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Adam Higgins

By: Adam Higgins on July 9th, 2019

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How to Generate Leads and Build Your Contacts Database

Association Management

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You might have the greatest marketing strategy in the world, but it’s useless unless you’ve got people to market to. 

You need leads in your contact database. In the old days, associations would source leads leaving sign-up sheets at the door of the conference, where people could jot down their email address if they were interested in hearing a little more. 

These days, you need a more sophisticated approach.

How to find contacts (and turn them into leads)

With the right digital marketing strategy, you can get potential leads to come to you. 

Not only that, but you can nurture these contacts over time, discovering more about them, and building engagement with them. Leads with a high level of engagement are more likely to convert – meaning more sales, more event attendees, and more new members. 

Here’s how to do it.


Use marketing automation to set up a form

Your marketing automation platform should have functionality that allows you to create simple web forms of varying kinds. 

How you actually go about this depends on the software you’re using – consult your vendor or talk to an association marketing consultant if you’re having trouble. 

The form itself doesn’t need to be very big. Long forms with lots of questions will deter potential leads from signing up. In fact, you may see the best results if your form just asks one question: what’s your email address?  


Embed the form on your site

Now, you need to place the form where people can see it. There are three ideal locations for a sign-up form:

  • Right panel

This creates a nice flow on your page. People can read the content on the main part of the page to the left, while they have an option to subscribe for more content in the right-hand sidebar.

  • Footer

This is at the bottom of the page, below your main content. This location is excellent if people often read your content all the way to the end. 

  • Modal

Modal windows are those overlays that pop up when you’re visiting a website. They can be super effective or super annoying, depending on how they’re deployed. Best practice is to configure modal signup boxes to appear after the visitor has spent a certain amount of time on the site, or visited a certain number of pages. 


Set up form security

Web forms carry a certain amount of risk. Anyone can enter data into your form, which then goes into your database. This leaves you exposed to spammers or even threats such as SQL injection attacks. 

That’s why most web forms include a challenge such as CAPTCHA. Such challenges do a great job of weeding out bots and automated attacks. 

Dual confirmation systems also help you to ensure that all sign-up requests are legitimate. In such a system, someone enters their email address, and you then send an email asking them to confirm that they want to sign up. They click a link in the confirmation email, which confirms that it’s an authentic sign-up request.


Drive traffic to your form

You’re ready to sign people up – now you just need some traffic. 

A content marketing strategy is one highly effective way of getting people to visit the site. As an association, you already have access to a huge amount of great content such as research and educational material, so leverage this content to drive traffic.

Social media is another way of getting visitors to your site. Be engaging, entertaining, and consistent with your messages on social media channels. 

Take a look at your existing traffic too. See which pages are getting visitors and make sure you’re your sign-up form is embedded on these pages.


Offer real value

First impressions count in email-based marketing. When the lead opens their first email, they should feel like they’ve received something of real value. It should make them excited about receiving their next email. Otherwise, they’ll hit the unsubscribe button. 

Analytics can help you create high-value messages, even if you don’t have a lot of information about the lead. Look at their activity history on your site, establish what interests them, and put together a relevant email. Your marketing automation tool can help to do this work automatically. 


Use progressive profiling

For effective marketing, you need a little more information about the lead. Job title, location, education history, specialization, and demographic data – all of these things will help you to create a truly personalized experience. 

Here’s the tricky part: people don’t like disclosing this information to strangers. 

This is where progressive profiling comes in. If you build engagement with a lead, they will make regular visits to your site. On each of these visits, you can ask them for a little more detail about themselves. 

All of this information is then added to their profile on the CMS, allowing you to personalize things further. 


Provide content of increasing value

How do you build engagement and move someone along a sales funnel? By providing them with increasingly valuable content. 

Valuable, in this context, doesn’t mean dollar value. Valuable means something that is truly useful to the recipient. Advice, insight, how-to’s, and advocacy are things that can be of real value to the kind of professional who might join your association. 

Gated content is one way to use your content strategy as a tool for progressive profiling. Gated content is something that you make freely available in exchange for personal data. For example, you may allow a visitor to download a free white paper if they fill out a form.


Be mindful of privacy 

When you handle personal data, you’re subject to certain laws. In the U.S., email marketing is regulated by CAN-SPAM. In the EU, people are protected by GDPR. If you violate relevant laws, you could be subject to penalties.

But even if you are acting within the law, it’s always best to err on the side of privacy. Members want a professional association they can trust. If you’re careless with their private data, they won’t trust you. 

The main rules to keep in mind are:

  • Be transparent about how you’re going to use personal data
  • Don’t use data for any purpose other than that to which the recipient consented
  • Don’t send too many emails, or emails you know to be irrelevant to the recipient
  • Offer a simple way of opting out
  • Delete old and inaccurate data
  • Never share data with a third party, unless you have permission to do so
  • Store all data according to the highest possible IT security standards

Fairness, respect, and security – these are the essential principles of data handling. 


Good and Bad Ways to Improve your Contacts Database

The lead generation described above is by far the best way of attracting new members. However, it does take a lot of patience and hard work. 

There are a few ways you can try to speed up the process a little. Some of these methods are good, and some are not so good.


Bad Way: Purchasing a contact list

There are companies out there that will sell you a list of email addresses, with the promise that they have all been vetted for quality. Buying a list is tempting – you could add thousands of potential leads to your CMS right now, without putting in any effort. 

But if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. The obvious problem is that none of these contacts have expressed any kind of interest in your association. What’s the point in emailing 10,000 people who probably don’t even work in your industry?

Also, using some of the email address on the list could be spam traps. This is a technique used by email service providers to cut down on unsolicited emails, which involves creating fake addresses and spreading them around the internet. If you send an email to a spam trap, your email address will be flagged as spam, which will damage your sender score. 


Good way: Data Enrichment

If someone has willingly given you personal information like an email address, it’s okay to look for other publicly available information about them. For example, you could see if they have a Facebook or LinkedIn profile, scrape some of the key information, and add it to your CMS.

This is a process known as data enrichment, and it can be done using software tools or by hiring a third party. Data enrichment may only uncover some small details such as locale or job title, but even this can help to deliver a more personalized experience for the recipient. 


Lead Generation is the First Step in a Sales Journey

Back in the old days, marketing was a two-step model. Step one: acquire leads. Step two: market to leads. 

With digital lead generation techniques, it’s all one step. From the moment someone first visits your website or follows you on social media, they’re beginning a sales journey. If you nurture them along that journey and you use the right marketing automation tools, you’ll get the outcome you’re looking for.

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About Adam Higgins

For over 20 years, Adam has functioned as a marketing and business analyst for non-profits and associations. As Chief Technology Officer at HighRoad, he leads a team of software developers, business analysts, and customer support analysts to supports technical integrations between marketing automation platforms and digital systems. Throughout Adam’s career, he has bridged the gap between the business units and information technology departments. Often when he's working with clients, he is their defacto MarTech liaison and solution architect. Adam is a graduate from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He’s a Los Angeles native that now resides in Atlanta, GA with his wife and son.