A simple strategy to convert blog visitors into sales leads

If you’ve read {grow} with any consistency you’ll recognize Jon Buscall as one of the most vibrant intellectual voices in our community. Today Jon tackles the tough issue of monetizing a blog community in our next installment of Community Week:

So many people (including Mark!) have written about the SEO benefits of blogs that I’m not going to repeat that here.  But one thing that rarely comes up is how B2B blogs help businesses convert readers and traffic into sales. Or whether they actually don’t!

Repeat Visitors & Conversion Apathy

If you’ve drunk the business blogging Kool-Aid and worked hard over time to build a strong, vocal community on your blog you might well find that repeat visitors don’t convert into sales. Go on, check your stats!

Regular visitors are there for something else: the community, the discussion, or even the friendships that forms around a successful blog.

As a business blogger it can be worrying to see that even if you’re putting highly visible call-to-actions above the fold the stream of regular visitors to your site forget about your propositions.

Maybe it’s because:

  • regular visitors get used to your site and go straight to the content
  • you don’t vary the call-to-actions often enough so they become “invisible”
  • you don’t maximize the content space you’ve got to pimp your services
  • regular blog readers often read your site with a news aggregator like Google Reader or NewsFire.

Why I Love First-time, Unique Visitors

My own experience is that it’s easier to covert first (or second) time visitors into clients with a B2B blog.

Yup, without going into the nitty-gritty of my own site stats, the biggest groups that make enquiries about our services at Jontus Media are, in fact, first timers. They’ve googled something, clicked through to our site and, low and behold decided to contact us (and Oh, boy do I love it when that happens!).

Google Analytics tells us this, but so do our customers when we ask them.

Now this isn’t to say that we’ve got spectacular landing pages or catchy call-to-actions littered across our site; but it does seem to suggest that all that our effort to build a community might be wasted! That in fact, the trust and thought-leadership that regular b2b business blogging generates is spotted by a cursory glance.

Google Analytics tells us that it only takes first time visitors a matter of minutes (or seconds) to convert organic search traffic into sales.

Give Me More !

Now I’m not knocking first time conversions. But I do want more business from that 30 percent of visitors who come back to our website on a daily basis. Even if it’s just a percentage or two.

So when it comes to B2B blog strategy I’ve got a few suggestions for those of us in the B2B business blogosphere who aren’t converting repeat visitors to customers. And want some of it.

Ask Yourself:

  • Are our call-to-actions strong enough?
  • How is the site working to remind the community that this is a business and that services (or products) are for sale?
  • Is the overall site design geared towards conversion?
  • Could we refresh the site design more frequently to stop visitors getting blind to our call-to-actions?
  • Could we be making more use of our RSS feed to generate leads?

Finally, just to throw the baby out with the bathwater, maybe I’m wrong. And as I write it occurs to me that quite, possibly I am. Maybe I’m going after the impossible. Hell, maybe I shouldn’t think of a B2B blog as a conversion channel for repeat visitors in the first place?

Perhaps a B2B blog could / should just be a means to a different end. A great way of funneling visitors to an email list, for example, to be used for direct marketing.

Or perhaps it’s a word-of-mouth tool to help spread the news that you’re a kick-ass company with creative, insightful, quirky, talented staff.

So go on, help me out here! What can we do to really make a B2B blog a conversion engine? Or are B2B blogs for entirely different things?

______

Jon Buscall is head of Jontus Media, a creative content & communications agency working out of Stockholm, Sweden. You can follow Jon on Twitter.

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  • One of the things I hate when clicking to B2B or B2C sites for the first time is that there is just too much information to take in which usually makes me hit the back button for another site. Call to actions may be in there but they get lost in the mix.

    I think simplicity would go a long way, too, with a landing page that clearly has your content and your callouts in view and nothing else to distract from those.

  • I read a blog post by Chris Brogan where he gives his version of “Blogging 101.” he makes the point that a blogger should be clear about what they want to achieve from each post before the begin to write it. Is it to drive retweets, is it an everlasting post (usually in the form of some sort of guide etc.) or is it in fact to remaind visitors of the commercial nature of the blogger and their particular enterprise?

