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Dear Abby: I Need (Marketing) Relationship Advice [PODCAST]

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We all have that friend we go to when we need relationship advice.

But it’s not always about heartache or that roommate who won’t do their dishes. Sometimes it’s your leads who are breaking your heart. You thought you made a great first impression, so why don’t they want a second date?

When your lead gen opportunities are resulting in the marketing equivalent of a one-night stand, let Mike King of digital marketing agency iPullRank be that friend.

In this episode of the Call to Action podcast, Mike tells you how you can create long-lasting relationships with leads – the kind that keeps them coming back for more.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • The dangers of focusing too closely on conversions and what you should be focusing on instead.
  • How data-driven personas can help you get to know your leads before you ask for their number (or email address).
  • Why unqualifying leads is sometimes better than qualifying them.

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Dan: You said in your talk at Call to Action Conference last year that you appreciated having your landing page brutally critiqued on the Unbounce blog. First off, thanks for being a good sport about that. You then went on to justly critique our own Call to Action Conference landing page for being less than optimal. Thanks for that, too. Is it me, or are marketers a bit like rappers? They love dissing their competitors and peers, but they can’t really take the heat when it’s directed at them.

Mike: I don’t know if that’s relegated to marketers or rappers. I think that’s just people not really liking criticism. Me, I enjoy it because those are always opportunities for me to improve, so when you guys had written that post, my team was crying about it. I was like, “Yo, they’re right. Let’s take this as an opportunity to fix that landing page.” But whenever I can return the favor on something like that, I always love to do so.

Dan: Yeah, fair enough.

Mike: I figured it was gonna be a fun little intro. I like to start out by getting people involved or make them laugh a little bit or something like that because a lot of my stuff gets pretty technical, so I like to start pretty lighthearted, and it was just a really good way to get into the spirit of the things that you guys do and give you a taste of your own medicine.

Dan: Yeah, no, that’s totally fair, and I think it’s a good thing for marketers to look inward sometimes. At the same time you said that lead generation isn’t about us. It isn’t necessarily how marketers feel about it. It’s about how our audience reacts to it. Why was that something that you thought was important to put out there?

Mike: Yeah, I thought there was a lot of discussion around how brands are supposed to be or things that brands are supposed to do. It’s more about how do we do things that people are gonna react the way that we want them to? It’s not about how we feel about what it is that’s being created or how things are being positioned. It’s all about doing the things that work for the audiences that we’re going after, so one of the subjects of contention throughout the conference was things like pop-ups.

Dan: Right.

Mike: Well, yeah, I hate pop-ups, but we all know that pop-ups work, so what’s the point in even making an issue about, “Oh, don’t do this because that makes your brand look bad”? No, it doesn’t necessarily make your brand look bad because they work for people. So I think it’s really important to remember that we as marketers are in this marketing echo chamber where people are just saying things. They have opinions, and they let their personal opinions offset what data is telling them. This isn’t me specifically dissing any one person. I’m just saying that we as marketers just need to be aware of our own biases and remember that it’s about our audiences, not about us.

Dan: Yeah, that’s definitely good to keep in mind. You were kind enough to give some relationship advice in your talk as well. You pointed out that we do a lot of one-night stands in lead gen, but not enough long-term relationships. What did you mean by that?

Mike: Yeah, I think one of the things in marketing, especially digital marketing, is we’re very much focused on that last click, that last action of the user. So many of us work on things that are just completely low funnel, and then they forget about creating this relationship with the user. So what I’m saying is think about more of the funnel rather than just focusing on that last part where you’re just trying to get the prospect in bed with you rather than thinking about taking them out on a date.

Dan: Right, so once you fill that funnel, not forgetting about those people and continuing to serve them with relevant content that eventually gets them to convert.

Mike: Yeah, and I think you guys, or Unbounce rather, is a great example of that. You guys aren’t just doing things that are like oh, get people to sign up right away. You have tons of content that’s educating people, that’s showing the value of what you guys do and the industry in general. It creates a better relationship that you guys have with your customers. Looking at CTAConf as an example, I imagine there’s a lot of people that go there that aren’t Unbounce customers, but they respect what you guys do, and because of that you’re nurturing those relationships, and then they become a long-term customer because of those efforts.

