Ruth Stevens is Founder of eMarketing Strategy, a consulting practice that assists companies in building their customer acquisition and retention strategies. Ruth is also author of Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers.
Every business needs new customers. But what are the most effective outbound marketing channels for kicking off a business relationship? There’s a lot of controversy out there on the subject. Let me go out on a limb and propose the top five media for your lead generation toolkit. These are the five essential channels you can rely on for generating a steady stream of inquiries that you can then convert to qualified leads, and have a prayer of closing enough sales to meet your revenue quota.
Outbound telemarketingThe telephone is the Swiss Army knife in the B-to-B marketer’s backpack: a flexible, personal, dependable resource with infinite applications. According to the Direct Marketing Association’s Power of Direct Marketing study, B-to-B marketers spent $14 billion in 2011 on telephone marketing for lead generation in the U.S. That compares to $7 billion spent on direct mail and $4.5 billion on search marketing for the same purpose.
One reason for the phone’s consistent powerhouse performance is its unique capability to replicate the face-to-face selling environment at a lower cost than a personal sales call. Telephone is great for outbound inquiry generation, as well as lead qualification and nurturing. P.S., It’s great for target verification and data collection at the earliest stages of your campaign, too.
Direct mail, for decades the workhorse of direct response communications for lead generation, still delivers the goods. The DMA’s 2010 Response Rate Report reported a healthy 1.68% response rate to B-to-B prospecting letter mail and 2.18% to its cheaper cousin, postcard mail. With 18,500 business lists available for rent in the U.S., prospective business buyers in just about every category can be found through the mail, even for obscure products or highly targeted niches. Business buyers themselves are looking for information to help them do their jobs, and they generally welcome and open letters as they arrive on their desks.
Business mailers generally prefer enveloped mail for cold prospecting, whether it is inside a #10 business size envelope or 6 x 9 inch or larger package. The standard elements of a consumer direct-mail package (outer envelope, letter, brochure, reply form, business reply envelope) work solidly for lead generation. Better yet, but more expensive, is dimensional mail, delivered by an express mail service. Its high perceived value and standout physical features tend to get past gatekeepers, and straight to the executive desktop.
Search engine marketing (SEM)
Business buyers today use the Internet as their primary research tool to solve business problems, so search engine marketing (SEM) has become the hottest of the hot. From a lead generation perspective, you are getting people who are already looking around for solutions, and your risk is vastly reduced thanks to pay-per-click pricing.
One of the most interesting twists in SEM is the opportunity found in specialized search engines that concentrate on certain industry verticals, such as IT, retailing, or industrial categories. Instead of relying entirely on Google’s AdWords, business marketers use directories like GlobalSpec (engineering), ThomasNet (industrial), and Business.com (general business) in their search engine marketing mix.
The source of your cheapest and most qualified sales leads is right at your fingertips: your company website. Business marketers sometimes view their company’s website as just a passive informational tool—sort of a virtual brochure. Many sites do fit that profile, but you can, and should, add functionality at your site to motivate visitors to leave behind contact information, using an offer and a call to action, to convert visitors to marketable inquirers.
On your home page—and elsewhere throughout your site—add a compelling offer, such as a downloadable case study or white paper, linked to a registration form. Ask for as much data about the visitor as you need, keeping in mind that more information will likely lower the response but yield better qualified prospects.Supplement your registration efforts with technology from vendors like NetFactor and Demandbase. These services compare the IP address of business visitors and provide you with reports on pages viewed, combined with publicly available contact information about the visitor’s company. With this, the otherwise anonymous site visitor can be identified for further marketing outreach. Not exactly an inquirer in the traditional sense, but certainly worth pursuing.
Trade shows, but only if they are highly targeted
Exhibiting at trade shows and conferences is a time-honored way to get in front of prospects in a focused, concentrated manner. Attendees are often highly qualified, their minds are on business at the show, and they seek solutions to business problems. Business marketers spend an average of 18.6% of their budgets on trade shows, according to a study from the Business Marketing Association, and most of that is targeted to sales lead generation and finding new customers.
However, trade show marketing is expensive, costing an average of $276 per contact, according to Exhibit Surveys, Inc. That’s why it’s important to select shows carefully and based on the likelihood of a strong concentration of potential buyers on the show floor. Broadly based, horizontal shows simply involve too much waste.
Now, you are probably wondering why I did not include email on this list of top five media for prospecting. Email is cheap, but the scourge of spam has made it generally undesirable as a cold prospecting medium. B-to-B marketers often find lower cost-per-inquiry results from direct mail and other media, despite the temptingly low cost of email. The reason is that an email from an unknown source is too easy to delete—if it ever gets past the layers of spam filters in its way.
Be sure to explore each of these media thoroughly, and let’s hear about other media you are finding successful.