The Unusual Tactic I’m Using to Attract High-Intent Inbound Leads
For the past few years, I’ve been using and experimenting with a strange tactic for driving high-intent leads to my writing business.
Admittedly, it’s not the only facet of my approach to business that is a little unorthodox.
I wrote here recently about how I actually tell prospective clients at the start of a conversation that I’m not likely to be the most responsive freelancer they’ve ever dealt with.
That I endeavor to always get back to questions within the same business day and almost always respond to emails within three hours.
But that there’s also no way I can commit to being plugged into their Slack (and that of every other client) and agree to the expectation that I will be able to give instantaneous responses through it.
If we’re in very different time zones I might be asleep.
Or at the gym. Or on a call. Or working for another client.
As I also wrote in the piece I linked, this is in fact a deliberate technique to exclude clients who want somebody who’s always on call from my sales funnel — or, in sales jargon, to enforce this as a qualification criterion.
And to my surprise and relief, I described how I’ve discovered that there are just as many businesses who are fine with that as there are those who would roll their eyes at the idea and with this very post.
(As I also wrote recently, I don’t believe that freelancers should see themselves as being in the business of ‘firing’ clients. Rather, I know that these clients would not be a good fit for me — but they probably are for somebody else. Freelancers complete in a global marketplace, but this isn’t a zero sum game. So why not save us both the time and heartache?)
There are another couple of tricks up my sleeve too.
Some are slow burners — works in progress that might take years to come to fruition.
When I’m absolutely sure they work, and that I know exactly what I’m talking about, I’ll share those with you too.
But here’s one that I can affirm does yield good results. Or at least which has done so far.
And so I present:
To Drive Higher Intent Leads, I Made Myself (Ever So) Slightly Harder To Get In Touch With
(Heavy emphasis on the word ‘slightly’ here.)
I’ve withheld disclosing this idea before because it’s so completely antithetical to received marketing wisdom that I assume it will ruffle some feathers.
I also assumed that people would think the idea was crazy or idiotic, which actually worried me more.
Then, about an hour ago, I realized that I’m fine with all of the above.
We disagree now, but I might agree with you in a year’s time.
For now, this is working for me.
And if it stops doing so, I will go back to doing things the conventional way.
So let me try to explain.
Standard advice for freelancers hoping to develop a successful and continuous sales pipeline goes something like this:
- Publish their portfolio everywhere on the internet.
- Splash their email address in their LinkedIn cover art. You want to capture interested clients from every digital compass point, after all!
- Be as visible and loud as possible everywhere online all of the time. (Rationale: as above).
But First: A Note About Personal Branding (And Why You Ideally Need Lots Of It To Pull This Off)
The first caveat I have to say about my strategy is that unless your personal branding and search engine visibility is pretty rock solid, this is a very risky approach to attempt. (But what can I say? Sometimes I’m a risk taker!)
As I will disclose, my own personal branding frankly sucks right now. But I’m also being very proactive about reaching out to prospects. So for now, at least, things are working out.
To make the overall strategy at work here a bit clearer, though, let me explain a little about my personal branding objectives rather than where I’m at right now.
With all due respect to those that do things differently, I’m not keen on putting out the image of a gun-for-hire who will take any work that comes his way.
Because — unless and until I’m in truly dire straits — I know that I won’t.
My goals instead are to:
- Develop a reputation as somebody knowledgeable in their field. Dare I say it, to become, over time, a ‘thought leader’? To generate social proof, this really needs to come from other people — or at least from me on closed fora (websites, events) that other people have deemed me credible enough to write for / talk at.
I intend doing this through:
- Engaging in guest posting / having my work published in online assets that other people manage (right now, I don’t have the time to pitch these pieces out. But I also really like Medium! Hey, it’s a start!).
- Giving podcast interviews.
- Attending conferences and meetups.