Dan: Yeah, you suggest a model of lead gen that involves spending a lot more time getting to know people before they close the deal.

Mike: Yes.

Dan: What are some of the benefits of that approach?

Mike: Yeah, and I think it goes back to the last point in that the more that you understand who you’re talking to and how you can show value to those people, the more they’re gonna stick around and understand that you get them. Again, this is not about us. It’s about the people that are in these audiences, so how do we position the things that we want these people to do in that it becomes more valuable to them aside from just the actual transaction? So understanding your audience is gonna allow you to be really hyper-focused on the things that they want, and then you’ll be able to create those things and ultimately win based on the goals that you’re going after.

Dan: To get into brass tacks a little bit, what do you mean when you say that personas should inform qualification of leads?

Mike: So when it comes to qualification of leads, I mean typically everyone’s like, “Oh, this person spent five minutes on the site, and they looked at this page, and they looked at that page.” Well, that’s very vague. I mean, any person could do those things and then also not convert, so having a better understanding of who this person is or who these people are as they’re going throughout the process of conversion helps you 1) put the right messages in front of them and 2) makes sure that you’re getting people that are actually valuable to you.

So rather than going after millions of people and then just filtering people out, it would be better to filter people out in the beginning so that people at the back end of the process are only dealing with quality. I think a good example of this is the difference between marketing-qualified leads and sales-qualified leads. A lot of times salespeople get upset at the leads that they’re getting from marketing because they feel like they’re not as valuable yet. They’re not as qualified or not as hot of a lead, so if everybody is thinking the same way like the sales team is thinking — that we only want the most qualified people — then you’re not wasting anybody’s time. What you’re doing is only giving people valuable stuff, so I’m saying if you qualify earlier and get more aggressive about that, then you’re only dealing with quality on the back end.

Dan: Right, I think sometimes it might be hard for people to have that perspective, especially if a marketing team is broken up in a way where the people driving awareness and generating those leads, their KPIs are all about more leads whereas the salespeople, they’re worried about qualification, so if you don’t make that connection to kinda take that holistic approach, then I can see how in a siloed structure you might run into some problems there.

Mike: Absolutely.

Dan: You make the connection between creating data-driven personas and something that I think not enough marketers talk or even think about, which is readability. Why is readability something that not just content marketers, but conversion-oriented marketers should care about?

Mike: Yeah, and we’ve made this connection kinda by accident just playing around with data. I’ve always understood what readability is because I’m a developer myself, and understanding content we’ve always played around with those metrics, but then what we did is we ended up comparing it with that page value metric in Google Analytics, and more often than not we’re seeing that things that are more confusing to read are way lower in page value. So ultimately they’re not converting, and that should be kind of an axiom, an obvious thing, but being that we can look at a specific metric, which is readability, and determine that changing that score for content has a direct impact on conversion. I think that that’s incredibly important, and it’s a very easy way to make more money out of your content.

As far as connecting that to data-driven personas, well, one of the outputs from demographic data is people’s reading level, so if you have an audience that has a very low reading level and your content has very low readability, then there’s a clear disconnect there. So one of the things that people don’t like about personas is that typically they’re just the output of some sort of qualitative group setting affinity mapping session, and then a lot of data-driven marketers just don’t believe in them. They don’t believe that there are ways to make personas measurable, and I counter that that’s absolutely false. There’s so much data now that allows us to do that even for free, so why not leverage that data to make this whole process measurable and then use that as a key component of determining how to convert or make people convert more?

Dan: Yeah, I think that’s another really good example of how using data helps inform the whole funnel and helps kinda break down those silos because content marketers may be looking at KPIs like time on page whereas the performance marketers are looking at things like conversion rate, but here you’re making the connection between those two things, and I think that empowers marketing teams to move forward much more collaboratively and confidently.

Mike: Yeah, and then the other component is we think of all these channels in very different ways, and obviously search is the one where we’re getting intent, and users have a very specific thing that they’re looking for, so generally speaking it’s gonna convert more, but the thing is if you’re able to measure these audience sites based on those different channels, you see that the impact isn’t as dramatic between channels when you see the audience as another data point.

