B2B marketing that uncovers hot leads & builds involvement.

LinkedIn may have flaws and spam problems at times, but the ability it gives us to meet and share ideas with colleagues all over the world is wonderful.

One of my new LinkedIn acquaintances, Tracy Johnson, President of Spotted Dog Promotions, recently sent me an article he wrote about “Contests and your Marketing Strategy.”

What he has to say fits right into a tactic that I strongly believe is necessary in today’s B2B marketing. That is the importance of getting attention and standing apart from the competition by getting prospects “involved.”

Contest WinnerTracy’s presentation talks mostly about using contests to get attention in social media and for branding. He makes a strong case. But since my focus and expertise is in outbound B2B marketing and direct response marketing, I see contests also as an inviting way to generate a response.

Content is the primary device used in B2B marketing these days. It’s smart and it works. But just reading white papers, guides, blogs and attending Webinars — even watching videos — can get pretty tedious after a while. Contests add excitement and interest to making contact with a prospective new customer. They even allow B2B marketers to add a bit of fun and personality to their communications.

There’s no reason to think B2B buyers won’t take the time to participate in contests. They are humans, after all, who love to measure or test their expertise. The prizes can be related to the product or service being sold — or be simple gifts that could be tied to a benefit-related theme.

As Tracy explains in his article, contests are also great devices for gathering valuable sales data:

“You can increase sales and learn more about your customers, their perceptions and behaviors, along with their intent to purchase products in your industry category via embedded surveys in your contest entry form. These surveys can identify prospects, generate hot leads or provide insight into your audience. One of our affiliates in the travel industry recently attracted over 20,000 leads to a contest, 97% of whom answered three multiple-choice questions that identified their interests in travel. This is a valuable list of qualified leads that turns into new revenue.”

Even though he uses a B2C example here, B2B marketers can easily imagine how a short survey can be used to find out if a prospect has a need for their product or service.

I’ll bet that many B2B marketers would never think of doing a contest. The reason being that contests don’t appear to be serious and might reflect poorly on the company. I disagree. If the contest is well planned and ties into the company’s brand and product focus, it’s a fresh and effective way to draw attention to its solutions and to get its prospects involved.

Great B2B content deserves greater B2B marketing.

As a B2B marketer trying to pay attention to what other marketers are doing, I see so much stuff that it’s hard to really grab my attention, but someone did today and I’m excited to share it with you.

It’s not a new idea, but I rarely see it used — and in this case it was done so very well. The offer is educational content. There’s nothing new or exciting about that. What was so well done, though, was how they got me to download it.

The sender was Symantec, which now owns VeriSign. The B2B content offer was a white paper on “Best Practices and Applications of TLS/SSL.”

The email grabbed me at the subject line by saying, “Take the trivia challenge. Get an 8GB USB.”

Sorry, but that’s a temptation I can’t resist — the challenge even more so than the flash drive. The headline in the email tempted me further with, “Think you’re smart about online security? Prove it.” How could I say no? How could anyone in IT not take this opportunity to prove to themselves, once again, how much they know?

After completing the challenge (I missed only two answers, which is probably pretty good for a non-techie), I receive a second email inviting me to download the white paper. The gift incentive made it more agreeable to fill out the short “who am I” form required.

The design was upbeat, the message short and clear, plus the campaign included an opportunity to generate an immediate inquiry by stating, “If you have any questions about online security, feel free to contact us at 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX or 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX, option 3.”

I don’t know how this campaign performed, but from my perspective, it followed most best practices. It effectively used the strong B2B marketing tactic — interaction. B2B marketers who can get their prospects “involved” in an activity with them and their brand are one step closer to building a connection and a relationship. It’s good marketing.

B2B Marketing Automation: Is it really worth the effort?

There’s nothing nicer when writing B2B marketing copy than to be able to talk about the fact that a product or service has “automated” some process. Automation typically removes one or more steps that have to be done manually by one or more human beings.