    I think that this could go some way to avoiding reader numbness to calls to action and could also help with the unpredictable way that readers might view any particular post.

  • @Johnny, Yup, I agree with you on simplicity. It’s imperative that the writer work with the designer to ensure that the right design works with the content.

    To my mind, sidebars have done a lot to make things more difficult. They’re so cluttered and I’m not really sure how much people look at them.

    @Russell
    I’m all for deciding what your focus is for a particular post. The problem I see, though, is that there’s not much interplay between writing and generating leads.

    It’s like the sidebar with the “download our ebook” call-to-action is all B2Bs can come up with. Or a bit of video.

    As B2B bloggers, I’d like to see us explore the issue of whether blogs are better for initial SEO, brand engagement that sales per se.

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  • Nice post Jon.

    I think one of the big reasons for the ‘low-performance’ of repeat visitors is quite simply timing. A true prospect has to be ready to buy, and there is usually a short window of opportunity while they are drawing up their short list. That’s when they go Googling the issues that they care about and that’s when they find people like you or me.

    Ergo, repeat visitors cannot ALWAYS be ready to buy! But then their value is enormous as influencers and spreaders of your reputation.

    I would say that the stats of repeat visitor sales are therefore bound to be skewed. If I was less politically correct, I would say it’s like single men wondering why they have a lower ‘conversion’ rate in supermarkets than they do in bars. I’m not sure the analogy bears too much scrutiny, but people have to be looking to buy to be converted!

    Thanks for posting

    John

  • Motivating the visitor to become a lead requires the visitor to share enough information for you to determine if they are, in fact, a lead. (And I am going to define ‘lead’ as ‘qualified lead’ so you know they have a need you can meet, a budget, the authority and a specific time frame in mind.)

    Comments to posts won’t cut it – you need too much information to move from ‘visitor’ to ‘lead’. So your offer strategy is going to be critical – and that means white papers, webinars, and other offers that can attract, engage and convert the individual to share the information you need to determine if they are a lead or not.

    Now, if you consider a ‘lead’ to be anyone that visits your site and provides a name and email address, then success can come faster because you don’t need budget, need, authority or time line information…

  • As someone on the beginning end of developing a blog “voice” on our business website, I am concerned with writing about things that matter to me and to existing/potential clients. Not all visitors will be potential clients for our services, but if they remain engaged with us on the blog I think they’ll be more likely to connect us to those they know DO need our services.

    Or, so I hope!

  • Some great responses.
    @John, I like your point about repeat visitors being influencers. Absolutely! Of course, the sales process in B2B is very drawn out. So maybe those influencers zip off to recommend a business’s services to their managers.

    @Pat. I recommend white papers, webinars, and other offers that can attract, engage and convert. But just to play devil’s advocate, is a blog the best place to do this? Couldn’t, say, a Facebook Page do this too?

    @George, I think the problem is that it’s very hard to get people to engage on a business blog. Mark’s got a post here somewhere about the lack of comments on business blogs. So whether they will engage on a blog is a big issue. Microblogs and, again, Facebook might be the best place for this kind of engagement. It’s more quick fire.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking blogs. Our own blog is one of our main lead generators. But I do think it’s essential to question how we all could improve generating business with our sites.

  • Jon,

    In my experience our blog (B2B) serves as a medium to express thought leadership. While we have generated sales from it, our main hope in regards to “successful” blogging is to establish ourselves as true experts within the industry.

    From the get go, sales was a secondary thought in regards to the blog. We did not expect to gain customers within the first year upon entering the blogosphere (although it did happen)

    I think one major component in B2B blogging as far as what it should be and what results are to be expected hinges on whether your trying to sell products and/or services and the dynamic case sensitive qualities of either or.

    Going back to thought leadership, I would say that if you can become the go to source for information about your product or service, eventually the sales will follow.

