Most b-to-b sales are considered sales. Vendors and products are considered, researched, compared and evaluated against criteria prior to purchase. Marketing communications does not sell the product or service-selling is what salespeople do.
However, marketing communications is the ideal way to get your product or service in the customer consideration set and to deliver critical information that must be answered before the sale can take place. Through marketing communications, a prospect becomes more familiar with your company and its offerings. Visits will then be shorter because less time is needed to answer the basic questions. This allows more sales appointments to be scheduled in a day. Appointments can convert to sales at a higher rate because the prospects are farther along the consideration path. These outcomes should be measured instead of the direct correlation between communication and sales.
We recently developed a marketing program for a b-to-b client that reduced the cost of customer acquisition from $185 to $119. The client recognized that the true value of the communications program was to reduce the cost of selling. As a result, we were able to calculate the real marketing ROI of the program--211%.
Creating an explicit objective at the beginning of the project is the key to getting an ROI from your communications program. An objective must have a beginning point and an end point. It must be attainable, and it must be measurable. For example, "To improve the image of ..." is not an objective. "To offer programs that will generate sufficient interest to attract an average attendance of 250 middle- and upper-level managers of each of the twelve programs in 2007" is an objective that fits the criteria.
Ask your communications agents about the role of marketing communications in a considered sale. If they answer, "To sell your product ..." you know that they don't understand the power of b-to-b marketing.
Second, ask them, "What is the return, in dollars and cents, for your communications budget?" If they tell you it is accepted in the industry that ultimately there is no true method to measure marketing ROI, you will know one of two things. Either they are unfamiliar with measurable objectives, or they don't want to use measurable objectives.
Not only can you have measurable marketing ROI for your communications budget, but you must. Realigning your expectations of what communications can and cannot accomplish is the first step to getting there.
Brian Davies is a partner at Moveo Integrated Branding. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.