What’s An “Online Lead Development Ecosystem”?

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Mountains Editor’s Note: Chris Creech is a senior strategist with Newfangled, a web development company that works with marketing agencies to build conversion-focused websites for their clients.

If you’re reading this, then you’re likely already using – or at least considering implementing – marketing automation (MA) software, such as Act-On.  Which means you’ve already realized that marketing automation is key to the health of your digital marketing efforts. But what you may not have realized is that marketing automation is only one piece of your online lead development ecosystem.

Your – what?

OK, “online lead development ecosystem” may not make for the best buzz-term, but we at Newfangled feel it’s the best way to describe the many interrelated pieces of the online marketing puzzle that you should be using to capture new leads and nurture them into new business opportunities.

TriskelionThe lead development ecosystem consists of three key components: your website, marketing automation, and a CRM (customer relationship management) platform.  All three need to be working together for you to effectively capture new leads, nurture them through the buying cycle, and achieve closed-loop reporting to attribute the revenue from these leads back to the marketing efforts that influenced them.

So let’s break the ecosystem down piece by piece, covering the key elements of each.  This will allow you to evaluate your own lead development ecosystem and determine which of these three elements are in need of your attention.

1. The Website

Your website has three roles: attract, inform, and engage.  It must attract new visitors to the site, inform them of your expertise, and then drive them to take action.

  • To attract new visitors, your site needs to be set up using the most current SEO best practices, which means that you should be utilizing meta data to frame your content, building links back to your site from other authoritative sources, and, most importantly, creating unique, indexable content on a regular basis.  If you are doing these things, in addition to your other promotions via social or online advertising, then you should be organically attracting new visitors to your site on a regular basis.
  • To inform these visitors, you need to be creating expert content and adding it to your website on a regular basis.  A good content strategy will provide content for every stage of sales-readiness: educational content for those researching your products or services, content for those evaluating your company as compared to your competitors, and content for those ready to purchase or even for existing customers.
  • Lastly, your site should drive visitors to take action.  Getting visitors to engage is more than just putting a contact form on the site.  Think about the various ways you can provide value in exchange for the visitor providing you with information.  This can take the form of “premium” downloads for whitepapers or eBooks, event and webinar registrations, or subscriptions to receive content via email – as in a blog digest, newsletter, weekly specials, etc.

If your site is effectively attracting, informing, and engaging visitors, then it should help you maintain and grow your lead database in your MA software.  Speaking of which…

2. Marketing Automation

The website will work to bring in new, fresh leads, but most of these leads will not be qualified … yet.  This is where marketing automation comes in.  Your MA solution needs to effectively gather leads from the website, segment them based on the information they provide and/or the behavior they have shown on the site, and then nurture them by sending targeted and relevant communications over time.

The goal here is to take these raw leads and score and nurture them until they reach a level where you can consider them to be qualified — that is, ready to be sent to your sales team.

I won’t go into great detail about the ins and outs of marketing automation, as there’s lots of great info about that already on this site.  But I will say that your marketing automation platform, at a minimum, needs to offer all of the following features to do the job effectively:

  • List segmentation
  • Lead scoring
  • Automated programs
  • Email marketing
  • Reporting & analytics
  • Form and landing page creation
  • A/B testing
  • CRM integration

3. CRM

We use and recommend Salesforce to all of our clients, but I know that there are plenty of other great CRMs out there. The key to using your CRM as part of the lead development ecosystem is reporting.  The CRM is the only one of the three pieces that knows when new business is closed.  So, when you’re closing new business, you will need to make sure that you are updating it in your CRM and that it is pushing data back into your MA for closed-loop reporting.

A good CRM will also have campaign and lead source functionality.  You will want to be very active about using these features, as they will help you track the effectiveness of your various campaigns as well as identify where your leads are originating – or at least what action resulted in their first being added into your leads database. These two things will show you what marketing efforts played a part in influencing that new business.

Integrating the ecosystem

The key with all three of these systems — your website, MA, and CRM — is that they are all well integrated.  Information needs to pass freely from your website to your MA and then back and forth between your MA and CRM software.  Our preferred combination for ease of integration of the three systems is: our proprietary content management system (CMS) for your website, Act-On Software for marketing automation, and Salesforce for CRM.  These three have great integration capabilities and allow you to establish an online lead development ecosystem that works together seamlessly, making it easier for you to spend your time marketing and/or selling!

As Newfangled’s senior strategist, Chris Creech works closely with marketing and advertising agencies and their clients, giving guidance on content strategy, usability, and search engine optimization, while focusing on creating a conversion-focused website that will help generate business leads and revenue. He’s also Newfangled’s resident brewmaster. Follow him on Twitter: @chris_creech

Photo of Panorama Point on the Matheran Hill by Arne Hückelheim, on Wikimedia Commons
Drawing of Triskelion also from Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Thomas Craft

    Nice article, though I wish a little more detail was put on effectively integrating all three and issues that arise with custom CMS and platforms unlike Salesforce

    • chriscreech

      Hi Thomas,
      There is certainly a lot that goes into the integration between platforms to create a seamless interface. Act-On has an out-of-the-box connector with Salesforce, which is great, and they also offer an API that allows other systems to integrate with Act-On. We have built a module into our CMS that allows us to do our own progressive profiling and push form data from the site over to Act-On without having to embed the Act-On forms. I didn’t want to go into too much technical detail in this post, as I was more concerned with just introducing the concept – that, and I’m not a programer!

      • bri44any

        I appreciate the introduction of the concept. Would you consider writing a post that goes into more technical detail?

        • chriscreech

          I think that an Act-On engineer would be more able to speak to the technical capabilities of their API and the integration possibilities. But that is a great suggestion for a post, if there is not one already written. Thanks!

  • Tim

    Good post Chris. I know you hinted at content with the website, but I would make that a 4th component all to itself. Having the right kind of content and content for each stage of the customer lifecycle is critical. Blog content, eBooks, white papers, webinars, video, etc. Content is the fuel that runs the ecosystem and the magnet that attracts leads in the first place.

    • chriscreech

      Thanks Tim – I couldn’t agree more. While having the system in place is great, it doesn’t do much without being fueled by content. That could easily be another blog post all on it’s own.

  • bri44any

    I’m involved mainly with the website and automation parts of this ecosystem, and I can easily say that when working with others who are involved with CRM, it’s been very helpful to have Act-On in conjunction with Salesforce.

  • Carrie

    I never thought of the 3 components being an “ecosystem” but that’s exactly what they are. Each is their own environment that must be maintained but as you said also be effectively integrated. I think your point about closed loop reporting is a great reminder. This is an area that I hope to improve on in the coming months.

  • Contact Center Compliance

    Nice take on this as a fresh concept. I like what Act-On has with GoToWebinar to add to the ecosystem.