New Developments in B-to-B List Acquisition

To reach cold prospects among business audiences, sales and marketing teams often begin by developing a list of prospective targets. Marketers can find just about every target company, title and job function they need from traditional list suppliers. Plus, the Internet has made possible the introduction of some excellent new opportunities for identifying prospects at various stages of the buying cycle. Let’s look at what’s new in B-to-B lists these days

To reach cold prospects among business audiences, sales and marketing teams often begin by developing a list of prospective targets. Marketers can find just about every target company, title and job function they need from traditional list suppliers. Plus, the Internet has made possible the introduction of some excellent new opportunities for identifying prospects at various stages of the buying cycle. Let’s look at what’s new in B-to-B lists these days.

Traditionally, the first step in list development has been working with a list broker who has experience in your target audience category. There are more than 40,000 business lists available for rent in the U.S., plus numerous databases and online data enhancement services to choose from.

Business lists can be divided into four general types:

  1. Compiled files assembled from directories, the Internet or other public and private sources, by such suppliers as D&B, InfoGroup, Data.com, NetProspex and ZoomInfo. In recent years, many compilers have been making their data available for rent via an online interface, vastly enhancing the speed and flexibility of ordering.
  2. Response files created as a by-product of other businesses, like catalog/e-commerce sales, seminars, trade organization memberships, or magazine and newsletter subscriptions. Response files tend to be more current and accurate than compiled files.
  3. Cooperative databases from multiple list owners, offered in either open format, where you pay for what you use (examples being MeritDirect’s MeritBase, InfoGroup’s b2bdatawarehouse and Mardev DM2’s Decisionmaker database), or closed format, where only members who put customer names in can take prospect names out (examples include Epsilon Abacus Cooperative and the b2bBase, a joint venture of MeritDirect and Experian).
  4. Internal databases populated from billing systems, lead management systems, and website registration systems. Many companies today use their marketing automation or CRM systems as their marketing databases, and populate them from a variety of internal and external sources.

A New Direction in B-to-B Lists
The B-to-B list industry has changed considerably in the last decade, with the proliferation of social networks. But the big new development today is the trend away from static name/address lists, to dynamic sourcing of prospect names complete with valuable indicators of buying readiness culled from their actual behavior online. Companies such as InsideView and Leadspace are developing solutions in this area.

Leadspace, created by a team of former Israeli intelligence officers, is a leader in targeted, real-time prospecting data for business marketers. Their process begins with constructing an ideal buyer persona by analyzing the client’s best customers, which can be executed by uploading a few hundred records of name, company name and email address. Then, Leadspace scours the Internet, social networks and scores of contact databases for look-alikes and immediately delivers prospect names, fresh contact information and additional data about their professional activities.

How LevelEleven Took its Prospecting to the Next Level
LevelEleven provides a cloud-based platform where sales managers can create fresh and compelling sales contests within Salesforce.com. For example, the Detroit Pistons recently used LevelEleven to organize a sales contest for skyboxes at their arena, and drove sales of over half a million dollars. In other words, 50 percent of the skybox annual sales target was closed in a mere six weeks.

LevelEleven’s target prospect is a sales manager or sales operations manager in any company that uses Salesforce.com as its CRM system. Today, LevelEleven’s sales team gets leads from four sources:

  1. The Salesforce.com AppExchange, where other Salesforce users search for partners.
  2. Conferences and trade shows, like Dreamforce.
  3. Registrations from content downloads at the LevelEleven website.
  4. Rented lists of prospects.

LevelEleven has tried a variety of list sources over the years, with mixed results. In the first half of 2012, the prospecting sources produced zero in closed sales. In June 2012, they began experimenting with Leadspace. In the second half of 2012, a full 30 percent of LevelEleven closed deals came from this source.

According to Bob Marsh, CEO, the power of Leadspace for LevelEleven is its close targeting based on the LevelEleven customer profile. “Leadspace helps us infer pretty accurately whether a prospect is using the Salesforce platform,” he says. “And they deliver to us a short list of highly likely contacts in the account, like the Salesforce administrator or the sales operations manager. Everyone on our sales team has a Leadspace license, and it is performing for us.”

It’s a good thing that the B-to-B list business is continuing to evolve in new directions. What new developments are you seeing?