Automation can mean completely releasing labor from one task so time can be spent more productively on another. It typically lets today’s universally overburdened workers get more done in less time. That description is not, however, completely accurate for B2B marketing automation — as Justin Gray, CEO & Chief Marketing Evangelist of LeadMD, reports so accurately in “Marketing Automation ROI: Myths and Facts.”

Appearing on the Marketing Automation Software Guide, the opening of his conclusion says it all –marketing is hard. As I’ve stated in earlier posts, making the decision to implement and use this marketing tool provides two big benefits:

  1. Automate an essential process that is messy and time-consuming to do manually. Nurture prospects by automatically offering them the appropriate next piece of marketing content based on their last action with the goal of helping them move through the buying cycle.
  2. Boost sales by achieving 100% follow-up on ALL leads generated. 45% of all leads generated make a purchase from someone in the industry product category within one year. Companies not paying attention to all the leads they generate will miss sales they could have won.

Gray’s instructions on the steps necessary for building an effective marketing automation strategy are valuable and sound. He warns that there are no shortcuts. However, if all of it seems like much more than your company can take on, you should check out these lead nurturing stats reported on an insightful, one-page infographic prepared by NuSpark Marketing.

  • According to Forrester Research, companies that excel at lead nurturing are able to generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost per lead.
  • According to CSO Insights, sales reps at companies that excel at lead nurturing reach quota 9% more often and new reps at those companies enjoy a 10% shorter ramp-up time.
  • According to DemandGen Report, nurtured leads produce, on average, 20% more sales opportunities than non-nurtured leads.

Just like all aspects of successful B2B marketing, effective nurturing takes strategic planning, the creation of useful content, plus having a team in place to manage the process and take advantage of all best practice tools that are part of today’s marketing automation software. In the end it means more sales. I say that’s well worth the effort.

The final answer to a big B2B marketing content question.

In business, I have grown up in a direct marketing world, where a response to an offer is the goal of every B2B marketing campaign. So the concept of giving any offer away free was a big leap for me to accept.

This new concept of giving some content away free vs. requiring contact info has become a big subject of discussion — and rightly so. How does one decide which educational content you’ve spent time and money creating should be given away with no strings attached?

Well, I personally judge that discussion closed thanks to Ardath Albee’s authoritative insight on the subject in her recent blog “The Art of The Ask in Content Marketing.”

On her Marketing Interactions blog, she takes B2B marketers through a very sound review of the prospect’s thinking and their actions based on the type of content. Here’s what she presents is going through their minds when faced with any registration form:

“How important is this going to be to me?

What are the chances that they’ll call me?

Is it worth the risk?

I always wanted to be Mickey Mouse…

Maybe I can just alter one digit in my phone number…

And I can use my throw-away email that I ignore…just in case they send a link to the PDF instead of letting me download it right away.”

These are so accurate. I know because it’s exactly what I think when I am faced with registration for content (only I want to be Minnie Mouse).

My response to clients asking whether they should “gate” their content or not is always, “Just ask for the very minimum of information,” that being a name and email address. Unfortunately, the marketing director I work with must then fight sales, which wants to get titles, phone numbers, decision-making authority and so many other pieces of information.

Now, however, thanks to Ardath, I am fully educated on the rules. They are loosely summarized here but I advise my readers to please read all she has to say on this subject because it’s valuable knowledge:

1. Don’t gate the old stuff. If it’s over two years old ungate it.
2. Judge what to put behind a form on its importance and substance. If it’s a quick, early buy-cycle offer, give it away free, then gate the more detailed and substantive white papers, etc.
3. If there is a form, let the prospect check a box if they want to be called by sales. This is a great way to make sure you don’t miss those who may already be in a product evaluation stage. You can also assure others that they won’t be called.
4. Limit any questions on the form to the least information you need — that is, no more than one or two questions.

