Email has long been considered a primary tool for customer retention, but it\’s actually an equally powerful tool for lead generation as well.

Beyond cultivating new leads from your existing email database, strategic placement of calls-to-action for email sign-up can be a very effective way to encourage dialog in order to engage potential prospects.

The overall concept of lead generation begins with offering a unique incentive to encourage those who might already be interested in your products or services to submit their information.  Email is a very simple and effective way to make that happen.  To get started, you need to understand your audience and how they currently interact with your brand.  Email relationships often begin on a website, so the more you understand how people interact with your site, the better you can position email sign-up mechanisms and target email content.

Strategic placement and use of email sign-up forms are vital to the lead-generation process, and the use of Web analytics can give great insight into what works and what doesn\’t.  For example, the use of analytics is critical to identify sign-up pages with high abandon rates, allowing you to test different positions on your site that produce the best results.  It\’s important not to bury your calls-to-action, as most sites see the majority of their traffic arrive on the home page with no guarantee visitors will scroll.  Use this prime real estate to give visitors a way to initiate a relationship with you.  In addition, use the same mechanism on every page of your site, and use consistent buttons, links, or boxes in the same position on all pages.

Once you begin acquiring email contacts, it\’s time to focus on your offer.  The key ingredient to using email for effective lead generation is an offer that matters — something that\’s useful, highly relevant, and helpful.    Your recipients should value and appreciate the offer, making them more likely to respond and provide you a quality lead.  An offer that provides valuable information is always the most effective tactic, whether it\’s a whitepaper, eBook, tip sheet, or any other resource.  Something of educational significance is always preferable, and an offer with a high perceived value will resonate deeply with your target audience.  As an additional benefit, if you target the offer towards the need your organization solves, you will be presorting the generated needs for demand.  For example, offer a whitepaper that details how to accomplish X when X is a component of your product offering.

Once you\’ve perfected your offer, you need to build a highly optimized landing page to encourage follow-through.  It\’s important to only request the information that\’s absolutely necessary on your landing page, as requesting too much information is a barrier to follow-through.  The landing page is also a great opportunity to provide a means for the prospect to sign up for your company\’s newsletter or to ask them how they prefer to communicate with your brand in the future.  Allowing the prospect to dictate the terms of the relationship will work in your favor going forward as it can be a way to sort your leads by level of interest.

Once you initiate your campaign, it\’s important to segment the process based on user behavior.  Using email for lead generation requires more sophistication in terms of process then the traditional \”blast-and-forget\” concept many use for email marketing.  Behavioral segmentation means carefully crafting different emails based on the responses you receive from your initial campaign.  For example, beyond the initial email with the offer, craft a follow-up email to send to those who didn\’t click through and download your offer.  For those who do click through and respond to the offer, send a thank you email that links back to your site and asks for feedback.

During the process it\’s important to remember email best practices in terms of user consent, privacy, and spam regulation.  This is why the method by which you collect email sign-ups is so important.  Blasting out thousands of emails to unwilling recipients in hopes of their responding to your offer is not only ineffective and a waste of time and effort, but also against regulation and highly unethical.

Using email for lead generation takes time, effort, and ongoing optimization in order to realize a solid ROI, but the end result should be well worth it.  The foundation of your efforts is a solid offer, so careful consideration and a dose of creativity will go a long way.  Email has proven a vital tool in converting prospects to customers, but it relies on one carefully crafted interaction at a time.