Buying technical or professional services is rarely an impulse buy.

We’re used to making quick, spur of the moment purchases in B2C environments, but that mentality doesn’t translate to B2B purchases. B2B sales have to be far more measured – and for good reason.

A poor business purchase can impact a company’s bottom line, potentially dragging people’s livelihoods with it.

This more considered approach naturally leads to a longer B2B sales cycle – one where the buyer’s trust in the supplier is built over time until they’re ready to buy. It’s therefore imperative that B2B suppliers continually foster a sense of “know, like, and trust” in each of their prospects.

Depending on where you look online, it’s said that it takes between 6 and 10 interactions on average to finally convert a customer – the Marketing Rule of 7 is probably the best known of these theories.

So how do you achieve these 7-or-thereabouts touchpoints?

One of the best ways to stay on people’s radar is to get them to sign up to your email marketing list. In terms of user focus, inboxes are a much better place to be visible than whizzy, algorithm-driven social feeds. But in our post-GDPR world, we’re more mindful than ever about who gets their mitts on our juicy data.

So how do you tempt interested parties to sign up to your list? With a lead magnet!

What is a Lead Magnet?

A lead magnet is an exclusive digital resource that’s provided online in exchange for a prospect’s contact details – usually their name and email address. It’s common to ask for a few additional details like the prospect’s company name, their industry, and their geographic location so the list-keeper can personalise the emails that go out to each subscriber.

What kind of digital resources can be given away as lead magnets?

Anything that can be made immediately accessible to new subscribers online can be a lead magnet – as long as it’s protected in a way that only subscribers can access it. Making the content exclusively available to subscribers only is key; otherwise, why would they bother signing up?

Some common lead magnet formats are listed below:

Lead magnets are sometimes referred to as “gated” content, because you effectively have to “pay your toll at the gate” (i.e., share your email address) to get to it.

As with most content, the secret to a good, tempting lead magnet is to provide something of practical value to the reader. If you don’t provide a practical takeaway or an insightful new way of looking at a problem, then your reader is going to feel short changed. Not a sensation you exactly want to instil in your prospects!

Side note: If you’re unsure how much to give away for free in your lead magnet, then check out my blog post “How Much Should You Give Away for Free in Your Content?

This explanation has probably already rung a few bells in terms of your own experiences when browsing the web. You’ve probably visited sites that use popups or banner graphics which promise a tempting resource in exchange for your email address. This is a lead magnet in action, out in the wild.

Why Do Lead Magnets Work?

Lead magnets get results because they promise the visitor instant gratification through a specific, tempting resource in return for sharing their details. This instant, certain payback is a much stronger offer than the vague promise of receiving email newsletters at some nebulous point in the future.

Nowadays, we care more than ever about the email clutter that comes our way. And in our post-GDPR world, we care more than ever about our data privacy too. When signing up to receive email updates from a company, the prospect is often paralysed by a massive sense of “what’s in this for me?”.

But providing a free, exclusive resource in return for signing up effectively dangles a carrot to get your prospects to sign up. Lead magnets present a win-win situation: the prospect gets their free, handy resource and the company gets another willing and qualified email subscriber.

Once a subscriber joins your mailing list, you can set to work on providing the multiple touchpoints that move them down the sales funnel. And if everything goes well, they’ll emerge from the other end a happy customer.

Why is Email List Building Important?

Sending promotional emails en masse is no longer the stigmatised pursuit it once was. As modern email technologies have got better at filtering out unsolicited spam, laws and regulations have also come into force to protect citizens as independent data subjects.

But why is building your email list better than growing a social media or YouTube audience? The answer is simply one of ownership and agency over your prospects’ data, and the matter of marketing continuity.

Say you have a large following on a major social platform. That’s great! But how would you communicate with those followers if the “powers that be” on that platform decided to delete or disable your page, or group, or channel? In their efforts to moderate content, platforms can be quite draconian in deciding which pages to keep and which ones to delete at the drop of a hat. Or, in a less likely scenario, what would you do if that platform disappeared overnight?

Without that particular account, or group, or platform, your followers will be scattered to the winds. You’d need to build that list again elsewhere – possibly from scratch.

Now, instead of having an avid social following, imagine you have the names and email addresses of those interested parties. Because email is a much more decentralised medium, it’s unlikely to simply “go kaput”. No single organisation or entity “owns” email, likely contributing to its enduring success.

There’s also an argument to be made about the differences in how we use email and social media, and how they’re configured to display media.

When you’re scrolling down a social feed, there’s always the lure of the next post, and the next post, and the next post after that. Social media algorithms are specially designed to keep pulling you along – keeping you focused on the social platform. This way, the site in question can continue to keep their own brand high in your mind, continue to serve you with ads, and gather valuable behavioural data about you.

There’s a reason that these platforms are free – they make their money from our data and attention.

Though there are some similarities between navigating a bustling social feed and a jam-packed inbox, we generally spend more meaningful, undivided attention on email than we do absent-mindedly tumbling down a social media feed.

Not many of us pore over every single bulk email that comes our way, but the time we spend with our inboxes is generally a lot more exclusively focused than the time we spend on social media. Take, for example, the fact that people often scroll down their social feeds distractedly whilst watching TV or waiting in a queue. Email generally requires a bit more brain-power in comparison!

Crafting a Desirable Lead Magnet

All lead magnets need to serve a need – to scratch a real, persistent itch. They also need to do so in a way that suits the practical take-away you’re looking to provide. Well-crafted content is essential too – that should go without saying – but the previous two points can be tricky to pin down.

In terms of serving a known need, a bit of market research goes a long way. What questions do you get asked frequently? Particularly common questions should probably be tackled on your public-facing blog or an FAQ page, but topics that require a more in-depth, nuanced response could be tackled in an ebook or video course.

However, depending on the practical take away you’re looking to provide, it might make more sense to provide something more pragmatic – a tool or a calculator of some kind, for instance. To give an example that I use myself, CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer is a prime specimen.

Remember that a lead magnet is a single part in the overarching narrative of buying from you. You want to give a little more value in your lead magnet than you would give “out in the open” on your blog in order to provide a certain level of exclusivity. But don’t feel tempted to give too much away – it’s still a free resource, after all! This post should help you weigh up what to share and what to keep close to your chest.

Want to attract new leads with a well-written ebook or checklist of your own?

If so, you’re in the right place… almost. You can find out more about my lead magnet writing (and wider content writing) services here, or get in touch for a friendly chat.

Note: This post was first published on the 5th September 2016 and has since been edited.