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One of the primary reasons for using inbound marketing as your sole online marketing strategy is to develop prospective customers and generate sales. Your website might be attracting a substantial number of visitors, but unless you are “capturing” usable information it is unlikely those visitors will ever become your clients.

Online offers are a non-invasive, non-threatening way to draw users into your circle of influence, and at the same time give them a taste of what you can do for them.

Defining an “Offer”

In the context of inbound marketing, an offer is usually a piece of informative content that you provide on your website. The content is free and typically can be downloaded electronically, although hard copy items such as booklets, magazines and CDs sent by mail sometimes accompany it.

Offers can take the form of:

  • eBooks, white papers, and educational guides
  • Videos, webinars or podcasts
  • Slide shows, templates, case studies
  • Photos, infographics and/or other imagery

Offers are textual, graphic, audio or visual in nature, and the purpose is usually to fulfill a need the user has for in-depth information about the problem your product or service solves.

In exchange for your free content, the user provides his (or her) contact details and other rudimentary intelligence that you can use to develop the customer’s profile.

Creating a Successful Offer

To create an offer that converts visitors to leads, you need to design products that fulfill very specific criteria:

Firstly, your content product needs to provide value to your audience. Offering a free consultation isn’t going to cut it—you need to give your prospect something tangible that he can use. The product also needs to deliver “fair exchange” for his information, so the landing page must market the offer well enough to convince him to provide it. Getting this right depends on:

  • knowing exactly who your target audience is
  • creating powerful buyer personas that help you to reach them, and
  • using strong calls to action (CTAs) to guide them through the download process

Create offers for different stages of your sales funnel, if you want to capture prospects at various points in their buying cycle. For example, introductory information about the benefits of using your product won’t capture prospects who want to know how to make the purchase. You need to compel action through individual offers for users who are just doing initial research, users who are evaluating competitive options and users who are ready to buy. In each case, the offer must provide value or you won’t get their information.

Test your offers using A/B methodology, which means offering two similar offers and then tracking them to see which one performs the best. Use the feedback to tweak your product until you have one that works really well and make that your inbound marketing offer.

Generating the Leads

To generate the leads you want, it’s vital that your offer is marketed well enough to encourage users to respond to it. Some of the methods you can use to market the offer include:

  • Presenting the offer attractively through powerful design
  • “Gating” the offer behind a contact form that requires the user to enter a reasonable amount of personal information
  • Creating promotional content around the offer, such as blog posts covering relevant topics that lead the reader to the offer landing page
  • Building trust with positive customer reviews that link to the offer landing page
  • Promoting the offer on social media profiles, with direct links to the landing page
  • Promising your prospect that his information will be kept private and not sold to anyone else
  • Providing a “value-add” such as a follow-up piece of information (this is where you can offer to mail a booklet or CD after the fact) or a special discount on a purchase
  • Acknowledging receipt of the prospect’s information by means of a thank you message, a follow-up email or a telephone call

Making it Work

Of course, all this will only work to boost your bottom line if you actually do something with the information you collect. Converting visitors into leads is only part of the equation; realizing sales from the leads takes action.

Research shows that 79% of leads never convert into sales, mainly because they aren’t nurtured adequately. Implement lead scoring to identify the “hottest” leads to follow up first, with marketing automation to nurture warm leads until they become hotter.

Track the performance of your offer and when responses start to drop off, examine the reports to determine what needs to be refreshed or tweaked. Don’t expect the same offer to continue working indefinitely; it needs to be a dynamic product that stay up-to-date, responds to variations in your target market and delivers value in spite of changes in demand, technology and environment.