Use other’s B2B marketing landing page wins to boost yours.

Most smart B2B marketers already know that the design and copy in a landing page have huge impact on the success of online B2B marketing campaigns — or even offline, if the call to action is to visit a URL.

Many B2B marketers, however, don’t have a large enough universe of prospective customers to conduct valid testing on their own. So it’s handy to have so many others conduct tests, and, from those tests, establish the best practices the rest of us can use.

Last week I experienced two landing page-related events that brought these best practices back into my focus.

One was a discussion with a client marketing team about the creation of a new landing page template. The other was the arrival of an email link to the 2012 Online Testing Awards Winners from “Which Test Won.”

The discussion included reports from several team members on landing page best practices they had picked up at recent Webinars. Most of the testing was done with B2C products and services and less for B2B, but those that would most affect B2B landing pages include:

  • Make sure the landing page headline and content continue the messaging that began in the PPC ad, banner, or whatever message directs the prospect to the landing page URL.
  • Have a strong, clear and quickly visible call to action.
  • Use directional cues to direct attention to the CTA, such as arrows.
  • Keep the landing page to a single purpose.
  • Show a visual of what is being offered — white paper, checklist, etc.
  • Use video, which has been shown to boost conversion by 80% (I don’t know if this is B2B or B2C, or if it even matters).
  • Keep the message clean, short, clear and easy to read.
  • Keep the registration fields required to receive the offer as short as possible.

The biggest surprise that has come out of landing page testing is that indicating required fields with asterisks actually reduces response.

The 2012 Online Testing Awards Winners provide a wonderful opportunity for us B2B marketers to test our own instincts about what’s best on a landing page. Each test provides the two pages tested, lets you vote, then reports which version really won the test and why.

It provides fun and instant insight into how small changes to landing pages can make a big difference in results.

B2B marketers: Let your market be your guide.

How do we B2B marketers make sure that the channel, offer and messaging choices we make have the best chance of producing the response we desire?

Let the results of this recent test conducted by one of the marketing agencies I serve be your guide:

THE CLIENT: The client sells advertising services to small businesses in markets across the country.

THE GOAL: Their goal was to enhance loyalty and help ensure renewal of their customers’ annual advertising contracts.

THE TACTIC: The client mailed, emailed and also provided an online version of a survey their customers were invited to complete.

THE OFFER: In exchange for completing the survey, the customer would have a chance to win a coffee card from a well-known national coffee retailer and get the results of the survey.

Now I ask, “How much does the dollar amount on the coffee card need to be to generate the best response?” Would it be $5, $10 or $20?

The agency’s client was sure that a higher dollar amount would produce a big increase in response. The agency’s experience was that the lower amount worked just fine. So a test was set up between the $5, the $10 and the $20.

The $5 offer achieved a 3.6% response. The $10 offer achieved a 3.6% response and the $20 did only a little better with a 4% response rate.

When this campaign is rolled out into future markets, the client will offer a $5 coffee card and know that they are almost maximizing response at a significantly lower cost.

The lesson is, don’t assume that what you would do is what your market would do.

Without testing offers (whether they be educational content, discounts, X-month free trials) there’s no way for those of us in B2B marketing to really know how to maximize results while minimizing costs. As the title says, when making B2B marketing decisions, “Let your market be your guide.”

Two B2B marketing rules that cross all forms of communication.

After back-and-forth email discussion with a client today about subject lines on a particular email, I got to thinking about how what I was saying applied to all types of B2B communications.

The fact is, we want to be effective communicators whether the platform is an email, letter, PowerPoint presentation, Website, post card, brochure or who knows what else. If B2B marketers forget all the other rules and best practices of communication, they must remember these two as the basics of getting their messages read. They are simple to remember — but can make a powerful difference.

1. Keep it short.
People are multitasking. They may be reviewing their emails while on a conference call. Schedules are often booked solid all day long. Often they don’t have time to do more than take a quick eye scan of the communication.

B2B marketers are not usually in the same room with the reader when the messaging is being read. They aren’t there to see the person yawning, looking at their watch or not giving the message any more than a glance. The trick to keeping it short is to write the communication. Then let it sit overnight. Then review it the next day and remove every word and sentence that is not critical to its purpose.

Don’t go on and on about product details in a communication inviting attendees to a Webinar demo. Don’t give away all the details of a case study you’re asking prospects to download.

2. Forget your big vocabulary.
B2B marketing communication is always more effective when it uses simple, direct language. The easier it is to read by anyone, the better. Some assert that one should use formal language when talking to, say, academics. However, everyone, regardless of education level, prefers simple, straightforward language. This is especially true when learning about products or services they might want to use. Clearer, more basic language also helps keep the communication short.

