“Today’s buyer is 75-90 percent of the way through their purchase journey before they reach out to the vendor,” according to Lorie Wizdo of Forrester Research.

Technology has seriously changed the sales process. Buyers now search to find the seller – from listings and reviews to social media pages, we can find a company’s online presence just by asking Siri. Because of this shift in how consumers shop, generating qualified leads is no longer up to salespeople. Marketing departments must take over digital lead generation rather than focus solely on brand awareness. It’s not that buyers ever had a burning desire to talk to sales reps, but it was the only way that we could learn about what’s available in the market. Information is now being pushed toward us all day long whether we like it or not, so we don’t need a salesperson to call, e-mail, or knock on our door to catch wind of available products or services. This is where digital advertising becomes involved with lead generation. Advertisers have great opportunity with the many new forms of digital advertising – all trying to leave their mark, but some that are greatly undervalued and under-used.

If you’re smart, you’re shifting your sales techniques from distraction marketing (constantly feeding promotions and marketing down consumers’ throats) to education marketing. Instead of just talking about how great a brand is, we are empowering consumers to make a choice – allowing them to research for themselves and make an educated decision. Think of a teenager – a parent tells them to do something and they do the very opposite. But allow them to come up with the idea themselves and they are enthusiastic about it. This is how we are finding the consumer market to be acting – shove information at them and they resist, but allow them to find out about you on their own and they think it was their idea. This can be accomplished by process of repetition across multiple channels of digital advertising, where consumers can be gently exposed to a brand little by little.

This shift has left businesses a little confused and empty-handed, as we are all learning how to generate leads outside of the traditional sales process. This new version of lead generation requires a new skill set in the digital world – a “digital sales” skill in a sense – that has been refined by few and far between; ones who understand how to track efforts in order to know what is and isn’t working. These experts understand best practices in this blossoming technique and also understand buying personas and the content that consumers respond to. Most importantly, this new digital lead generation skill is a continuous process. It is not simply a project, a campaign, or an event.  It’s a cycle of never-ending processes and testing that generates leads to feed into the sales team and therefore needs to be outsourced and continually optimized. Not only does this new form of advertising need to be optimized for clicks and visits, but the new digital optimization process involves diving deep into action-based metrics to further understand your leads. This process is the new normal.

Not only is it necessary to shift into this new world of digital lead generation in order to keep up with the market, it is more cost efficient and less time consuming. Experts that are versed in this new strategy are able to get costs per lead down and acquire new leads in a fraction of the time. If you’ve been finding it harder and harder to acquire new customers as technology has been advancing…ask yourself: are you transforming with the market, or remaining stagnant?

Brian Colling is the founder of Scottsdale-based Colling Media, and award-winning digital and traditional agency.