If you were to look at the biggest marketing trend in 2010, most would say it was the year of “Social Media.” Small and mid-sized businesses were joining the ranks of large corporations on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, trying desperately to figure out how to use these tools to market their products and services.

Websites are no longer an option, they’re mandatory. Additionally, social media is no longer its own entity. These sites are simply another place for you to claim your online real estate. For the first time ever, website visits are going down as people rely more on sites like Facebook and blogs to build relationships and check out companies. Additionally, recent trends show that 92% of consumers do their research online for new products and services.

So as we enter 2011, it makes sense that online marketing will play even a larger role for SME’s to attract more qualified leads. But this is also the year that we are going to see an emergence of old and new techniques to convert these online contacts into offline sales.

Here are some techniques to consider:
a)    TRACK – You need to really get to know your prospects and the best way to do this is to track activity. If you aren’t tracking where your leads come from and what they are responding to, it becomes increasingly difficult to tailor the information and stay efficient with your marketing.

There are some very powerful tools on the market that make tracking a no brainer. Google Analytics is free and very easy to integrate into your site in order to track where people are going, where they came from and how much time they are spending. “Knowing how a customer acts within your site is vital”, says Shmuli Goldberg, director of marketing and communications for online-analytics provider ClickTale. For instance, you can use analytics to find out where users click most on your site, or what grabs their attention and holds it. You can glean how prospects react to your online forms, right down to what they won’t fill out. Once you know where you are losing visitors, you can make changes to your site that eliminate superfluous information and allow for a more user-friendly browsing experience.

Another great tracking tool that incorporates your offline marketing initiatives is My Next Customer.

b)    ATTRACT & QUALIFY – Make sure you are including a call to action in your online promotional activities, and really spend some time ensuring this call to action will attract qualified leads. In a recent study of 130 ads, companies simply sent visitors to their home page, leaving it up to the prospect to navigate themselves around the information. It is much more effective if you send them directly to a page with targeted information.

c)    ENGAGE – It’s one thing to read interesting and relevant information. But it’s even better if you can engage the prospect and in doing so, learn more about their needs. For example, can they complete a survey to learn more about their situation or needs? Can they watch a video and answer skill testing questions? Never underestimate the “fun” factor in building relationships.

d)    RESPOND – If you are going to ask prospects to submit information or request information online, make sure you are set up to respond quickly – preferably within seconds with an automated email response. There are also services that can do phone follow up for you like LeadQual who will respond to requests for as little as $5 lead. Remember, the faster you respond to the information the better the results.

e)    MIX MEDIUMS – It’s never good to assume that all people like to be contacted in the same way. Some people rarely answer their phones, others will ignore your emails and others adore old fashioned mail or face to face meetings. Therefore, consider mixing mediums with your prospects. If they have signed up for your newsletter, perhaps send them an offer like a free CD that would require them to fill in their mailing address. Now, you can mail other information or even Christmas Cards from time to time. Consider asking them to fill out their phone number as a mandatory field which would allow you to survey subscribers about your ezine and their challenges with respect to your types of products and services. Invite them to live events, via email, phone, and/or email. The more you mix mediums the more likely you are to get the attention of prospects and convert them to sales.

f)   KEEP RESPONDING – Don’t lose heart if leads aren’t converting after your initial effort. Leads360, a provider of lead-management, found that making a second phone call increased the chance of making a sale by 87%. Further, the magical number of calls it took to change as many prospects as possible into clients was six. Jeff Solomon, founder and Senior Vice President of Leads360, says the six-call follow-up should take place within the first month of initially hearing from the prospect. If you want to do something other than phone calls, consider “nurture emails or drip campaigns” that contain additional information, such as guides, online calculators and other tools that can help prospects better understand your interest in landing their business. Be patient.

Remember, once a prospect knows, likes and trusts you enough, they WILL buy from you when the timing is right.

About the Author…
Cidnee Stephen is the owner of Strategies for Success – a marketing company that focuses on the needs of budget minded small businesses and professional services.  She has helped hundreds of small businesses get out of their peak and valley ruts to finally achieve that next vital level of success.  Cidnee is also a sought after speaker, writer and blogger on marketing topics that affect small businesses and B2B service based operations. Subscribe for Free to her bi-weekly marketing tips for small businesses and also receive a special report on the 7 Steps of Marketing Success.

AvatarCidnee Stephen

Cidnee Stephen is the owner of Strategies for Success, a marketing company that focuses on the needs of budget minded small businesses and professional services. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.