This isn’t new advice. In fact it’s been said over and over and over again by me and others. What’s disappointing is how often I still see these rules broken. B2B marketers have a better chance of standing out from their competition in this crowded marketplace by just following these two simple rules.

B2B marketing tip: Targeting prospects on your Web site

All smart marketers agree that reaching the right people with their B2B marketing message and content offer makes the biggest difference in the success of marketing efforts. Sending the wrong message to the right market, or the right message to the wrong market, is a complete waste of money.

That’s why automated lead nurturing is such a rapidly growing B2B marketing approach. By automatically emailing a new offer to a lead/prospect — based on the action that person has last taken — boosts the targeting and gives marketers a better chance of sending the right message and content offer to the right person.

Web sites are different. Although B2B marketers use multiple channel options (SEO, SEM, email, social media, direct mail, banners) to generate Web site visits, they do not have control over who gets their messages.

If a company’s targets come from multiple industries, multiple departments, or multiple titles, who should the messaging on their Web site speak to?

If the decision maker is the CFO, should the focus of the introductory message be on cost, ROI, and the bottom line? What if the product is actually a sales or CRM tool? It’s then recommended by the sales manager, but the CFO has to make the decision due to cost. Wait a minute. If IT has to install and manage the tool, IT needs to have a big say in the decision.

So now the B2B marketer is back to the Web site. Who the heck should it talk to?

Most companies serving multiple industries do a good job of providing navigation to information for each industry. But it’s surprising how few provide specific navigation by individual target or title.

In 2007 I wrote copy for the Web site of a company selling inventory management software to healthcare facilities. The home page navigation included navigation by department, which is, in essence, navigation by the needs of the titles in that department. Under “Advantages” it included:

  • Compliance Benefits
  • Financial Benefits
  •  Inventory Benefits
  • IT Benefits
  • Process Benefits
  • Quality Control Benefits
  • Nurse/Patient Benefits

Each target has different goals and motivations. Each item can link to a page dedicated to the specific benefits the product or service brings to that title or department.

The more a Web site can reach out to the individual needs of decision makers and influencers, the better chance it has of engaging its prospective buyers. Navigation by title or department is a simple, but effective addition that makes Web site messaging more targeted and more effective.

Assorted B2B marketing tips, I know they’ll help.

The December 14 blog post from Seth Godin, marketing guru supreme, was full of good advice in “Assorted tips, hope they help.” Unfortunately, none of the tips are about marketing. My first thought was, only Seth Godin could get away with this and still attract millions of readers.

I have lots of good advice to give out, too. But I don’t have the luxury of millions of readers. Those who land here to get B2B marketing advice might not like being told how to eat better. Here, it’s just marketing advice.

You may not be eating better, or making better medical decisions, or remembering to backup your hard drive, but following my advice should help you get a pat on the back (and maybe a raise) for generating more qualified leads (and sales) for your company.

Here goes:

  1. In your designs (online or off) never reverse body copy out of a dark or busy background. Doing that is like saying, “We have cool designers who don’t care if you read a word of our message.”
  2. “Keep it simple, stupid” especially applies to marketing communications. Even highly educated C-level executives want to get their information in plain language without having to work at it.
  3. Just because someone is the president of a big company doesn’t mean they don’t like t-shirts with funny sayings on them. People are people.
  4. Always build your marketing budget based on what you’re willing to pay on a cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale basis.
  5. Put your free educational content offer and how to get it right up front in ALL your outbound lead generation communications.
  6. Forget the word “we” forever. Never use it again in B2B lead generation marketing. Prospects don’t care about you at that stage of the buy cycle. They care only about what you can do for them now.
  7. Stop being boring. Make your marketing messages upbeat to reflect the genuine excitement you feel about the services and solutions your company offers.
  8. Studies have proven that the more you promise about what your service or solution can deliver, the higher the level of satisfaction felt by your buyers. Don’t lie — but don’t hold back either.
  9. Schedule conversations with different sales people often. Sales people talk to prospects and customers and can help you make sure your marketing messages resonate in the real world.
  10. In B2B lead generation and nurturing, never waste the cost of any marketing by not including a strong, clear and compelling call to action. You can brand and generate leads at the same time.

These are not new, but they’re all worth remembering. And I have more where those came from.

B2B marketing lead generation dilemma: do it now or do it right.

One of my colleagues in the agency world was recently working with a B2B client who had requested help generating leads using targeted database marketing.

My colleague began to build a proposed outbound B2B marketing program for the client, which included testing various channels, audiences and offers to let the market determine which combination could provide the most cost-effective and qualified responses.