Having managed marketing communications (MarCom) at two startups and worked (briefly) within a PR firm, I have at least a basic idea about how to go about doing all of the above. I plan on simply doing the activities I would undertake for a client (like developing a content calendar, collating editorial calendars to spot great pitching opportunities and pitching them to podcasts). But instead pitching myself.
But all good efforts need a roadmap and some criteria to measure them by, of course.
So last year, I spent days working through PricewaterhouseCooper’s superb ‘Personal Brand Workbook’ with a friend.
For a business workbook put out by one of the Big Four, it was a surprisingly deep and emotionally-taxing resource, prompting both of us to ask ourselves, and one another, some difficult and at times uncomfortable questions about our values in life — what we ascribed value to and which attributes we would like to project professionally in our personal branding efforts. The anonymous author(s) should run a sideline in life coaching if they haven’t already thought about doing so.
When we were done, I put together a two page roadmap that is (roughly) guiding my efforts in that respect up to the present.
And I periodically exchange emails with that friend to help keep one another accountable.
As a result of a) a change in surname and b) almost exclusively ghostwriting for the past five years, my web presence and SEO both currently suck. At least for a writer.
I’m aware of that.
So I’m starting from pretty much zero here.
Google me currently and you’ll find, among other things:
- A blog about leaving Jerusalem. I still live in Jerusalem. Long story. And I know, kind of awkward.
- A guide to the best Irish island getaways (for IrishCentral, Irish-America’s leading online news source).
- A run-through of the most notorious anti-Semites in history for a religious Jewish magazine based in Brooklyn.
- Me ranting about an Irish pub in Jerusalem — calling it an “abuse of the name Irish pub” (Word of warning to fellow Google Maps reviewers: by mindful that what you write can be scraped and syndicated!)
I could go on but you get the picture.
It’s not exactly a compelling image for a technology writer. But one article / HARO response / e-book (forthcoming!) at a time I’m working on changing it.
I reckon that the personal branding push which I’m just beginning is going to take about a year to yield results. I think that’s possibly even over-ambitious.
To keep track of how things are progressing, I run a vanity search every three months, make a screencast of the results (I offer commentary on what’s new and what it’s probable impression on a viewer might be), and upload and save the recordings to a private YouTube playlists. I’m doing this to both measure progress and keep myself motivated.
By the time my arduous Personal Branding Bonanza is done, however, I hope to present a very different image to the world.
Ideally, they would see:
- An interview
- Some bylined content on third-party websites
- A link to my website
Almost Everybody is Reachable — If You Try Hard Enough
Let me try to tie this back to sales funnels and how being less contactable works to generate higher intent leads.
Unless you’re the President of the United States, I contend that you can reach pretty much anybody on the planet that has an email account — or at least you can try to.
That’s why — even by making yourself slightly less contact-able — I guarantee that you will still receive inbound leads — they will just have to be slightly more determined to get in touch with you.
Busy people like CEOs and senior politicians have gatekeepers like secretaries.
Sometimes even whole rings of them.
But I’ve still cold-emailed Fortune 500 CMOs and received personal responses.
In other words — if somebody is really interested in what you’re selling, they will still find a way to reach out to you if they want to badly enough.
So to make myself only slightly harder to reach (emphasis, again, on the word ‘slightly’ here), I have been trying to encourage prospects to reach me through my all time favorite means of capturing top-of-funnel leads — and through no other way.
That is, by completing a contact form on my website.
- My personal site has virtually nothing but that exposed to Google.
- My business website also has a contact form. It’s a three-fielder: name, email, and message.
Either one is fine for initiating a conversation about writing services.
Because some people like to just pick up the phone and reach somebody, I also set up a virtual US phone number and added that to my contact page — along with an email address that routes to a gated inbox:
In the grand scheme of things, I’m still very easy to get a hold of.
But even if my website didn’t have a contact form there are a plethora of ways to discover email addresses that most marketers know about: WHOIS lookups and Hunter.io just to name two.
So it works.
