Fast forward to 2012, and the global economy is not faring much better. While bailouts and austerity measures have helped most European countries to keep their heads above water (if only just, in some cases), those same austerity measures, coupled with the threat of a complete or partial collapse of the Eurozone, have dampened spending both by consumers and by businesses.

But while the economy has been standing still, there has been a surge in marketing creativity. B2B buying cycles have been getting longer, as buyers become more cautious and more people are being involved in every purchasing decision, marketers and (ahem) marketing automation vendors have had to get much more innovative.

The old days of mass marketing, big industry tradeshows and blanket advertising are long gone – today, B2B marketing is all about getting to know each prospect individually, and providing the right information, advice and guidance to get them ready to buy.

With all this going on, we thought it was time we brought our guide up to date. Over the next three weeks, we’re going to bring you a new three-part guide to marketing in an economic downturn.

This week we focus on lead generation and lead nurturing, next week we’ll look at getting the most from content marketing, and finally we’ll concentrate on how to improve your sales and marketing alignment.

Lead Generation and Lead Nurturing

In a downturn, you can’t afford to let a single lead go to waste. But too often, leads are left to go cold because the prospect is cautious and doesn’t seem inclined to buy straight away.

It’s never been more important to nurture the leads you generate, providing content, information and assistance to build a rapport and help them come to a point where they are ready to engage with a sales rep.
That means getting the right tools in place to manage your leads all the way through the funnel – however long that process takes. Whether your prospect arrives at your site via an online search, starts following you on Twitter, watches one of your videos, comes to one of your live events or simply calls you up, you need to be able to capture their details, gauge their level of interest and start developing a relationship that will ultimately lead to a successful handover to Sales.

1. Use Landing Pages to Turn Inbound Traffic into Leads

Today, an astonishing 93% of B2B buying decisions start with online research, but many companies aren’t equipped to capture and profile the search traffic they get. Rather than bringing search traffic en masse to your homepage, use targeted landing pages to guide visitors to specific products and services. Once they’re there, take the opportunity to learn more about them by offering a relevant download, webinar or video in exchange for a few details.

2. Maximize the Value of Every Lead

In a world where most leads are generated online and an increasing proportion are inbound, automated lead management tools can help you to generate, score and nurture leads more cost-effectively. Use lead scoring to evaluate how engaged each prospect is, so you can decide whether they’re ready to hand over to Sales or need nurturing first. By knowing more about each lead, you’ll be able to focus your limited budget and resources on the ones most likely to convert, enabling you to hand over fully qualified leads to the sales team.

3. Make Better Use of Existing Contacts

In times of squeezed budgets there’s less money for outbound lead generation, and especially for external lists that may be of doubtful quality. Smart marketers will instead look to make better use of existing in-house customer and prospect databases by cleaning up the data, scoring (or re-scoring) old leads, and developing targeted content and nurturing strategies to revive leads that may have gone cold.

4. Nurture Leads until They’re Ready to Buy

Lead nurturing tools can help you to build relationships with prospects who are too early in the buying cycle to be ready for sales. Profiling prospects and delivering regular, relevant content in line with their interests can yield a four-fold improvement in the conversion of qualified prospects into sales opportunities over time. That’s a lot of return on your marketing investment.

5. Save Money and Spend More Wisely with Marketing Analytics

Every year brings advances in marketing analytics, and today, marketers can monitor and evaluate the success of each campaign as it’s being rolled out. That means campaigns can be stepped up, refined or discontinued on the fly, to ensure that each one delivers the best value for money. You’ll also be able to monitor in fine detail the returns on your marketing investment – vital information for negotiating additional budget or for demonstrating Marketing’s effectiveness to Sales.

Next week: Content, Content, Content

In our next post, we’ll be looking at the vital importance of content in lead generation and lead nurturing programs. Is it possible to create high-quality, relevant, engaging and targeted content in an era of squeezed budgets and limited resources? We say it is – come back next week to find out how.

How is the current economic climate affecting your B2B marketing efforts? Is marketing automation part of your strategy?