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

If You Speak, Will They Listen?

Yesterday, I was one of two speakers at a webinar hosted by Target Marketing. During our prep call earlier in the week, the host advised us that over 1,000 people had signed up to attend this free event. Now I know from past experience that only 50 percent will likely attend, but another 10 percent to 20 percent will listen to the podcast after the fact. But despite providing case studies, facts and figures based on industry best practices, the disappointing reality is that very few “attendees” will ever try to implement the lessons that I shared

Yesterday, I was one of two speakers at a webinar hosted by Target Marketing. During our prep call earlier in the week, the host advised us that over 1,000 people had signed up to attend this free event.

Now I know from past experience that only 50 percent will likely attend, but another 10 percent to 20 percent will listen to the podcast after the fact. But despite providing case studies, facts and figures based on industry best practices, the disappointing reality is that very few “attendees” will ever try to implement the lessons that I shared.

How do I know this? Because I’ve worked with hundreds of clients and have spoken at dozens of conferences and am continued to be amazed at how many companies feel the need to reinvent the wheel.

For example, when presented with a prospect’s particular marketing challenge and we recommend a fully integrated campaign solution that includes online and offline initiatives, the client says “let’s test to learn what will work best.”

Really?

I’ve been involved in testing for my entire 30+ year marketing career. And I’ve tested offers, colors, premiums, even signature lines, and those can yield very different results client to client. But here’s the one thing I don’t need to test: A fully integrated marketing campaign will outperform a single medium campaign every time. Why? Because different people consume information differently.

Some spend time online and click through banners, buttons or SEM results. Others gather information at conferences and webinars. Still others open and read email and direct mail.

Net-net, at some point, if they have a need, they will raise their hands in some way, whether they accept an inbound call from your sales rep or make a call into your call center. Perhaps they’ll visit your website and download something? Or visit your booth at a tradeshow?

The source of the “lead” will be misleading if you’re trying to measure and prove ROI, because they were exposed to your message in a number of ways and just because they finally raised their hands, you assign them to one channel and credit it with being the driver of leads. The next thing you know, you’re shifting marketing dollars to that one channel, and yet a year later you’re wondering why lead volume is down.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ll meet new prospects who say their last (single channel) marketing campaign didn’t work. Therefore the (single channel) is a waste of money.

After digging a little deeper, the prospect didn’t really know where the “list” came from, or what the “offer” was or whether the campaign ran during a hurricane which meant that no one was online searching for their particular product during that particular week.

Here’s the key takeaway: Well planned, fully integrated campaigns usually yield the highest number of leads at the lowest cost. And the key to real sales success is the follow up.

Follow up those leads with an intelligent combination of emails and phone calls based on lead value (oh yeah, don’t forget to ask two or three questions when acquiring that lead so you can score its value to the organization), and—here’s the most important part—actually follow up with emails and phone calls that demonstrate to that prospect that you understand his or her pain and have the experience and solutions that can help solve the problem. In other words, talk to them in a language they can understand.

When prospects complete an online form and complete the box that asks “Industry” by choosing “Manufacturing,” don’t contact them as if they are in healthcare. If the forms asks for “Company Size” and the respondent chooses “1 to 10,” then treat that respondent like the small business it is. Demonstrate that you understand the challenges facing small businesses in manufacturing and you’ll gain far more credibility and brand engagement.

The next time management asks you to reinvent the wheel to solve the marketing challenge, tell them you already know what to do, because you’ve done your homework.

Get Ready for 2013: Customer Acquisition Emails

Acquiring long-term platinum customers is much harder today than it was even a decade ago. The globalization of the marketplace created an environment where people have access to multiple choices for every product or service they want to buy. This availability has created an environment where long-term customer loyalty has been replaced by hit-and-run shoppers. The only way to offset this to create a relationship with your customers that makes them want to stay with your company even when the competition offers lower prices and faster service.

Acquiring long-term platinum customers is much harder today than it was even a decade ago. The globalization of the marketplace created an environment where people have access to multiple choices for every product or service they want to buy; a simple search on Google for any item or service will reveal a multitude of choices at a variety of prices.

This availability has created an environment where long-term customer loyalty has been replaced by hit-and-run shoppers. The only way to offset this to create a relationship with your customers that makes them want to stay with your company even when the competition offers lower prices and faster service.

