In the world of marketing, they call it “lead generation.”
Not making the big sale all at once -- which never happens -- but cultivating leads from small expressions of interest and nurturing them into customers.
Minus the profit motive and “sales” lingo, lead generation is exactly what churches need to be doing. Interest in faith starts small and grows, perhaps like this:
- an overheard reference to a congregation’s soup kitchen
- a desire for information
- a one-time act of serving
- meeting others
- engaging with another aspect of the church
- attending worship
- finding meaningful relationships
- asking deeper questions
- moving forward in faith
Notice how far down the path lies "attending worship." Church leaders often get impatient and try to rush this process. They invite a prospect to worship as the first step that initiates an engagement with the congregation. They press membership before the prospect has even found a circle of friends. They press conversion before the prospect has asked any questions. Rushed engagement rarely works.
Lead generation tends to be congregations’ weak spot. Church leaders have forgotten their own entry points. Lead generation can be disorderly and difficult to measure. Lead generation rarely pays off immediately.
Here, then, are 10 keys to effective lead generation. (This uses a single example, reaching parents of young children, to amplify points.)
1. Leads are just that: leads. Not visitors, not customers, not members, not sales. They are people who have agreed to receive a free mailing, asked for information about a product, or left a business card at a booth. Don't assume they are asking a question about your church; give them a reason to ask such a question. Assume that young parents are concerned about education for their child. Your goal is to position your church as essential to their addressing that concern.
2. Leads respond to “Calls to Action,” such as a free download at a web site. For example, offer a guide to schools in your community. Analytical, not puffery. Use the action taken to segment your lead list. For example, a section of young parents, and a special blog to serve them.
3. Social media are surprisingly ineffective in lead generation if used passively. Passing a link by thousands of eyeballs via Facebook doesn’t equal the power of an e-mail or blog to stir an inquiry. Creating a marketing campaign using constituents' friends works better.
4. Content and assistance drive leads. A promotional piece about the quality of your day school is far less effective than a free listing of “Top Ten Day Schools” and cost comparison. Develop a "curation" capability, that is, content generation based on expertise, offering value, establishing yourself as a "thought leader."
5. Headlines and brief articles capture attention. Forget the long articles. Create a series on "critical educational issues in this community." Send them a different piece each week, using the segmented list you created for young parents.
6. In your e-letter or blog, provide multiple entry points. Instead of a long article by the pastor, post links to four articles -- by, say, youth minister, education director, mission coordinator, and pastor -- and reach four times as many prospects. Position your church as having value to deliver young parents, not just Sunday events to offer.
7. Provide ways for leads to ask questions online and to make comments. A "Parents' Q&A" section, for example. Post Q&A in the e-letter you send.
8. Use a sophisticated CRM tool (customer relationship management) to track leads, chart their movement through the system, and measure outcomes for analysis. I use BatchBook and recommend it. Go to http://www.batchblue.com/.
9. Have a dynamic and usable web site. To function in 2010 and beyond, you simply cannot attract leads and nurture them without a great web site. Spend the bucks.
10. Cast many nets, sow many seeds, don’t just rely on one painstakingly planned initiative, like a telephone-calling campaign or a major fair. Have booths at ten fairs, give something of value away at a school fund-raiser (like a bicycle or vacation) in exchange for business cards and e-mail addresses.
Remember: leads aren’t workers or members. They are the essential starting point for raising up workers and transforming lives.