So what you might end up seeing is that certain audience types still convert very well from social media or just as well as they do from search, but because the focus is so broad and you’re getting all types of people, you might see that generally speaking search is your best channel. So when you’re able to segment by audience and channel as multiple dimensions, you get to a point where you understand that it’s not just the channel itself, it’s also the type of person coming from that channel.

Dan: Yeah, I mean I think it goes back to what you said before — like we’re not just talking about rappers and marketers and leads. We’re ultimately talking about people here, and that’s important to keep in mind at every step.

Mike: Right, right.

Dan: You mentioned another model in your talk that involves unqualifying leads instead of qualifying them.

Mike: Sure.

Dan: What does that look like?

Mike: Yeah, and that’s kinda something that I noticed just looking around at people’s different conversion pages or their “Contact Us” pages, and I know that Wil Reynolds — who also spoke at CTAConf — their company actually has recently shifted to an unqualifying contact page as well. So the exemplar that I showed in my talk was from an agency – well, not an agency – it’s hard to describe because it’s like a distributed type of thing where this guy named Dan Mall – his company’s called SuperFriendly – he has no employees. He just pulls together a group of people to work on a given project at any time, and on his page there is no contact form. There’s a bunch of text that you have to read to then figure out how to reach out to them, and I think that’s a very interesting model in that it only brings the people that really wanna work with you.

So I think it’s a very interesting model, but at the same time I think it can also be a turnoff. Like, there are those people that would be very interested in working with you, but they may be turned off by your attitude because you’re kinda coming across as, I don’t know, what’s the word for how startup people act where they’re all condescending towards everyone and then just making some mediocre product? Whatever the word is for that, that’s how you come across when you have copy like that or a process like that, so it’s a double-edged sword. Ultimately it’s about: what do you want to be in the marketplace? How do you wanna be perceived? And it goes back to branding and things of that nature, but I think you need to be very careful with that because you may end up scaring off a lot of people that would be good quality leads, prospects, clients, partners for you.

Dan: Right, yeah. Oli Gardner, Unbounce’s co-founder, talks about good and bad friction and how if you want somebody to fill out a form, then typically you wanna reduce friction, but sometimes when you’re really trying to qualify people, adding a little bit more friction — another field or two — could be a good thing, but of course there are good and bad ways of doing that, and I think thinking about your brand is something that is an important consideration.

Mike: Exactly, exactly.

Dan: You make another distinction between low-effort and high-effort lead gen. Can you break that down for us?

Mike: Yeah, sure. So what we’re in the middle of doing, and it’s still ongoing, is a comparison of things that don’t take much work to do. So for example if you just wanna go after some keywords on paid search, you make a landing page, and you’re just capturing leads that way versus doing something that’s very content-driven and has some components to it that we have to custom build from scratch. And there’s a lot of analysis that went with that content that we created. In this case, what I’m comparing is what we did is we pulled a list of sites from Searchmetrics’s list of winners and losers, and we made landing pages that had messages to go for the winners and the losers, and this is specifically a list that they have of people who had the biggest negative and positive changes in visibility in organic search based on how they tracked things in their system.

So we just created a landing page for that, and then we also did this really in-depth study of the Inc. 500 where we took all 500 of the domains and did some analysis, put together predictive models around their propensity to be penalized by Google based on a variety of metrics that are available, and then we did this entire study. We did very in-depth prospecting of people at all those companies and really put together this concerted effort to reach very specific people through our marketing effort. We just wanted to see what yields the best results, so is it the thing that took a day to do or the thing that took a month to do just to see what impact it has on that target audience to get an indication of which of those is gonna be more valuable like is it even worth doing all the analysis that we did?

Dan: That’s such an interesting and important question, low versus high effort, and it’s something that I know that we talk about constantly. Often there’s a perception that more effort is gonna yield more results. You work hard, and it’ll pay off in the results, but often what it comes down to is working smarter instead of harder, and I think actually setting that up as an experiment is a pretty worthwhile thing.