Relationships begin at the first contact point. Prospects who sign up for your email list have different expectations than your customers. Sending them the same promotional emails may convert a few, but it will not create the foundation for a long-term lasting relationship. People need to know they’re valued. The best way to communicate that is by creating customized emails designed to woo prospects into becoming customers. The same technological advances that increased your competition also make it easier and more economical to connect with people.

Every email marketing strategy needs a triggered systematic campaign designed to convert prospects into customers. Most companies have a welcome email automatically triggers when someone subscribes to their email list but very few businesses follow-up with additional emails that communicate information about the company products and services. It’s as if they presume that everyone knows everything there is to know about their company.

People subscribe to email lists for a variety of reasons. Some are simply looking for discount offers, others want to learn more about the products and services. Failure to take advantage of the opportunity to share information with people who have indicated they want to know more is a waste. The cost is minimal. The potential return is huge. If you do not have a customized prospect conversion strategy, you are squandering an opportunity to build a foundation for long-term customer loyalty.

It’s almost impossible to identify the prospects with long-term customer potential. The only information you have available is the original source and what people choose to share. Requiring additional information to better qualify subscribers is counterproductive—long sign-up forms yield fewer subscribers. The objective of your sign-up form is to gain permission to email prospects. The trigger emails following subscription can be used together additional information as well as convert the subscribers.

Start with a welcome email that thanks people for subscribing. Ask if they will share their preferences so you only send relevant emails. Be very careful with this. Do not ask what the subscribers want if you are not going to honor their wishes, it will alienate your prospects. If you choose to ask the questions, limit them to five. Keep them on one page above the fold with the save button in clear view. People’s eyes start to glazing over when they see a long list of questions.

The emails following the welcome letter need to build trust, provide relevant information and match the preferences indicated earlier. Don’t presume your prospects know about your top-notch service, liberal return policy or special promotions. If they do, the emails will serve as a reminder. If they don’t, providing the information is a service. Including customer testimonials and product reviews provide social proof and help establish trust.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for creating a triggered welcome email campaign:

  • Do include an added bonus in every email. This can be as simple as providing tips. For example, a B-to-C business selling cookware could offer recipes and cooking tips. A B-to-B company selling office supplies could offer productivity tips.
  • Don’t overwhelm new subscribers by bombarding them with emails. Test different delivery times and spacing to find the best strategy.
  • Do provide links to your website and additional information in every email. Always gives people a place to go and easy way to get there if they want more.
  • Don’t include icons for social media sites without providing a call to action. Give people a reason to connect with you on the other channels.
  • Do test everything. What works for your competitor may fail for you and vice versa.
  • Don’t think of your welcome email campaign as “set it and forget it” marketing. Strive for continuous improvement to maximize your return.

The 3 Habits of Successful Social Publishers

Publishers who represent non-fiction authors and experts can use social media to drive sales of books and information products by following the three habits of successful social publishers. Successful publishers who know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it rely on developing three habits.

Publishers who represent non-fiction authors and experts can use social media to drive sales of books and information products by following the three habits of successful social publishers.

Successful publishers who know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it rely on developing three habits. These are:

  1. Getting back to basics by solving readers’ problems on social media.
  2. Designing to sell, provoking responses from prospective buyers in ways that connect with authors’ books, coaching and other products.
  3. Translating, discovering customers’ evolving needs and desires, using them to induce sales transactions.

You can immediately begin selling books and other info products on social media platforms by applying these three success principles. Let’s look at each more closely and make them actionable in your everyday work life—let’s make them habits.

Habit No. 1: Solve Problems and Create Experiences
Here’s how the idea of solving problems to create sales works for non-fiction books, reference kits and informational products like webinars, DVD collections, etc. The main idea is to use social media platforms to:

  1. Provide answers to potential buyers’ most common questions in ways that provoke more questions (that your books answer!);
  2. Make it easy for the prospect to take action—to actually do something that puts them on the path to understanding why your book/product features THE hands-down expert/knowledge; and
  3. Give prospects a chance to actually begin to experience the power of your publications’ wisdom/method/solution through a small sample of the real product.

