Practical tips for SMB direct marketers

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While we all like to hear about direct marketing programs at large businesses with massive budgets, the reality is that the bulk of direct marketers work at midsize or smaller companies. These folks fight a daily battle using the most basic of budgets. As one of those direct marketers working to extend the effectiveness of a small budget, I'd like to share five best practices to help guide your b-to-b direct marketing efforts. 1) Invest in your list. Think of your list as the lifeblood of your success, particularly your in-house list of current customers. B-to-c marketers know this well, and we can learn from that attention to detail. Your house list should be built with care, segmented and carefully tested. My best successes have come after I have identified at least seven to 10 major segments of my list, usually by title or function. I try to establish how many names I own and how many are available—sometimes known as the “total universe”—to buy or rent. As for those prospect lists, don't buy cheap, bulk names unless you enjoy failure. Work with a good b-to-b list vendor. Practice regular hygiene on your list, and to aid you along your list-building journey, it may help to say the following out loud regularly, with conviction: “I will have a large, healthy, accurate list that gives me results. It will be the envy of every one of my competitors.” 2) The offer matters. Direct marketers should not commit the unthinkable sin of burying an offer within a big block of copy—or not having a great offer at all. You are selling to an audience that gives you half the consideration time that b-to-c consumers do, but they control much bigger budgets. They want the facts front and center. The biggest fact they ask is “What's in it for me?” Make offers instantly relevant. Showing prospects benefits is always better than features. My best successes have been really big, creative offers that have a high perceived value. Simple examples might be admittance to an exclusive event, offering a custom needs-analysis or providing a unique opportunity to network with peers in a forum. For thought leadership on a budget, I have pulled together into a custom book such various elements as white papers and case studies from our own company, with papers from outside experts. We print a few thousand books for shows and events for a compelling offer. It's been a big success for us. 3) Strive for simple, creative wins. Because so many messages are bombarding b-to-b prospects, keeping your creative simple can offer a big advantage. I'm talking about both messaging and layout. Gimmicky packaging, too-clever headlines and boring copy can often do more damage than help. You should plan a significant amount of time to cut, cut and cut. Plan to refine every part of your delivery package. Simplicity implies confidence, and prospects respond to a confident message. 4) Marketing frequency matters. Messages that arrive too often will cause your prospects to tune out or opt out. If your messaging is not frequent enough, you risk getting lost in the noise. Your job is to determine how often you can communicate with your prospects without them getting sick of you. As a general rule, I prefer to push it a bit and try to market more, rather than making a one-time, big marketing splash. As a barometer of acceptance, I watch opt-out rates in e-mail as my leading indicator. Flight schedules—a formal plan for outgoing marketing touches—help you coordinate both ad hoc and nurturing marketing. 5) Prove your business case. The golden rule of marketing is be persuasive, and that rule extends to everyone who touches the buying cycle. As a direct marketer, you need to quickly and simply prove that your proposition is true. Your business prospect, once persuaded, must then be prompted to persuade his colleagues involved in the buying cycle. This is unique to b-to-b and cannot be ignored. I've experienced triple the campaign ROI by carefully orchestrating a strong proof case, which might consist of a white paper, case study, customer quotes, references, needs analysis or ROI calculator. You can combine this with your offer in some cases. Sure it's great to have an unlimited budget, and staff, at your command. But most of us don't and rely on the basics. But those basics, though simple, are cheap and powerful and can boost your direct marketing efforts significantly. Chris Cottle is VP-marketing and products with voice-of-customer software company Allegiance Inc. ( He can be reached at [email protected]
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