Mike: It’s interesting because we do so much testing within the guess and check, but we don’t test our guess and check, if that makes sense.

Dan: Right.

Mike: Like rather than having two strategies and thinking like, “Okay, well, let’s try this one and then see what the other one does,” there isn’t as much of that. There’s more like, “Okay, well, I’m just gonna do my landing page, and I have my offer and my ad copy and leave it at that and just test within that.” Not whether different, more valuable – or not necessarily valuable – more high-effort approach might be worth testing against the low-effort approach.

Dan: How has this changed the way you guys approach things in your team?

Mike: I think generally speaking we’re always trying to think about how can we strategically do things differently. I think it’s largely because that’s just the way I am — like I like to question a lot of the status quo. I like to see if things can’t be done the other way, and maybe I’m just a stubborn person or what have you, but if people tell me this is the best practice, I’m like, “Well, why don’t we try the opposite of that and see what happens?” I think everything is based on who you are, how you did things, what have you, but more often than not I see that taking the other approach yields something different. It may not necessarily be better results, but whatever it is, I end up learning something from it, and then we apply it to other things.

Dan: Yeah, that’s a good point: that we as marketers talk about experimenting with and testing our campaigns and our marketing, but we rarely take a step back and put our own processes under the same amount of scrutiny.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that being that the agencies I’ve worked in the past have been so strategy-focused, it’s been very easy for me to take that high-level look, but also because my background is in development and computer science and stuff, it’s very easy for me to look at the minutia and be like okay, how do we then turn this into something, like how do we execute on it? To that point, that’s something that we’re really trying to get better at is how do we turn this great strategic focus into equally great execution focus as well.

Dan: Okay, so before I let you go, I wanna ask you about pop-ups. You mentioned them a little bit earlier, and as you said, it’s one of these things that everybody says they hate, but the data shows that conversion tools like exit overlays and welcome mats usually work. Do you think it’s time for marketers to stop worrying about this stuff, or do you see these tactics working right now, but is that bubble gonna burst eventually?

Mike: Yeah, I think it’s interesting. In my talk I was kinda making fun of Neil Patel because of – well, I wasn’t kind of. I was definitely making fun of Neil Patel.

Dan: No doubt about that.

Mike: Because of the number of pop-ups he uses. But the reality of it is that a guy like Neil Patel does not care what I think. That guy is very focused on the data, and the data is telling him that he can do that, and it works very well, and despite whoever’s gonna talk shit about him – I don’t know if I can say that, but I guess I just did.

Dan: You did.

Mike: Whoever’s gonna talk about him in a negative way, he’s still gonna focus on the things that make him money, and I think the way that he works is kind of an indication of what really works rather than what any other marketers like, “Oh, well, I feel like that’s not good for your brand,” like whether it’s me, whether it’s whoever, so I think that we just have to continue to have a culture of testing things and see what works for our audiences. Generally speaking it’s to be expected that pop-ups, welcome mats and such are going to yield great results. It’s just what do you wanna do as a brand? What does your audience tell you you should focus on? And then use that as your true north rather than, “Oh, I feel like pop-ups are bad.”

Dan: Yeah, that’s a good point. Neil knows his brand, and he knows his audience, and that might work for them. He might not be speaking to the same audience that you are or that you were speaking to at the Call to Action Conference, but he’s made that decision, and it works.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

Dan: Yeah, and I think on the other hand just because it works for Neil Patel and on his properties doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna work for other marketers.

Mike: Right, and I think, again, generally speaking best practices always need to be questioned. Again, I think they need to be ran through the lens of your audience to determine what’s gonna work for you, but it’s very difficult for me, and it should be for anyone, to really just take these “best practices” at face value. You need to always be testing. I guess that’s my sound bite.

Dan: All right, well, let’s end with that one. It’s a good one. Thanks so much, Mike, for taking the time to chat. This was great.

Mike: Yeah, thanks for having me.


About Stephanie Saretsky
Stephanie Saretsky is the Multimedia Producer at Unbounce. Producing projects like the Call to Action podcast and The Landing Page Sessions by day and a radio DJ by night, she is a lover of all things multimedia. Find her on Twitter: @msbeansie
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