  • Vince DeGeorge

    I have to agree with @Nathan that’s leads and sales should be a secondary thought. Hopefully you have a website that sells your products and that should generate your leads. I would propose that what you do on your blog is sell yourself.

    I think blogging is “soft” marketing and not necessarily a lead generator. But you’re spot on that it should be a place to strike up a conversation.

    Your best thought is at the end:

    “Or perhaps it’s a word-of-mouth tool to help spread the news that you’re a kick-ass company with creative, insightful, quirky, talented staff.”

    Bingo.

  • If I subscribe to a blog, I want content that appeals to me for a purpose — education, doing something better, how to find such and such.

    If I’m perpetually being asked to buy in features around the main content, I’ll be turned off and not return.

    I agree with @Nathan, too. Blogging is first and foremost to establish credibility, reputation and positioning as a thought leader (said the PR person). Secondarily, a blog is to drive qualified leads; I get that.

    I’d like to understand more about your analytics, Jon. Are those first-timers on your site due to search engine key words? I’d like to believe that has a say in getting those folks to buy on the first visit; that makes sense to me b/c these people are predisposed to make a purchase; they’re already shopping!

    We readers of blogs are not shoppers of product; we’re perusing opinion and perfecting the definition of community.

  • Very interesting discussion. I’ve always been fascinated by the various discussions around lead generation (B2B or B2C) and social media in general. We are seeing both extremes here. The thought about direct advertising (approach) verses the subtleties of the consultative approach.
    The best (most productive over the long term) sales people are “go to” folks. Their prospects come to them because they know they’ll get help getting something done. They also send their friends and associates when they hear someone who needs something. The key is to understand how to convert someone who shows interest. But, you’ll never have people who “show interest” unless you first build a community and a trusting network.
    There are lots of people who read blogs for “intellectual gain”. But most of those folks who do will make suggestions to others to join the community if it has something of interest for them. Somewhere in the middle will be people who actually may want to utilize services. Perhaps those are services you as an author can provide or perhaps they are services you can recommend from another member of the community. Both way, leads are generated and business is done.
    IMO, if you treat a blog as an advertising vehicle in an attempt to “convert” readers, it will fail. We all know this. We are all students of social media. Apply basic networking principles and your blogging effort will generate leads and sales.
    So, how can you prove this? Ask Mark. Has he ever asked you for an order? Yet, we all know what he does to pay the bills. I’ll bet that many of you (us) have introduced people to this community, have either engaged Mark directly, recommended someone who has or would recommend someone we know should they be looking. I also am confident that should someone approach Mark looking for assistance that he doesn’t necessarily provide, he has a stable of people within the “GROW” community he’d recommend as well. To me, that’s the best kind of lead generation.

  • Jon – Love the directness of your post … and, as always, getting lots of value out of the {grow} community comments as well.

    For me, blogging is more about generating and maintaining awareness. It’s an opportunity to deliver content on a weekly or daily schedule that keeps me top-of-mind with my prospects … regardless of where they are in the buying process (which, as @JohnBottom pointed out, will vary for repeat visitors vs. first-time, need-info-and-services-now visitors).

    However, I think you make a great point about using some of the real estate on your blog to remind people that you are actually selling something. As is often said, you have to go for the ask. Don’t make people guess what you want from them – spell it out and then make it easy.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and questions – great ideas are stirring. 🙂

  • @Nathan, Vince and Jayme, Jamie
    I guess I’m partly playing devil’s advocate here. Of course, I use my own blog for thought leadership as well as branding. However, I do think as Jamie picked up on, we could be looking at making more of a blog from a sales perspective.

    There’s so much already about brand management and thought leadership out there with blogs that I wanted to bring the question of lead generation and conversion back into the frame.

    I wrote a follow up piece on my own site: http://jontusmedia.com/more-on-bb-blogging-conversions/

  • @Jayme
    Yes, that’s right. First timers from Google clicking through after keyword search phrases.