Midway through writing the proposal, the client shared the fact that he was under gun from the C-suite to produce X amount of incremental sales within six months or his marketing budget would be reallocated. That was disappointing to hear but not unexpected.

It’s one of a B2B marketing director’s biggest dilemmas — balancing the best practice of letting the market determine which are the best marketing approaches against demands from sales and C-level execs for instant performance.

Effective B2B direct marketing best practices require A/B split testing to determine which media, which content or other offers, and which approaches are the most effective ways to generate leads. Building a solid marketing database, measuring responses and conversions (or potential conversions) takes time. This avenue does produce leads and, in the long run, delivers the knowledge needed to maximize response rates and lower cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale.

There’s hardly much time to test a full scope of channels and offers when the bottom-line results need to show up in six months or less. When faced with this dilemma, here are the two options open to a B2B CMO:

  1. Launch a quick lead generation program following industry best practices. B2B marketers with no track record of launching their own programs into their own market should follow the best practices determined by other marketers until they are able to discover their own metrics. One option is to tap the expertise of an agency or consultant with a long track record of solid lead generation. This lets the B2B company rely on the testing results the agency or consultant has accumulated over the years. The other option is to read the books and blogs of trusted, experienced B2B marketers to learn, then use, the practices they recommend.
  2. Conduct two programs at the same time. Run a test program in parallel with a lead generation program. That is, run a best practices campaign, then a small test of email, mailing lists and/or lead generation offers.

The problem with the first choice is that this approach provides no learning. If the program is successful, the marketer has no way of knowing which element, or combination of elements, created the success. If the program is a failure the marketer won’t know what to throw out and what to keep in the next campaign.

Despite the pressure from above, B2B marketers should fight strongly to conduct A/B split testing, even in smaller amounts, while trying to generate leads in the short run. It’s the only way to turn the average response rates available now into spectacular ones in the future.

Matching B2B marketing channels to buyer preferences.

With so much information appearing daily on the Internet, it becomes impossible to know which information to trust and which is just random opinion.

That’s why I was so happy when a colleague sent me a copy of a study from Epsilon Targeting, “The Formula for Success: Preference and Trust.” A division of Epsilon, a provider of consulting, marketing data, and marketing technology, they compiled responses from 2,226 U.S. and 2,574 Canadian age 18+ consumers to an online survey in August of 2011. Their statistical significance of the results is calculated at a 95% confidence level. This is their third study on the topic of marketing channel choices.

Readers may question why I would report on a consumer survey when the focus of this blog is B2B marketing. But I feel that the results of this survey translate very nicely into the B2B world, because business decision-makers are also consumers and naturally bring their personal preferences into the workplace.

Direct mail is the trust and attention-getting winner:

  • 26% of U.S. consumers and 30% of Canadians said direct mail is more trustworthy than email.
  • 50% of U.S. consumers and 48% of Canadians said they pay more attention to postal mail than email.
  • 60% of U.S. consumers and 64% of Canadians said they enjoy checking the mailbox for postal mail, highlighting an emotional connection.
  • 30% of U.S. consumers said they’re receiving more mail that interests them compared to a year ago, and just 50% (down from 63% in 2010) said more information is sent to them in the mail — indicating marketers are improving targeting efforts.
  • The perception that reading email is faster declined among U.S. email account holders to 45% in 2011 (from 47% in 2010), suggesting clogged inboxes are draining time.

Email still has many advantages:

  • 42% of U.S. respondents like that they can choose to receive or not receive email.
  • 41% like the fact that they can decide whether to print out the information or not.
  • 34% of U.S. consumers (up from 21% in 2010) like the ability to be green and save on the use of paper.
  • 23% like the easy ability to forward information (a very valuable tool in B2B marketing).

From the above portion of the study’s results, it’s clear that both direct mail and email still have a place in B2B marketing. It supports my long-held position that direct mail is still the best outbound marketing channel for generating leads, and email is still the best for nurturing those leads through the buy cycle.

B2B Marketing needs the ducks and the bird dogs.

I’m sending out great thanks to Michael Rockefeller, Inside Sales Business Development Pro at SOI. The thanks are for the wonderful Chinese quote he found that describes my opinion of inbound marketing perfectly. It says, “Man must wait with his mouth open for a very long time before a roast duck will fly in.”

This quote was part of a terrific LinkedIn discussion on the B2B Lead Roundtable group started by Jeff Harsh, Performance Manager at Concept Services. Jeff asked, “At what time of the day are decision-makers most receptive to a cold call?”

This conversation generated non-stop input that has gone well beyond just answering Jeff’s question. It’s gotten into a full discussion about cold calling being dead, what to say on a sales call to make it more effective, how inbound marketing is replacing cold calling, and more.

