Inbound Marketing is Not About “Lead Generation” Anymore

Patrick Dodge


The way people are purchasing business solutions today is changing, but if you listen to the way marketers speak about lead generation, you’d think we were still living in 2009.

Here is the problem.

Every business wants qualified leads for their sales team. It’s why my company, and every other marketing agency out there, exists. It’s what our clients pay us to produce for them every month.

But every business needs to stop and recognize that lead generation is evolving into a “word of mouth” revolution that’s being led by customers, not brands. Anyone who fails to recognize this will get left behind.

Here are the signs:

  • More than 80% of people in the United States ask a friend or family member for a recommendation before making a purchase (Nielsen Harris Poll Survey).


  • Human connections matter to buyers more than ever, and yet most companies still insist on communicating using bland, legally-compliant corporate-speak.


  • Brands that stay focused on engaging their greatest fans and building a community are leading the charge today.

Even the words “lead generation” imply a certain amount of presumed control brands exert over their customers. It doesn’t matter if we are doing it with helpful content or advertising or whatever the tactic of the day is – lead generation implies control and manipulation.

It’s safe to say the world has moved past this way of thinking. It’s time we adapt to something better.

Here are some unique and practical insights that will help you rethink your strategy, shared by a few of our favorite marketers.

“Focus on Networking. Not Selling.”


Chris Williams is a business leader who specializes in helping people succeed with LinkedIn marketing.

If you’ve spent any time on the platform in the last twelve months, you’ve seen a million “LinkedIn Success Coaches” out there, all promising to help you get lots of business. Many of them are full of crap, while others are just regurgitating the same best practices people have been using for a long while.

Chris is different. 

He not only knows the simple actions that will help you get the right attention from LinkedIn’s algorithm, he also understands something important that most marketers miss.

In one of our conversations about strategy, he articulated it perfectly:

“Success on LinkedIn is not about selling your services. It’s about building trust with your network, making them want to refer you to their own mother if she needed help.”

That is an “a-ha!” statement if I’ve ever heard one.

We need to stop focusing on selling people directly, and start providing value to our networks. They are the ones that will help you sell.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to building a stronger network of advocates on LinkedIn or any other platform:

  • Be human. Ditch your corporate page and communicate as a person. No one wants to talk to a logo.

  • Share helpful tips about things you know a lot about, but don’t talk about that only. Sharing stories about hard lessons you’ve learned through success, failure, and just living life can have a powerful impact. If you aren’t prepared to be a little vulnerable with your network, don’t expect them to open up to you.

  • Be responsive. Everyone has a hustle today, and it’s important to make time for other people who are trying to connect and move their brand forward. There’s no better way to build strong relationships than by engaging with others.

  • Help your employees build their personal brands. Your colleagues are your greatest asset when it comes to expanding your network and making an impression on potential buyers.


Instead of force-feeding employees corporate content to share with their friends, help them do the things we listed above. Get them some coaching about how to create a strong personal brand and talk about what they do in their own voice. Not everyone will put in the effort and succeed at this, but the ones that do will accelerate your brand in an authentic and powerful way.

“Remember, There Was a Time When Telemarketing Worked.”


Adele Revella, Founder and CEO of the Buyer Persona Institute, brought that simple truth home to her students in a marketing course she taught. All the students laughed of course, and then she went on to illustrate the point.

Telemarketing worked at a time when people were excited to get phone calls. Email marketing was at its peak when it was a thrill to see a message pop up in your inbox (considering the untamable beast email is today, this almost harder to imagine).

Marketing is dynamic. Everything we do today – chatbots, landing pages, whitepapers, emails, PPC – will not work forever. The instant some new tactic is discovered, the expiration date is within sight.

This endless change is immensely frustrating to marketers, but here is the silver lining Adele offers us:

“Marketing tactics have a shelve life. But understanding your buyers will always be critical.”

We’ve talked about this before. Companies are not taking steps to truly understand their buyers before creating a marketing strategy, and it’s hurting them.

Most businesses download a template and sit around a table, making stuff up about their customers. If you want to truly understand how your buyers make decisions, you’ve got to interview them about a real experience they’ve had considering a solution you provide.

Adele and her team literally wrote the book about how to do buyer personas, and you can learn all about it in a master class on their website. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Search for insights within their story that tells you what was important to them as they searched for a solution. This is not about what they think of your company. It’s about their experience and what matters to the buyer.

  • Identify patterns that give you a better understanding of your buyers, and how well your solution meets their needs.

  • Use these insights to make improvements to the entire customer experience. Do not just hand the research to Marketing and tell them to work their magic.

From sales to service, to marketing and product development – buyer persona insights should influence every aspect of your business if you want to connect with them on a deeper level and gain referrals. Interviews are the way to do this right. Everything else is an assumption, and you know what happens when we assume things.

Shifting the mindset from lead generation to buyer experience is going to be a process -- even for us. But it's necessary if we want to stay connected with people who can make a real impact on our business.

The marketing department is now managed by customers. How will we all keep them happy and productive? That's the million dollar question. 

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Feb 17, 2019 9:06:26 PM