    @Steve, that’s a fabulous response!
    In many ways my own site is an example of this too. I don’t think it works hard enough to generate leads, but through social media participation and content marketing (a phrase that’s not mentioned enough on this blog, Mark!!!) we generate business.

    That’s not to say that blogs couldn’t be working harder for us. There’s been so little in the way of design innovation of late. I’d like to see more B2B blogs try out upping the ante.

    Just for the record at no point do I think that massively interruptive marketing in the form of banners on a blog will work in B2B!

    Some great thoughts, as ever, from you guys in the GROW community!

  • Yes, first time visitors can be a good source of B2B leads. On other hand, existing readers or clients can be an excellent source of referals.

  • Jon – brilliant as always! You’ve actually given me something to think about in a different manner. Let’s say we DO convert one percent of our unique visitors per month. That’s not a small number. At all. We’ve been so focused on subscribers and repeat traffic that we’ve forgotten the value in unique visitors. Thank you!

  • I’m going to go out on a limb and say that B2B blogs are for entirely different things. Here’s why:

    So much focus is placed on the value of building/growing/nurturing relationships with your readers/subscribers. When you do this effectively, these people feel more like friends than customers. I suspect the ‘sell’ aspects of the site are then viewed as there for the ‘others’ ~ those that are NOT part of this community who discuss and share ideas and information on an equal playing field with the site owner in the spirit of friendship and community.

    Something else that has driven me crazy in other forums than Blog Sites but the experience can be transferable – the same pool of people are seemingly called upon and expected to support various ventures/enterprises because they are a captured audience for no reason other than they share a mutual or vested interest at the time.

    I have volunteered in my children’s schools for 11 years. In that time, I’ve been actively involved in each school’s Parent Council. And the thrust of EVERY Council is always Fundraising. But here’s the thing – we fund public education via our taxes. We then pay exorbitant fees at the beginning of each school year for basics that one would think ‘come with the package’. We are also expected to supply ALL school supplies.

    My point: the same pool of people are consistently hammered for more and more with the emotional pull that we are part of the School Community and how wonderful it is that we support the school’s efforts in this way.

    If I honestly felt that my participation in a blog community came with the expectation or hope that I’d be a customer ~ I’d comment far less, be more cautious where I invested my time and feel my experience/information/wisdom was of less value than my purchase power.

    If a B2B desires a blogging community of customers/consumers/word-of-mouthers ~ then the whole engagement/relationship building spin becomes nothing more than a thinly veiled marketing tactic.

    Blogs, as most people are using them now, are not the most conducive environments for call to action conversions.

    Jon, you never cease to impress me.

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  • @Gini,
    Glad to give you something to think about. Sometimes I feel it’s hard to separate the wood from the trees. Guess this was one of those thoughts.

    @Sally
    Loved the analogy with the PTA. That’s SO true.
    Personally, I think it’s so important to rethink how we use blogs and what our strategy is. For all this talk of community and conversation it’s imperative we think through how blogs can be used to different ends. There’s a big difference between a B2B blog aimed at converting customers, building SEO, etc and a blog that’s a vibrant, sharing community. Both Mark and Gini have great community blogs, and that’s why I love participating here.

  • Jones Miller

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  • I think that there are couple of other things to keep in mind before, as you put it, throwing the baby out with the bathwater because there are barriers for b2b blog to become a conversion engine. 1) I still strongly believe that b2b blog is where you keep building trust within your community even long timers don’t seem to pay attention to the CTAs. That trust and comfort with your company will eventually turn into a sale and/or a strong recommendation to their friends. 73% of the people make buying decisions based on their friends recommendations, 2) Customer Service…Blogs can also play a role in providing great customer service by either educating your long timers with the new features of your products and/or services. As we know that the social platforms such Facebook, Twitter play a great role in customer service and I believe so is Blogs.
    In short. we may see less visible conversion in the short run but loyal customers with many recommendations that are kind of less obvious on the stat sheets ala big rebounder/defender in a basketball team that no body remembers the contributions.

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