willing to engage, you need to lay the groundwork through your content. First, help them to identify the problem. Then, put their problem in the wider context of their industry. Next, outline a range of potential solutions, including your product or service, that can help them to address that problem.

Lead-generation campaigns do work, but not in isolation. Your audience has to be primed for that discussion with wider awareness and brand-building campaigns. These primer campaigns demonstrate that you are an authority. They also create an emotional connection between you and your audience and make them want to find out more. This starts to cement your position as a potential solution to their problem.

So our advice is to take a more holistic approach to your thought leadership – one that encompasses your audience’s full range of content needs. Think ‘audience journey’ as well as ‘buyer journey’, and recognise that there are stages: from those who are not even aware they have a problem to those who have already decided which solution to pursue. Then, create content for each stage your audiences will pass through. If you only focus on lead generation without laying the groundwork, then you are setting yourself up to fail.

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads FT Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with FT Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees FT Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding FT Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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