The discussion, like many on LinkedIn and throughout the net, is a perfect example of the old saying, “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” That is, every one of us in marketing sees the world through our own specialty or focus.

My background is in direct marketing. I’m still a strong believer in direct mail marketing for B2B lead generation. That’s because my experiences continue to confirm that it works, as does marketing by phone.

One of the other participants, Laura Jones of the Midland Group, has a different perspective. She says, “If cold calling is becoming harder and harder to generate leads for your company, think about why and ask yourself if a shift to a new paradigm — inbound marketing — is a better direction.” She is obviously deeply into the value of inbound marketing.

This discussion is a flashback to one of my early blog posts in 2009: “Getting over our own marketing bias.” I often need a reminder of what I have said and this LinkedIn discussion was perfect for that.

Inbound, outbound, social, mobile, online, offline, and even cold calling all have value in today’s B2B environment.

When Michael quotes Brian Tracey, saying, “The future belongs to the learners, not the knowers,” I say, “There’s no reason why we can’t all be knowers AND learners.”

B2B marketing’s one-stop manual of content best practices.

Recognizing the critical importance of content in B2B marketing, a colleague of mine, Paul Mosenson, is tapping the knowledge and expertise of a number of marketing communication strategists to help support his NuSpark Marketing venture. He’s started a group on LinkedIn, “B2B Lead Generation & Content Marketing,” and has gathered together a collection of top blog posts from his team.

It’s a privilege for me to be part of this impressive group of marketers. But it’s also good luck for the B2B marketers reading this post. Because Paul has put together a collection of these top posts into an eBook that makes a top-notch reference guide to best practices for all aspects of using content in lead generation, nurturing and moving prospects through the buy cycle. This collection includes 20 excellent posts (two of which are mine) on every angle of content planning and preparation you can imagine. Here are the titles of what’s included:

  • How Good Content Can Grow Your Business
  • 5 Rock-Bottom Rules for Effective B2B Marketing Content Offers
  • How to Boost Content Downloads
  • A Matter of Trust
  • Message Maps – Easier Content Creation
  • 9 Steps to Continuous Content Improvement
  • Interruption Marketing; Billy May Exposed
  • 20/20 Insight/Content Strategy
  • Creating Value and Trust
  • Military Intelligence (re: effectively reaching outside of marketing)
  • 3 Easy Steps to a True Value Proposition
  • 2 Key Ingredients to Social Media Content
  • Content Marketing for Your Brand
  • Using Customer Stories to Nurture Leads
  • White Papers for Lead Generation
  • Using Email to Promote Your Content
  • Matching Content to Buyer Personas
  • Feeling Stumped when Creating Content?
  • Is Your Content Having an Identity Crisis?
  • Content, SEO, and Landing Pages

This book is for B2B marketers generating leads, nurturing leads, boosting the company’s brand recognition, delving into social media, improving the Web site, or other tasks. It takes them through the all-important steps that need to be completed before creating one word of content, then through how to make sure that the content resonates with their audience.

What’s missing from your B2B marketing strategy?

Not long ago every invitation I received to every Webinar and marketing event focused on social media. Now the hot topic seems to be mobile marketing. These are just two new channels that expand the options in the world of integrated B2B marketing. They have become part of the fundamentals that successful B2B businesses must implement.

The sad part is that many B2B marketers haven’t yet incorporated some of the basics that have been — and continue to be — necessary for a successful marketing outcome.

Bob Apollo, writing a guest post for My Venture Pad, alerted me to the “B2B Marketing Manifesto” created by Velocity Partners in the UK.

He points out what we all know — B2B buyers have more options than ever before for finding solutions to their business challenges. Because of that, it’s more essential than ever to follow these fundamentals outlined by Velocity Partners.

  • Content Marketing: converting your insight into campaigns that change people’s minds
  • Analytics: measuring everything that moves in your marketing (and the stuff that doesn’t)
  • A/B Testing: backing your hunches with real-life data — and responding accordingly
  • Lead Nurturing: cultivating your prospects until they are ready to take the next step in their buying journey with you
  • Search: getting found using the terms your prospects use when they go looking for answers
  • Community: hanging out (and contributing) in the places where your prospects go for trusted advice

Although many of today’s B2B marketers are using content, it’s surprising how many are not and are simply just trying to sell product. These days, only companies with no competition can afford to do that. In regards to analytics, online click-thrus may be counted, but how many B2B marketers are tracking the lead and lead source all the way to a sale? How many are tracking cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale, both critical marketing measurement tools.

Now is the time to be planning for 2012. When marketers are putting together their plan for the next year, they should build it around these six key essentials.