Material that is not gated definitely positions your company as a resource of information on its area of expertise. It may delay your first contact a bit, but, as Ardath says, “The point is, the sooner prospects start using your ideas to think about solving problems, the better off you’ll be.”

A few early B2B marketing ideas from Santa.

Children writing lists to Santa aren’t the only ones making wishes this year. We B2B marketers are making many wishes for our marketing to be more effective, less costly, and less work. These are the same old wishes, but, in this volatile economy, the gifts are needed more than ever.

So I went searching for a few B2B marketing Santas that may have left a gift in a blog or magazine article here and there. Here’s what I unwrapped.

Be more effective

Deliver Magazine from the US Postal Service was celebrating its 40th issue with a recap of its greatest moments. One clip included this very sage advice from the “permission marketing” guru Seth Godin. He said, “Happy customers are a company’s worst enemy because they’re unlikely to push you to stay ahead of the competition. Talk with those who are dissatisfied with everything on the market.” Taking this approach is the best way to help B2B companies find out how to improve their products and the effectiveness of their marketing.

Save money

Doing more with less has always been important. These days it’s a survival necessity. Although there is danger in spending too little, the worst danger is not knowing how much you should be spending. Thank Santa for a recent post on the Inbound Sales Network. Their “How Much Should you Spend on Lead Generation?” takes B2B marketers through six calculations marketers can use to set the right spending limit for their organization.

Step 1: Set the Target
Say your company has the goal to do $1,000,000 in new sales during the next year. If you currently have a 10% growth rate in current accounts, this leaves $900,000 needed in new revenue generated in the next fiscal year.

Step 2: Pipeline Size
New Revenue Target / Closing Ratio

Step 3: Average Deal Size
Total Revenue / Number of Deals

Step 4: Total Number of New Opportunities Needed
Pipeline Size / Average Deal Size

Step 5: Lead to Opportunity Conversion Ratio
Number of Opportunities Won / Total Number of Opportunities

Step 6: Cost per Sales Qualified Lead
(Expected Revenue – Delivery Costs – Sales Costs – Acceptable Profit Margin) / Total Number of Leads Needed

Read their article to get all the details. This process helps ensure that every dollar spent on lead generation is justified based on the company’s sales goals. It’s the only way to go.

Lighten the workload

Follow the advice of Rachel Foster in the October 2011 Issue of Chief Content Officer (COO) Magazine. She suggests “Reimagining the Tried-and-True White Paper” by turning it into an interactive video. She says, “Unlike traditional videos, designed to play from start to finish, video white papers makes it easy to jump from section to section and focus in on high-interest topics.” Video white papers allow B2B marketers to track how long a viewer watched and what they watched. If some sections appear to be more popular than others, marketers can leverage that insight into a new piece of potentially effective content.

B2B marketing’s content vs. format question.

We B2B marketers love surveys. What better source for confirming what marketers and buyers are thinking and doing?

G. David Dodd of B2B Marketing Directions recently alerted me to the 2011 B2B Technology Collateral Survey Report put out by Eccolo Media in his post “Marketing Collateral Remains Critical (But Buyers’ Preferences are Changing).”

As a survey of actual technology buyers, this promised to be more valuable than most. The results confirm what we all know, that informational content and product information are valuable elements in the decision-making process. The survey reports that “product brochures/data sheets are the most widely consumed type of marketing collateral, followed (in order) by white papers, video/multimedia files, case studies, and podcasts/audio files.”

Dodd points out, “At least 61% of survey respondents said that all five types of collateral were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ influential.” The change he notes, however, is that, although white papers remain the #1 form of content being offered today, its position dropped by 14% compared to the 2010 survey, with case studies falling by 17%.

The fall, he concludes, has been caused by the introduction of other sources of information, such as company Web pages, social media sites, blog posts, eBooks, and presentations. These are taking some of the share that used to be held by more traditional formats for content.

