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How to maximize b-to-b marketing spends in a tough economy

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Whether your organization is cutting marketing budgets in the face of financial pressure or increasing them to overcome it, making expenditures work harder is essential to surviving the current economy. The challenge is how best to achieve this.

“Straight Line” spoke to several experts to get their advice on maximizing business-to-business marketing spends. Here are their top tips:

1) Don’t neglect the leads you already have. Many companies overallocate marketing dollars to lead generation at the expense of lead nurturing, according to Dan McDade, founder and president of prospect development company PointClear.

“Companies spend an awful lot of money creating an original demand, but they don’t have a good system to follow through when leads come in,” he said. “If you went from, say, a 90/10 to a 65/35 [ratio] of dollars allocated to original demand versus those allocated to nurturing the demand you’ve already created … chances are you could save money, increase results or both.”

2) Do it right or don’t do it at all. Marketing media are evolving at unprecedented rates. It’s tempting to seize on the latest trends without considering how they fit into a long-term multichannel marketing strategy. Social media is but one example.

“Everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon and say ‘I’ve got a blog’ and ‘I’ve got a Facebook page,’ ” McDade said. “Companies jump into it, … and then they lose attention and focus. Next thing you know, their content is four or five months old. It’s out of date, and they’ve moved on to the next thing.”

Half-hearted initiatives squander marketing dollars and can even be harmful to the brand. “Dad’s words are still true in marketing: If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all,” said Rodger Roeser, owner and president of Eisen Management Group.

3) Don’t overlook traditional direct-response media. The low-cost, trackable nature of online media is more attractive to marketers than ever before. In fact, BtoB’s “2009 Marketing Priorities and Plans” survey—an online survey of 211 b-to-b marketing professionals conducted in November 2008—found 66.5% of respondents planned to increase their online spending in the coming year.

The catch is that following the crowd doesn’t necessarily make your organization stand out in a competitive marketplace. To find the most effective strategy, Roeser recommended that marketers research their prospective customers’ media usage as well as what the competition is doing.

“If your competition has a well-defined social media strategy, do something different,” Roeser said. “The art of the phone call or simple marketing letter is quickly dying. That is still the No. 1 marketing tactic for b-to-b, bar none.”

4) Go online for the low-hanging fruit. Getting lost in today’s media clutter isn’t the only risk associated with prioritizing online media at the expense of offline channels.

“Some people just don’t want to communicate with you via online,” said MaryEllen Tribby, co-author of “Changing the Channel: 12 Easy Ways to Make Millions for Your Business” John Wiley & Sons, 2009) and publisher-CEO of the “Early to Rise” newsletter. “By not doing other channels, you’re leaving money on the table.”

Tribby recommended organizations use online channels to convert the “low-hanging fruit”—in other words, proven online responders. “If someone is going to respond to you online, don’t spend the money sending them a mail piece. Don’t spend the money calling them on the phone,” she said.

Those offline expenditures are better used targeting offline and multichannel customers and prospects. After all, “most people need to see a direct response ad three times before they purchase,” Tribby added.

5) Test offline elements online. Testing is critical to maximizing marketing spending in any economy. But Tribby said today’s fiscally challenged marketers can trim budgets further by testing offline offers, pricing and messaging through pay-per-click campaigns, banner ads or targeted e-mail campaigns.

“There’s just no excuse for bombing in direct mail, or print ads or anywhere you have to spend more money,” she said. “You can test it online first.”

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