My guess is that you want all three: more qualified leads at the lowest possible cost per lead. Who wouldn't?
However, wanting all three is like looking for an ultradependable luxury car, say a Lexus LS series sedan, for the price of a Toyota Yaris. Easier said than done. Or being able to buy a large custom-built home on a few wooded or beachfront acres for the price of a small tract home on a postage stamp–sized lot. Sounds great, but difficult to accomplish in any economy.
E-mail was the magic bullet for a while. It delivered high response rates from quality prospects for a low price. But that was a couple of years ago. Yes, e-mail can still generate some high-quality leads, but only if you can get it past the e-mail filters. "Nearly 18% of invited e-mail lands in junk/bulk folders," says Lyris in its recently released report on e-mail deliverability.
And getting more than your subject line read by busy businesspeople as they are trying to wade through way too many e-mails each day while still getting their real jobs done is a daunting task. Today the cost of creating and sending e-mail that gets through and gets read is climbing rapidly. Combine those facts with response rates that are headed in the other direction and you'll understand why e-mail isn't delivering like it used to.
Search marketing tactics, both paid and organic, have been generating lots of clicks, visits, leads and sales at a relatively low cost. But as more marketers compete for those coveted spots at the top of the search-results pages, costs go up and results go down. And what about those prospects who are not actively searching? How do you reach them?
Blogs, podcasts and corporate videos look promising, too. Unfortunately—with a few notable exceptions, such as Blendtec's "Will It Blend?" videos on YouTube, which went viral and generated some significant results in the b-to-b arena, according to the company's marketing director, George Wright—it is hard to find any b-to-b marketers that can brag about all the low-cost, high-quality leads they generate as a result of their blogs, podcasts or videos.
Virtual events and webinars come to mind as options for generating leads, but you first have to drive attendance with other media.
See where I'm going with this? There is no single media format, online or off, that is the solution to all your lead-generation problems.
So what's a b-to-b marketer chartered with cost-effectively generating lots of quality leads to do? Here are some suggestions learned by observing some of the most successful lead-generation practitioners in action:
- Use a mix of media and tactics, both online and traditional, to get your lead-generation messages through to prospective customers.
- Make sure prospects find you when they are searching and proactively reach out to prospects who aren't actively searching with online, print and broadcast advertising, and PR as well as e-mail, direct mail, telemarketing and exhibits at key trade shows.
- Make sure that all your marketing—even your brand advertising—makes lead-generating offers or calls to action.
- Whenever possible, make multiple offers or calls to action, each designed to appeal to prospects at a different stage of their consideration and buying process. For example, offer a white paper, a webinar and an on-site assessment, all addressing the same subject.
- Make it easy for prospective customers to respond. Include Web addresses, e-mail addresses and phone numbers. Include all these and reply cards in direct mailers.
- Reallocate a chunk of your lead-generation budget to nurture the leads you've already generated until they are sales-ready. Research shows again and again that your longer-term prospects represent up to three times more sales opportunities than the leads who plan to buy sooner.
- Invest a small percentage of your lead-generation budget in market research to learn more about the needs, behaviors and hot buttons of your prospective customers; then refine your media, messages and offers accordingly.
- Earmark dollars—say 10% of your lead-generation budget—for testing of new media or tactics for lead generation and to have funds available when unplanned opportunities arise.
- Track and measure your lead-generation activity and results; then, using what you learn, concentrate your investments and efforts on those media and tactics that work best.
M.H. "Mac" McIntosh is a b-to-b marketing consultant who specializes in helping clients design, implement or improve the results of their sales lead-generation programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.