His point is that it’s important for B2B marketers to expand the formats of the content and collateral they offer to these other formats as those are becoming popular with prospective buyers. I don’t disagree with the fact that a variety of content formats is important so that prospects have the opportunity to get the content in a format with which they are most comfortable.

However, it’s possible that the popularity of these new formats is based solely on the fact that these are the new formats being offered, and if a prospect wants information on a specific topic, then they will get the information in the format in which it’s available. (Not necessarily what they prefer.)

If I am a B2B buyer, desperate to solve the problem of accurately tracking labor hours by project, I’m going to respond to an offer for “How Today’s Developers Effortlessly Track Labor Hours,” whether it’s in the format of a video, a white paper, an eBook or a case study.

It’s not the format that’s most important — it’s the title and the content. The results of this survey don’t reveal that buyers want new formats, only that providers are pushing more content out via new formats. Smart marketers offer their content in different formats, when possible, to satisfy all individual preferences.

Hat’s off to the B2B marketer behind this effort.

I love marketing offers. In B2B marketing (or any kind, for that matter), offers are what you give someone for doing something you want them to do.

Content is an offer. Offering content in outbound B2B marketing is basically saying:

“By accepting this offer you are showing that you have interest in learning about this topic. Tell me who you are and how to reach you and, in exchange, I’ll give you this white paper or this assessment or this guide or these case studies, etc.”

How often should a B2B marketer make an offer in outbound marketing efforts? The answer is ALWAYS.

When we B2B marketers invite prospects and clients to a Webinar, we see the Webinar as the offer. It has value and is educational. That’s why I was surprised and delighted to get this email invite.

Not only do InformationWeek and the event sponsors Syncsort and NetApp invite me to a Webinar, but they offer me the opportunity to win something if I attend.

So I asked myself, “What is their strategy in doing this?

I’m not sure I’m correct, but when I read the “contest rules” I discovered two possible answers. Here is the section of the Contest Rules I found revealing:

“To enter, each potential entrant must become a registered user of the Web Site and truthfully and accurately provide all information required by the registration process and view the “Virtualize without Compromise: Understanding VM Backup and Recovery” Webcast in its entirety prior to 2 p.m. EDT on July 26, 2011. The eligible prize winner(s) will be selected at random from all eligible entrants who view the Webcast in its entirety.”

It’s possible that two of the reasons this offer is being made are:
1. To make sure the registration is complete and accurate, and
2. To ensure that attendees don’t leave the Webcast early.

This offer makes the invitation stand out from dozens passing through a typical inbox. The subject line of “Win [50] $10 Starbucks gift cards: Understanding VM Backup and Recovery” puts the offer up front.

In addition, this offer gives me a very positive perception of the publication and the event sponsors. They are making a $500 investment in the hope that this Webcast will generate X number of leads and X number of new customers and potential revenue that justifies the investment.

It’s a strategically and financially sound B2B marketing strategy.

The dollars and sense of inbound vs. outbound marketing.

The economic downturn over the past few years has driven many talented yet unemployed people to start their own businesses. These folks take their years of experience and offer it to other businesses through their own specialty consulting or service firm — a firm that they must then market.

Just such an individual contacted me last week. He wanted to generate leads and business via outbound email marketing; however, after learning that he has a few clients, a relatively short buy cycle and a very limited budget, I recommended that he use inbound marketing and supplement it with personal outbound phone calls to his highly targeted B2B market.

Email marketing is relatively low cost when a company has built a pipeline of leads and handles its own email distribution via marketing automation. But for outbound marketing (that is going to a targeted B2B list) the costs add up fast.

Quality outbound email marketing lists (those that are made of real subscribers to an online publication and are therefore fully opt-in and have been profiled) cost from $400-$700 per thousand. Most of these top-quality lists require a 5000-name minimum, which raises the list cost to $2000 to $3500. Marketing professionals, including me, recommend testing more than one list at a time. Testing allows marketers to learn which list performs best and gives them the insight to improve the success of each subsequent marketing effort. Testing just two lists brings the cost up to $4000-$7000. If a marketer wants to maximize the success of the program, the message should be written and designed by professionals, which adds to the cost as well.

