"Never mind the branding! We need to fill the pipeline!” is the cry we marketers hear when business hits a rough patch. So we're tempted to give up those “soft” initiatives in favor of “hard” tactics that generate leads.
But when we do, we often find that marketing in the b-to-b space isn't so easy. Not only do we need to find the right buyers, but those buyers tend to move at their own pace. We need to nurture leads through a series of steps in order to win a purchasing decision. Here are a few ideas for handling that deliberate process—and maybe even continuing to build your brand in the process.
?Focus on the bull's-eye. When we're asked to produce leads rapidly, b-to-b marketers often react by throwing a fistful of darts, happy to hit anywhere on the board rather than focusing on the center. That might seem like a good idea as the pipeline starts filling. Then, the sales team begins following up and discovers a lot of dead ends. Before long, the perceived value of the lead-generation campaign plummets in the hopeful eyes of management and the sales team.
To dodge that trap, shun the outer rings of the board. Instead, aim one dart at a time at the bull's-eye, where the best buyers live. Identify the needs and challenges of your ideal customers, and deliver messages that explain how you meet their requirements and solve their problems.
The nice part of this aiming game is that, even if your darts miss dead center, you're likely to hit some other valuable sector of the board. The more you work from the center out, rather than trying to appeal to the entire market all the time, the better overall results your program will yield.
?Provide a steady stream of quality content. Most b-to-b products and services require an education process. Use this fact to your advantage by becoming a resource for insight and information. Help prospects learn about your industry and product category as a whole by producing a regular stream of quality content.
There's no need to give away all this good content. Put some out there for free as an appetizer, then offer a richer meal of content for those prospects willing to complete a short form with basic lead-qualifying questions. For example, start an industry blog that is open to anyone but also offer webinars, white papers, application notes and other information to those who fill out your form. In your form, promise to treat their information with care and respect.
?Create a lead-nurturing program. Once your pipeline of quality content is flowing, be sure your prospects know about it. This process takes time and requires a mixture of outreach methods. Research shows that in the b-to-b world up to 70% of business comes from long-cycle sales leads.
The most efficient way to make prospect lists aware of your offerings is by sending links to your content out via email. You can also post information to your website and contact reporters and bloggers who write about your space. But keep the human touch in mind, too. A well-timed notice as a courtesy to let your best prospects know when new content is available can lead to more significant opportunities. Be sure that every contact includes a call to action.
?Support lead generation with branding. Any quality-over-quantity strategy requires a branding element. After all, almost any prospect would rather contact and do business with a company whose name and brand value are familiar. The more your products or services compete with products or services that appear similar on the surface, the more critical branding becomes.
Consider investing in marketing programs that offer lead generation and branding at the same time, such as a visible presence in online directories or sponsorship opportunities for e-newsletters or online events. The more you spread your marketing mix, the more familiar your brand will become to prospects.
?Make certain you can be found. There's little doubt anymore that online search is a key component in lead generation. That's why you must establish a 24/7 online presence through directories, specialized search engines and industry websites.
Prospects with clearly defined needs search for solutions whenever and wherever it's convenient for them. So, invest in making it easy for potential customers to find you and understand your value. That's how you brand your company and generate leads at the same time. It's a marketing mix that translates your best leads into your best customers.
Chris Chariton is senior VP-product management and supplier marketing at GlobalSpec (www.globalspec.com), a vertical search engine and publisher serving the engineering, industrial and technical fields. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.