This is the best way to effectively coax or nurture prospects toward buying books, webinars or any kind of published information products. The objective with social media is to convert visitors to a lead. Then it’s up to you to nurture this lead into becoming a buyer of your books and information products.

But good news: This is easy work if you follow the formula.

Habit No. 2: Provoke Response and Earn a Lead
Blogging using this technique helps buyers discover answers to specific problems in search engines and make subtle yet direct, controllable connections with what you want to sell them. You see, when readers type specific questions into Google or Bing, your blog (or your authors’ blog, assuming you’ve coached him/her on this technique) will pop up and direct them to experts and authors with terrifically useful answers—yours.

The trick is to supply prospects with answers (within the blog post) in limited, short-form ways that provoke them to interact more with you/your author… so they can more clearly understand the thought you just provoked.

The key to selling more books and products is to answer potential buyers’ questions in ways that allow distribution of small samples of the more comprehensive solutions your books or products provide. To accomplish this, simply give prospects a clear pathway to “get more of that kind of thinking” into their heads/companies; give prospects something to sign-up for.

Help prospects act on their impulses by giving them a way to “get more” of what you just sampled. Mix in a direct response marketing element—a clear, irresistible call to action.

Habit No. 3: Begin a Courtship, Not a Drive-By
It is best to not ask prospects to trade their email for a whitepaper or access to a single video. Yes, most B-to-B marketers do this, but please don’t do it yourself. Don’t do a drive-by!

Grabbing at email addresses (just because you can) will reduce both the take and conversion rates. Ultimately, prospects likely will not connect taking the offer with your lead follow-up routine. They will feel spammed and unsubscribe.

Think about it in your own experience. Ever download a paper only to become part of an irrelevant sales follow-up call? Compare this to opting-in to a series of logical email messages that helped you get clear on something or learn a new skill.

Bottom line: You don’t need prospects’ email addresses to deliver a single piece of knowledge. Instead, when you give prospective buyers a way to act on their impulses, just be sure to set the context.

This (action your prospect takes) begins an educational process or journey for them. This approach will make it easier to connect your ultimate product pitch to that journey in ways that create more conversions.

Don’t Quit!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed join the club but don’t quit. Social media marketing is heaping on more work—and you’ve already got too many to-do’s on your list, I know. You may even be skeptical that social media can help publishing companies create sales. It’s tough moving beyond being liked, followed or re-tweeted.

Successful publishers know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it relies on developing three habits. These are solving readers’ problems on social media, designing it to sell (by provoking responses from prospective buyers in ways that connect with books, coaching and other relevant products) and translatin—discovering customers’ evolving needs & desires, using them to induce sales transactions.

How ADP Is Netting Big Leads With Twitter and LinkedIn

Business process outsourcing (BPO) provider ADP is leading the way in creating leads and sales with social media prospecting. ADP’s sales force is using social media to discover and then solve prospects’ problems in ways that break down barriers and bypass those doggone gatekeepers. Once they’ve broken though the noise salespeople are quickly moving the discussion off of social media-DIS-engaging. Here’s how they’re doing it and how you can do the same.

Business process outsourcing (BPO) provider ADP is leading the way in creating leads and sales with social media prospecting. ADP’s sales force is using social media to discover and then solve prospects’ problems in ways that break down barriers and bypass those doggone gate-keepers. Once they’ve broken though the noise sales people are quickly moving the discussion off of social media DIS-engaging. Here’s how they’re doing it and how you can do the same.

ADP’s sales staff is getting more first-time meetings, more often, by giving prospects distinct reasons to invite them in for a presentation. They’re proving themselves as being worthy of consideration by giving prospects a high degree of confidence in their ability to offer value.

Breaking Through Barriers with LinkedIn and Twitter
Doug Plourd is a major accounts sales executive at ADP who is successfully using LinkedIn for business leads. Yes, his approach uses a relatively new social platform (LinkedIn) to research key decision makers but how Plourd is netting leads and accounts isn’t new at all.

He also is using Twitter—another relatively new social platform. Yet, again, the reason Twitter is so effective at generating new business leads for him is not technical nor new.

Plourd is using relatively new, “social” tools in combination with a very old, effective idea.

Solving problems for customers.