And Here Are The Weird Things I Do To Encourage That Workflow
As I mentioned, because I want to capture and track inbound leads through my CRM systematically, I’ve tried to coerce prospects into not contacting me through virtually any other means.
Because I still need and want to be on platforms such as LinkedIn (more on that later), that entails a little bit of firewall-ing.
- To add me on LinkedIn, you need to enter my email address. But — because disabling invitations is not a native LinkedIn functionality — the email address I associated with my account begins with a random 32 character alphanumeric string which would be impossible to guess. It would be very difficult even to brute force the invitation, which — let’s face is — nobody is going to be bothered to do. Periodically, I take off the requirement for a few days at a time just to observe what happens and see how interested the people that message me are.
- I don’t post my private email address or cellphone anywhere. Ever. Yes, all those details are out there and easy to find. But I never share my email address publicly — even in a private Facebook group.
- I generally opt to hide profiles like LinkedIn and Facebook from Google. Most social networks have this functionality somewhere in the privacy section. Look for UI verbiage such as “deindex this profile from Google and other search engines” next to a check box.
- I don’t know if this is still considered a legitimate SEO practice, but I use Robots.txt quite a lot and manage which parts of my online infrastructure Google and other search engine bots are allowed to crawl.
And Here’s What I’ve Observed to Happen As a Result
Remember what I said about almost everybody being contactable if you really want to get in touch with them?
And the part about personal branding?
Let me tie them together.
i) I’m slightly harder to contact than your average freelancer but still pretty contactable. As a result, I still get inbound leads — just ones that arrive to my inbox or on my call calendar with a bit more intent in their sails.
ii) As I described, although my personal branding is currently pretty atrocious, I’m compensating for that by doing a lot of my own outbound prospecting. As I develop my personal branding, however, I expect the pace of that inbound lead generation to pick up.
Doing all of the above has had a few happy effects.
Let me outline them.
- The people that do initiate contact with me are — by default — higher intent leads. The reason for this is obvious — they’ve invested a little bit of time (and sometimes money) in the process. Despite being essentially impossible to connect with on LinkedIn, as soon as I begin an outbound email marketing campaign, the InMails start to flow in. The difference between adding somebody on LinkedIn and sending them an InMail is that InMails cost money. But guess what? So does my time. I take InMails as a great sales signal and will make that lead my top priority to nurture. The buy-side is evidently quite serious about the engagement. In return, I prepare for a conversation very seriously too. We can show one another high intention.
- Doing this forces me to engage in prospecting. As a solo business owner, I believe that it’s my responsibility to be continuously engaging in business development and prospecting. Of course, the personal branding push I mentioned is pivotal too. If I pick up a referral from a client? Beautiful. But I know that I can’t count on low to medium intent leads reaching through me LinkedIn as I know they don’t even have the option. By doing the above, I essentially force myself sometimes through a VA) to constantly go out into the world and try to develop relationships. People won’t add me on LinkedIn. So I know that I need to add and engage them — and all of the time. Yes, this puts myself under a bit of pressure. But it also means that I have to take initiating contact with potential clients very seriously .
I put this idea out into the open just to present a slightly alternative approach to business development.
It’s goes against the typical freelance marketing drumbeat of ‘make more noise online’.
Feel free to ridicule it. Or to suggest that it might just be a good idea.
As I mentioned, I may abandon the idea altogether. Think of it as a sales experiment of sorts. I don’t have to be permanently tethered to it to see how it goes — or to run an A/B test with it in order to compare results before and after.
What I can tell you with certainty, however, is that lead intention scoring is a terrific idea — whether you choose to firewall your inbound contact streams or not.
The conversations I’ve had with people that took the 30 seconds to complete my contact form and outline their writing needs (I had one this morning) are on a completely different level to those I receive casually — or even those that respond to my outbound prospecting campaigns.
High-intent sales leads are worth careful nurturing. This might be a way to select for them in your funnel.