When it comes to generating sales leads among completely new targets, b-to-b marketers face the challenge of choosing the most effective media platforms. With so many channels available, from social media to traditional advertising, those choices can seem daunting. Here's my list of the top seven b-to-b prospecting platforms, in rough order of ROI.
1. Website lead gen. Anyone who visits your site already has a degree of interest in your product or service. So take advantage of this by adding lead generation functionality to your site. There are two ways to do this. First, place a simple offer on your home page, inviting visitors to download a case study or white paper, in exchange for leaving behind their email address or phone number. Second, use IP address identification software, like VisitorTrack, Visistat or Demandbase, to see what companies your visitors are coming from. You won't know the name of the individual, but you can certainly reach out to the firm.
2. Customer referrals. Referrals are the best prospects you can get, since they come pre-endorsed. Review all your marketing communications, and add a referral request where appropriate. A good place to start is the signature line in your emails. Also conduct regular referral-request campaigns to your customer base. The only downside of referral marketing is that the volume of referred business you can get is rarely enough to sustain your growth objectives, so outbound campaigning will still be needed.
3. Search engine marketing, both paid and organic. Enhance your site copy with the terms your prospects are looking for, and include plenty of fresh educational content to attract them. Supplement your advertising on AdWords with vertical search engines specific to your industry.
4. Outbound telemarketing. The "Swiss Army knife of b-to-b media," the phone is flexible, personal and dependable enough for a zillion applications, among them inquiry generation, lead qualification and lead nurturing. Create a snappy message to leave behind if the call goes to voice mail.
5. Direct mail. With more than 18,000 business lists available for rent in the U.S., prospective buyers in just about every category can be found through the mail, even in very narrow niches. A recent Direct Marketing Association study pegs b-to-b direct mail response rates to prospects at a healthy average of around 2.0%. Dimensional mail -- which comes in a box or a lumpy package -- is especially effective at getting past gatekeepers, like secretaries and mail rooms.
6. Trade shows. Exhibiting at trade shows and conferences is a time-honored way to get in front of prospects in a focused and interactive manner. But trade show marketing is expensive, costing an average of $276 per contact, according to Exhibit Surveys. So select shows carefully, based on the likelihood of a strong concentration of potential buyers on the show floor. And don't spend a dime without a solid lead capture and follow-up system in place.
7. Pay-per-lead generation programs. Also known as content syndication, performance-based programs are available in broad industry categories like technology, healthcare and human resources. Only use this medium if you have good data on conversion rates -- conversion-to-qualified-lead and conversion-to-sale -- so you can buy the right level of quality.
Where is email on this list, you may be wondering? Spam killed it as a cold prospecting medium. But email is the perfect vehicle for lead qualification and nurturing, as well as for staying in touch with current customers.