As a result of these higher upfront costs, many marketers avoid the outbound direct mail channel. Yet it is still one of the most powerful channels for B2B lead generation if done according to best practices. That means that, for lead generation, the mailing quantity must be large enough to deliver a response rate that is statistically valid so the results are repeatable on future mailings. In the B2B world this could be a minimum of 10,000 prospects at a typical cost of $1 each and up. For companies selling high-end enterprise systems, this approach is affordable and productive. But not for small start-ups.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is very affordable for the small and start-up business. Good-quality Web site SEO can be obtained for as little as $250 per month. Pay-per-click ads — depending on the market, keywords, etc. — can range from as little as $250 to $1000 per month or more. The same general costs apply to content syndication. Social media costs little in dollars but can cost much in time for a one-person business if done properly. There are many other elements in a comprehensive inbound marketing program, but, for small start-ups, it’s a cost-effective option.

In addition, however, I recommended that this new business owner not wait exclusively for inbound efforts to make his phone ring. I advised him to identify companies that meet his very targeted profile and pick up the phone and call them or send them individual letters.

As I’ve said many times before, no single marketing approach can stand on its own, B2B marketers. That’s why dollars and sense enter into our marketing decisions.

Are B2B marketers offering too much stuff and not enough information?

In his latest blog, “Getting meta,” Seth Godin shares his usual instant insight into the world of sales and marketing. This little gem describes the state of the Internet and how services that appear to be the information are really just tools to find the information.

ContentHis conclusion: “Right now, there’s way too much stuff and far too little information about that stuff. Sounds like an opportunity.”

That’s what I think about a lot of the B2B marketing content I see — “too much stuff and far too little information.”

It’s important that marketers make sure the content they are offering has real value to the prospect asking for it. To have value to the reader, content should include one or more of this type of useful information:

  • A better understanding of the causes of a specific business problem.
  • Some best practices for solving a specific business problem.
  • What peers or experts are saying about the problem.
  • Some kind of self-assessment of how the prospect’s company is handling a specific problem.
  • Industry advances being made to make solving the problem easier.

Informational content should not sell the company’s product or service directly (there can be a sales story and secondary offer at the end of the content), but it should educate the reader and position the company offering it as a trusted resource.

So how does a marketer make sure the content they are offering has value? Here are four tips on how to do it:

  1. Provide content information that matches the specific needs of each pipeline lead.
    Send a short survey to your pipeline asking them to identify their three biggest challenges. Then target the content you are offering them (white paper, checklist, guide, Webinar, self-assessment) to the issues they have identified.
  2. Create content that has how-to take-aways that can be implemented without buying your product or service.
    For example, if your solution is collaboration software, include usable advice on how to improve collaboration without buying your product. That approach positions your company as a trusted “thought leader,” and shows that you truly care about helping them solve their problem — not just selling them software.
  3. Offer a mix of some content that is available without registration and some that is not.
    By not requiring registration for content, your company instantly positions itself as a valuable resource. With no registration, B2B marketers can boost the number of downloads of their content to expose their brand to a larger audience of potentially qualified leads. However, a B2B marketer’s ultimate goal is generating qualified leads that can be nurtured and turned into sales. To do this, one must require registration for access to the more in-depth content or informational offers being made.
  4. Provide content that satisfies the focus of each decision-maker and influencer in prospect companies.
    Need the approval of the CFO? Provide content that positions the financial benefits of the company’s product or service. Do the same for the CEO, user, department manager, HR manager or whatever titles have influence on — or decision-making power over — the purchase.

Content is not designed to directly sell products or services. It is designed to educate prospects on how their peers are handling similar challenges and subtly edge them along toward choosing the marketing company’s product or service.

Seth Godin got it right; we all have an opportunity. Let’s use it.