In the above 2 minute video you’ll hear how Mr. Plourd is gaining access to key decision influencers and decision makers by:

1. Listening for his prospect to express a pain he could remedy (or a scratch he can itch)

2. Acting—actually proving that he can provide relief to the prospect; thus, transferring confidence to him/her

3. Asking for the appointment (the opportunity to demonstrate his ability to eliminate other, related business pains)

None of the above ideas are new and that’s precisely the point. Don’t let all the hype-and-spin of social media marketing get you off-track. Yes, the digital tools are changing rapidly but what works is not revolutionizing sales and marketing despite all the bluster!

Give Customers & Prospects Confidence with Social
The best way to get more business appointments with social media is to avoid what most “experts” claim works. Trying to grab attention on Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and Twitter won’t work. Instead, the best way to earn appointments is to exploit social media’s greatest strength: Its ability to create emotional response.

Do you want to start using LinkedIn for business leads? Start giving your prospects the confidence they need as buyers. The trick is to do it in ways that increase their ability to feel emotionally grounded and intellectually stronger—fully equipped to do what they want to do. Talk more with you about buying!

How Performance Marketing Accelerates B-to-B Prospecting

Every time you turn around, a new “performance marketing” opportunity turns up for B-to-B marketers. What a treasure trove! And on the face of it, a real boon, because you only pay when your prospect takes the action you’re looking for—the click, the download, the purchase, whatever. But there are some potholes to consider. Let’s look at how marketers get value out of this approach to finding new customers.

Every time you turn around, a new “performance marketing” opportunity turns up for B-to-B marketers. What a treasure trove! And on the face of it, a real boon, because you only pay when your prospect takes the action you’re looking for—the click, the download, the purchase, whatever. But there are some potholes to consider. Let’s look at how marketers get value out of this approach to finding new customers.

To back up, what is this performance marketing thing, anyway? It generally means that the media channel owner conducts a campaign and charges the marketer an agreed price for every respondent, according to predetermined criteria. There are scads of ways performance marketing is being applied across the B-to-B go-to-market spectrum. So far, this is what I know:

  • Pay per click. The grand-daddy of performance marketing, the system that sent Google’s fortunes into the stratosphere. You only pay when a prospect clicks on your selected keyword(s). The secret to success here is choosing the right keywords and sending the clicker to a brilliantly written landing page, where you have a prayer of converting them from a mere clicker to something else, like a prospect with whom you can continue a conversation. Some banner advertising and email rental lists are sold this way, as well.
  • Pay per lead. This highly popular technique was pioneered by trade publishers looking for ways to extend the value of their customer access. Ziff Davis and TechTarget are leaders in the tech industry world, using “content syndication,” distributing marketers’ white papers and research reports, and charging by response. MadisonLogic offers pay per lead programs via banner ads to a network of 300 publishers, with particular strength in the HR and technology sectors. Another player is True Influence, which uses email to its own compiled database of business buyers.
  • Pay per appointment. Hiring a telemarketing shop to conduct appointment-setting programs for sales reps is a long-time staple of the B-to-B marketing toolkit, and often priced by the appointment. Myriad call centers offer this kind of pricing.
  • Pay per PR placement. Several PR agencies have taken the big step of pricing their services on a pay-for-placement basis. Amid much hand-wringing among PR professionals, the model’s strong appeal to marketers is likely to mean continued experimentation.

Is the next logical step some kind of pay-for-performance results guarantee from creative agencies? I doubt it. I posed that question recently to Warren Hunter, Chairman of DMW Direct, who said firmly, “No way.” Since they are a direct marketing agency and thus used to delivering highly measurable results, I thought there might be a shot. But here’s how Warren explained his position. “If you give me control of the creative and the media, sure. Without that, there are too many variables that impact the results.”

The newest entrant in performance marketing is the daily deal business, pioneered by Groupon and Living Social. You might call this “pay per new customer.” In the B-to-B space, some experiments are underway like BizyDeal and RapidBuyr, but they don’t appear to have really taken off yet. Except for very small business, this is not how businesses buy.

My net takeaway on this subject is the old adage that you get what you pay for. When you think about it, the performance model has an inherent bias against quality, so marketers need to do the math. Avoid this model unless you have good data on conversion rates—conversion to qualified lead, and then conversion to a sale. With that data in hand, you can determine a profitable price and buy leads and appointments till the cows come home.

