June 10, 2016

4 Ways to Improve Your Top-of-the-Funnel Lead Generation

Written by
Sanjit Singh

Sometimes I miss being a sales manager in the early 90s. We hired salespeople. We made cold phone calls. We walked into businesses and grabbed business cards. That was top-of-the-funnel marketing at its simplest. Although I look back on those days with great nostalgia, I also see some wild inefficiencies.

Now we use “data-driven lead generation,” content, marketing automation, power dialers, social media, and several thousand other methods to fill the top of our funnel.

ALSO READ: Qualifying Leads by Applying Friction to the Buyer’s Journey

Despite all of these advances in technology, top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) campaigns still suffer the same major weakness: poor targeting, and a lack of personalization. Let me illustrate my point by asking you a few questions. Have you received a cold email recently trying to sell you something that does not remotely fit your business? Has someone sent you a cold InMail on Linkedin with an offer that indicates they didn’t even scan your Linkedin profile? Have you received a cold phone call that was way off the mark? Of course you have. Perhaps you’ve even committed one of these sins (I have).

Why does this still happen? I’m guessing that salespeople think cold outreach is easier than sitting down to analyze a business, think through the best approach, and find the proper tools.

The good and bad news is that tools for marketing and sales are growing at a dizzying pace. In the tips below, I’ll try to steer you to the right kinds of technologies to help you analyze your business and define a better approach.

Here are four tips to help you improve your strategy at the top of the funnel.

1. Analyze Your Own Customer Data

There are tools that can help you mine your existing customer data to find data patterns and provide you with target companies and contacts that are lookalikes. Some refer to this process as “predictive lead generation” or “predictive analytics.” Predictive analytics use a combination of stats, machine learning, and data repositories to help you identify your ideal customer profile. Although you have several choices for predictive technologies, the best ones analyze your customers on three levels: firmographics, digital footprint, and tech stack.

Firmographics, of course, refers to basic company characteristics such as industry and size. A digital footprint analysis actually employs bots that crawl websites to seek out keywords and key concepts that bear the strongest similarities to your customers. This process is not that different from the way Google finds the websites that bear the greatest authority for and relevance to your search request. Analyzing your customers’ tech stack will identify any common systems they use and then look for companies with similar tools.

All predictive lead gen is based on a simple premise: you are more likely to have success in sectors of the market where you have had success in the past.

2. Use Social Data to Improve Targeting

If you already know a fair amount about your customers, you can use other methods to find outside data connected to your customers and improve targeting precision.

For example, if you know what topics your top prospects are likely to discuss on Twitter, you can employ social listening tools to identify other prospects discussing these topics. This is a clever way to harvest Twitter prospects that are relevant to your product or service. Some of these social listening and social mining tools can even send a quick, automated note to each matched prospect and then drop them into your CRM.

Linkedin is another data source you can mine using what you already know about your customers. Starting with Linkedin’s Advanced Search capability, you can define your target company or contact profile with a surprising degree of precision. For instance, you can input search criteria such as title, seniority, and keywords. If you want to further automate the process, you can use the LinkedIn Sales Navigator tool to get custom lead recommendations and import data directly to Salesforce.

What these tools have in common is that they help you leverage what you already know about your customers to find precision targets using alternative data sources such as Twitter and Linkedin.

3. Reach Your Buyers By Testing Channels

A recent article in Entrepreneur Magazine, “The Only True Way to Become a Marketing Genius,” asserts that to be a marketing expert, you only have get good at one thing: testing.

This point is really brought home by my favorite startup marketing book: Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth. Authors Weinberg and Mares suggest that most businesses fail not because of product failure but rather because of traction failure, which stems from working in the wrong channels. They promote a simple process of brainstorming and testing to select the best marketing channels for your product or service (out of 19 possible). They suggest doubling down on a few traction channels that show the most promise, based on your tests. Sometimes it’s easier to cut through channel noise simply by using channels that are less frequented by your competitors.

Once you’ve identified your key targets and the optimal channels, reach out on all platforms that have been proven to create traction. Evidence shows that the confluence of multiple touches moves a prospect to action. Be tenacious no matter what channel you are using; most sales reps give up too early. For instance, I recently succumbed to a video-creation SaaS product after receiving numerous emails from them. What can I say? I needed the product, and they wore me down.  

4. Personalize Your Sales Outreach

Personalizing your outreach will help you more effectively engage buyers. Customers are constantly flooded with a deluge of marketing messages and information, and it has become increasingly important to promote content that resonates. Social media platforms have taken away all our excuses about engaging buyers in a personalized way.

Think about personalization in two ways: by company and by contact.

First, find a tool or service that will help you rapidly build a dossier of important and up-to-date information related to your target companies. Then you have the basis of a personalized email for everyone at that company. Ideally, you’ll find something in your dossier that provides an appropriate segue into your product. One of the most ideal segues is a trigger event, such as a news story about the company’s recently announced plans to expand internationally. In this case, your email might start, “Nancy, I just read that your company plans to expand internationally and may have a need for international parcel shipping services . . .”

Second, search social media for at least some information on individual contacts that you plan to approach. Using this information is a bit of a judgement call. I’ve had great success by referring to bits of personal information that I find on Linkedin, especially if it’s something that I share in common with the prospect. For example, “Hey I noticed that you and I attended UCLA at the same time. Go Bruins!” I usually put this in the P.S. section of an otherwise professional business note. That way, I’m not leading with something personal, but it’s a fun afterthought that might catch their attention or interest.

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Hopefully, this article has helped you identify at least new one method to generate leads and strengthen sales outreach at the top of your funnel. As you drill down into these methods, try not to obsess over every new trend and best practice. In the time it took you to read this article, someone probably invented a “more effective” tactic. At the same time, don’t be afraid of new tools; test them relentlessly and see what works best for your business.


Sanjit Singh is the chief operating officer at LeadCrunch, a firm that specializes in building operational intelligence solutions by analyzing hidden patterns  in big data.