3 Ways to Generate Free Leads for Your Business

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: October 12, 2017
Photo credit: Olivier Le Moal/Shutterstock

Generating leads online is not getting easier. New data shows things are only going to get harder for marketing teams. In order to optimize a team's time, marketers should invest in passive lead generation strategies that generate leads at low costs.

Marketers around the world wake up each day to new research that confirms the steady decline in the effectiveness of their old playbooks designed to generate leads online. This new research creates a scary world for folks operating in digital marketing. 

Content marketing seemed like a viable option only a few years ago to help businesses grow their databases. However, research shows that engagement is getting harder to keep and that a small minority of content online is responsible for the majority of social media shares. If a marketer wants to make content marketing work for their business, they need to produce exceptional content. 

Another playbook from the last few years, marketing automation, has proven harder to make work for businesses as more companies look to invest in messaging bots to drive more personal connections. These changes mean marketers need to invest time to make their marketing work. Trends show it is only going to get more difficult to keep producing leads using the playbooks from yesterday. 

Creating exceptional content or installing a new messenger bot on a website are examples of time-intensive marketing tasks. Passive lead generation methods are intended to help a marketing team save time while still contributing to bottom-line lead goals. Implementing passive lead generation means a business is converting net new leads while putting in the minimal amount of continual effort. It does not mean that no effort is required. Rather, a business will need to invest time up front in order to set up these plays. The key difference is that these efforts will not require daily attention, measuring or tweaking in order to help a business grow. Passive lead generation will follow an automated methodology.

Here are three ways to generate passive leads:

1. Directories

Online marketplaces and listing sites can produce a steady stream of leads. While the effectiveness of directories varies by industry, marketers can get a jump on their competition by optimizing a listing or being the first to get listed. For example, in the digital agency industry, an agency has several different places to list their services: Digital Agency Network, Clutch and Agency Spotter are all collections of agencies.

Each directory represents a one-time investment from the agency to set up a profile. Each listing represents a possible lead generation opportunity. While there are thousands of agencies listed in those directories, businesses may have the option to set up themselves in more curated directories. For examples, HubSpot's agency directory lists only 600 agencies. 

Directories pop up across the internet for a number of different industries. A mortgage lender should ensure they are listed on Trulia's marketplace. If you are trying to grow your plumbing business, consider adding you listing to Thumbtack. It may prove worthwhile to invest in getting your business on a curated listing page, like the kind that Product Hunt specializes in producing. No matter the industry, marketers should investigate if online directories exist that cover their fields. Adding a listing to an online directory may only take a few hours and may end up producing leads for years.

2. Curation-focused pillar content  

Too often a business will invest solely in how-to type of content. If you are a social media software company, you may invest in how-to posts as new social media tools become available. These posts can be super helpful, and a business may end up ranking high on search engine result pages (SERPs) with a how-to piece of content. The problem is that there are hundreds of businesses writing the same posts, so the pool of competition is quite large. Secondly, these posts don't age well. Snapchat might update their context cards next week, which would mean marketing teams need to update their posts with new information and new screenshots.

An alternative is creating curated-focused pillar content pages. Pillar content is a new way to approach content marketing. The technique involves creating a unique piece of content that targets a topic related to your business that a marketing team wants to rank for on a SERP. A business will then link to this piece of pillar content on its own site in addition to having the page receive outbound links. Some great examples of highly effective pillar pages show that marketing teams don't need to invest in pieces with thousands of words but rather can rely on curation. They can still produce amazing content, while saving time. 

Help Scout is a company that wants to rank for customer acquisition. Check out their pillar content on customer acquisition. Not only is the page very helpful for anyone interested in this topic, but because Help Scout links to a bunch of other sites, they are setting the page up to receive backlinks from those other sites. Marketers should think outside normal content creation practices and create a pillar piece of curated content.

3. Develop partnerships

Still stuck? Think about investing in a partnership with another company that sells to a similar audience as your own business. Working with another company that sells to a similar audience may seems counterintuitive. Working together may require a low investment and may prove beneficial for both partners.

Take Huckberry as an example. They team up with clothing retailers and sell exclusive versions of retailers' items on Huckberry's online store. For Huckberry, they are the single source where an interested shopper can purchase the made-for-Huckberry exclusive item. For the retailer, they get exposure to their brand while also having another online venue to find new customers. It's a win-win scenario that's a low-cost investment for the retailer.

Marketers should implement passive lead generation tactics in addition to regular marketing activities to help hit their lead goals. The methods detailed above should not completely replace time-intensive lead generation work. A marketing team should implement a variety of lead generation efforts. This kind of flexibility will ensure they produce a steady source of leads even as marketing trends shift.

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