Do You Know the Basics?

Over the past few months, I have gotten a number of calls from individuals who are seeking new sales leads for their company. They range from marketing managers to sales managers, and even presidents of smaller firms. Usually their questions center on how to obtain a list of specific individuals who they feel might buy their product or service. Beyond that, they are not sure what to do with the list, other than just send an email or call them (rarely do they mention mail). We then get into a conversation about the issues of developing a lead generation campaign, and it becomes painfully apparent that few know the basics of how to develop a campaign that has even a small chance to generate leads.

So with that in mind, this blog is focused on the basics. If you’re an experienced B2B direct marketer, this is probably not for you. On the other hand, it’s always worth revisiting the basics, as we do forget them over time.

The 4 Elements of a B2B Lead Generation Campaign:

Much like a golf swing – if you don’t know the basics (stance, backswing, and downswing) you won’t hit the ball, and even if you do, it won’t go straight or far. With that in mind, here is a brief review of the four basic elements, and the relative importance of each as express in percentages:

1. Targeting and List Selection – 50-70% of success

The start of the process is targeting who is likely to want your product or service. First, start with companies by industry (4-digit SIC or 6-digit NAICS code) and number of employees by standard ranges (i.e. 1-10, 11-25, etc.) that you believe should be interested in your product/service. Secondly, determine the job functions and titles of the likely individuals who would be involved and/or responsible for making the purchase decision.

Sounds simple, right? Actually, it isn’t as easy as it may appear, as most companies have not profiled their customer and/or prospect base, and can’t identify the industry codes. If not done, the customer list should be sent out to a data vendor for profiling. In addition to this customer profile (which is a look in the rear view mirror), other market segments should be identified, especially if a new product or service is being marketed.

Once the “who” has been defined, then the task is to find a list that matches the target audience(s). This is where list research comes into play, and it’s a confusing B2B data world out there, as many potential list sources have popped up in the last 10 years.

Tip: Use a list broker or a consultant who already knows the B2B data world, as many mistakes are made by marketers who either think they know the business, or rely upon the pronouncements of the list vendors. B2B contact level data decays at a surprisingly high rate, so insure the source is accurate by testing a sample of 100 if the list vendor will provide it. They usually will if the resultant order is valuable to them.

2. Offer Strategy – 20-30% of success

The offer is simply, “why should I respond?” In general, there are three types of B2B offers, and they align to the buying process. They are:

  • Soft Offer – beginning of the buying process

This is information of value that focuses on the issue/problem that is addressed by your product/service coupled with no commitment asked of the recipient beyond their basic information (keep the form simple and short). Don’t promote the product/service in this soft offer, but rather focus on the problem or issue you can solve. This also positions your firm as a thought leader and increases creditability.

  • Nurturing Offers – middle stages of the buying process

A B2B buying process usually has 4-8 stages, and these offers are structured to keep the individual engaged as they move through it. By offering ongoing valuable information, you keep the lead interested. In addition, they will likely provide more information on themselves and their needs – this is called progressive profiling. At the end of each nurturing communication always offer the opportunity to move to the next step with a “hard” offer.

  • Hard Offer – obtaining commitment

Most lead generation campaigns are focused on properly qualifying the lead, so that handing off to the sales resource is now appropriate. The hard offers are typically based on experiencing the FAB’s of the product or service either via a demo, one-on-one webinar, phone call with a rep., or even a face-to-face call. This offer is termed “hard” as it commits the lead to an action closer to the sale.

If the lead generation campaign is focused on an actual purchase, then the hard offer is based on some form of deal – usually price or added value. Always have these offers time sensitive – nobody believes “limited quantity.”

Tip: B2B buying process is frequently not linear, so don’t assume potential customers progress in this way. Plus not everyone you initially communicate to is at the beginning of the buying process. Therefore, why not offer a soft, nurturing, and hard offer in the initial communication and allow the suspect to select the one that best matches their buying stage. This is called a self-qualifying offer strategy. The offer selected is likely more in line with where they are in the buying process.

3. Sequence and Frequency of Contact Media – 20-30% of success

In B2B, multiple contacts are affordable, as the price and margins allow for multiple communications to well-targeted suspects. At the beginning of the buying process only three DM media are both targetable and proactive (outbound) – email, mail, and phone. Social media can be included once the individual has responded and provided that information.

So the question is, how many communications, and in what sequence, should we send to suspects to generate an initial response? Depending on how well-targeted the suspect is and the revenue at stake, three communications generates the most cost efficient result. In the old days, mail/phone was the sequence. Today, email/phone has become the norm. Each one of these combinations is consider one communication attempt.

Tip: In several recent lead campaigns, we’ve found that a LinkedIn communication preceding either the mail/phone or email/phone sequence produces a much higher response rate – sometimes by a factor of 2 or 3.

4. Creativity – 10-20% of success.

You may be surprised that creativity is only worth 10-20% of success, and agencies will certainly dispute this. But considering the importance of the preceding three elements, creativity (copy and art) takes a backseat. This is lead generation, not branding.

In B2B, direct marketing copy leads the process, and finding a good direct marketing copywriter is almost as hard as going undefeated in the NFL. It is well worth the effort to not only search for one, but pay the fee, as the benefits more than justify the cost. The best B2B copywriter I know is Bob Bly. Remember when drafting messages and offers, relevancy to the individual tops all.

Tip: No creative should be started before the target audience is clearly defined. The target is at the “head” of the process.

To Sum Up:

Books have been written about lead generation, and this very short blog is intended just to lay out the 4 basic elements for success. Seek out B2B agencies or consultants to actually produce and manage the campaign, but if the budget does not exist to hire these experts, start out by doing it yourself. Good luck, as it’s not easy to obtain results in this over communicated and cluttered market place.