Lead Generation Steps for Pre-Launch Startups

You're about to launch your startup, but you don't yet have a product. How on earth can you run a lead generation program? Brian Sparker from Review Trackers shares how he did it.

Brian Sparker is the head of content marketing at Review Trackers, a platform for monitoring and analyzing local online reviews. Below is a transcript of his presentation from the November 11, 2016 Here's How Startup Marketing Conference, where he shared his experience generating leads with video.

I'm Brian Sparker. I'm the head of content marketing at ReviewTrackers. ReviewTrackers is a software company based in River North. We're four years old, we're venture-funded, and we basically track and monitor online reviews for multiple-location businesses, which sounds like really easy, but it's actually really difficult, because there are over 75 review websites that are actively being reviewed on every day, and for businesses with two or three or 500 locations, that can be really difficult. That's a lot of customer feedback, a lot of data, a lot of stuff to process. So it's a real issue that we're solving.

Chris Campbell founded the company in 2012 because he saw this niche in the market, because he was actually trying to track these reviews and he was overwhelmed with the amount of data that he was actually trying to capture and analyze. So, he didn't really have a choice. He wasn't an engineer and he was a marketer and he had a lot of customer data, so what he did was he started from scratch.

So, this is an interesting topic:

How could I get leads before I had a product? This seems sort of counter-intuitive, right? Because a product is basically why you start a business.

1.  I created a website that served a niche.

This is the lean startup methodology, I'm sure we've all at least heard that before. And so what we did was we started using inbound marketing, which is a term that HubSpot made up, but they really nailed it. Inbound is basically finding what your product is solving, and solving it with the media that you're creating instead. So if people are tracking online reviews, that must mean that they have a lot of problems with online reviews.

So we started writing about online reviews, and how people are responding to online reviews and people started coming to the website. People started referencing us as a thought leader in the industry. And we used these first leads to test ideas. So basically they came into the website via the blog, through our Help Center articles or our Resource Center and we were able to use these initial people that came to us and say, "What else do we need? What else should we do? What else should we include in our product?" And we sort of used that to build the first iterations of our product. So, how did we do that? Well, we created a website. This is very simple but, basically, you wanna frame your website as a thought leader, right? We have all heard that as well.

2.  I developed educational content that solved a problem.

But we also want to solve the same problems. So we create Help Center articles in our Resource Center that basically help people understand online reviews; help people understand their customers, right? So if they're looking for "How do I respond to an angry customer online?" that's the exact article that we're going to write about. We're going to solve that problem for them and eventually they'll get to the point where they need to track all of those online reviews and they know who to come looking for.

So the second thing we did is we developed an educational content strategy that solved that problem. And the way we did this was very simple. All content that you create on your website needs to have one specific goal. You can't create content that's going to educate people, convert them into a customer and then create an advocate out of it. It's just not how it works.

All content needs to have one specific goal. I feel like I should say that over and over and over again, but it's very important. Basically, with content marketing, your one piece of content should either be designed to bring people into the website, to convince people that this is an industry-wide problem, or to understand that you are a thought leader. Or maybe it's a sales piece of content and you're trying to convince them that what they're doing is really good, and they should convert and become a lead.

3.  I built relationships with SEOs and web developers.

So, all pieces of content had a specific educational aspect to it. They don't understand online reviews, that's why they're Googling, that's why they're coming in organically to the website. And we're teaching them. So now we are positioning ourselves as a thought leader. What we did after we had all this educational content was we built relationships. Search engine optimization was huge for us in the beginning and it still continues to be really important. We reached out to every SEO that we could find, because online reviews are very specific to SEOs and local SEOs specifically, and web developers, people that are actually in the industry, people that are building websites, people that are working with actual clients and actually have these online reviews to deal with. They sort of are operational-focused, because they solve real customer problems, but they're also beneficial for marketing. They show you what sort of campaigns are working, or what sort of language your customers are using.

So, building a relationship with these SEOs, with these developers, really helped us understand who the audience is. Not just the audience for our content, but the audience for our product. So as we rapidly developed this new product, we had an audience that we can share this sort of beta testing with.

4.  I tested landing pages and CTAs onsite to optimize conversion rate

And then last, we tested landing pages. So this is huge. Testing is the most important thing you can do, and if you're not testing right now, you should all be testing. Testing is huge. Conversion rate, specifically, is huge, but back to the educational content, all content needs to have a specific conversion point that you're testing. So if your awareness content is being tested for conversions, it's going to fail. If your awareness content is being tested for awareness, you're gonna see some different results. So testing based on each individual piece of content is super-important. So we just keep testing, keep testing and then eventually we'll start to see something that's working and we have an audience.

So here are our results: We've been doing this for three years and we've obviously been constantly testing. We have more than 8,000 backlinks. Almost 1,000 root domain links, and root domain, I don't know if you have studied SEO or are familiar with this, root domain is huge for SEO. It's actually more important, in my opinion, than backlinks, specifically, because it shows a wider authority, a bigger audience, and we have over 19,000 organic keywords, which is crazy to me, because I can't even think of 19,000 keywords that relate to online reviews.

So, this is really good. This shows Google that we are a high authority, that we have a lot of stuff to say and people are really interested in what we're talking about and we actually are thought leaders. We sort of faked it 'til we made it. And then the web pages are now ranking on all the search engines. We are ranked number one for hundreds of search terms for very specific articles. We're getting tons of visitors to the website, 45,000 visitors a month on average. And our primary conversion point is 6%, so you can do the math there, it's a lot of leads that come in.

Now, that conversion point is specific to each of those specific educational contents. So if it's awareness content, that's conversion point for awareness content, which usually is like social engagement or a newsletter sign-up. If it's consideration content, it's more for like a webinar or a harder lead like a demo request, or it could be like someone just goes and starts a trial and gives us their money.