Based on my experience using PI (Per Inquiry) deals with cable TV operators years ago, I know that the “pay per” model works best if both sides have a track record with that offer in that medium. The media owner knows what kind of response it’s going to get, and the marketer knows the lifetime value of the new customer. So one way to increase the likelihood of success is to run a campaign using traditional pricing and then convert to performance-based pricing after generating some experience.

Where is performance marketing in B-to-B headed? Erik Matlick, founder of MadisonLogic, shared a few observations with me recently:

  • Marketers will get savvier about recognizing the importance of nurturing these contacts and converting them to eventual revenue. The new trend is assigning separate budgets, one devoted to generating “net new” leads and another to nurturing them to the right level of qualification.
  • Suppliers of leads should begin to offer account-level services. Most marketers need to reach multiple contacts in a target account to influence the various buying roles.

I would add my own prediction: The sky’s the limit for creative ways vendors can craft new performance-based marketing programs. Marketers have plenty to look forward to.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Introducing ‘The Integrated Email’ Blog by Debra Ellis

Why is email marketing so effective? Is it the one-to-one communication, ability to connect with customers and prospects on the go, or the provision of instant gratification with one-click shopping? The answer depends on the company and the customer relationship, but there is one universal truth: The combination of interactive communication with self-service solutions makes email the most versatile tool in a marketing workshop.

Why is email marketing so effective? Is it the one-to-one communication, ability to connect with customers and prospects on the go, or the provision of instant gratification with one-click shopping? The answer depends on the company and the customer relationship, but there is one universal truth: The combination of interactive communication with self-service solutions makes email the most versatile tool in a marketing workshop.

My experience with email marketing began shortly after Hotmail launched the first Web-based email service in 1996. A client had compiled approximately 11,000 customer email addresses and wondered what we could do with them. Our first test was a 25 percent discount on any order placed that day. A text-only message was sent using the mail merge functionality in Excel and Outlook. It took over two hours to send all the emails.

Those two hours were quite exciting. We had two computers in close proximity so we could watch the progress of the outgoing emails and monitor sales on the website. Within minutes of starting the email transmissions, orders started flowing in. By the end of the day, more than 1900 orders were received. A handful of people asked to be excluded from future mailings. Over 200 people responded with personal notes. Some were grateful for the discount. Others apologized for not placing an order and asked to receive more emails.

Things are much different today. The novelty of receiving a personalized message from a company is long gone. Spam filters make getting emails delivered a near impossible mission. And the competition for recipients’ attention is at an all-time high. Even so, email marketing remains one of most effective marketing and service vehicles available.

The emails that deliver the best return on investment are the ones that are integrated with the other marketing channels to provide information and service to the recipients. They create a connection between company and customer that motivates people to respond. A successful email marketing strategy builds loyalty while increasing sales.

Many email campaigns today are little more than a systematic generation of one promotional email after another. Discount emails are relatively easy to create and deliver sales with each send, making them a quick way to inject some life into lagging sales. The simplicity of sale marketing combined with solid response rates creates an environment where marketers are reluctant to move beyond the easy, low-hanging fruit.

In addition to generating sales, discount marketing also trains people to always look for the best price before buying the company’s products and services. It is not a sustainable strategy because there will always be another company that can offer lower prices and lure customers away. A better plan is to develop an integrated email marketing strategy that educates and encourages people to develop a relationship with the company. This requires more effort, but it delivers loyalty and long-term results.

Every email that a customer or prospect receives is an opportunity for the company to establish itself as the best service provider and solidify the relationship. Best practices include:

  • Using a valid return email address so the recipient can respond with one click.
  • Sending branded emails that identify your company at first glance.
  • Mixing educational emails that provide “how to” information for products and services with new product launches and promotional messages.
  • Transactional emails that communicate shipping information and challenges so customers aren’t left wondering, “Where is my order?”
  • Highly targeted and personalized emails designed to engage customers and prospects at every point in their lifespan.

Finding the right combination of educational, event and promotional emails requires testing and measuring results for incremental improvements. The resources invested improve relationships, increase sales and create a sustainable marketing strategy.

Note: Over the next few months, we’ll feature winning and losing email marketing strategies and campaigns on this blog. If you would like to share your company’s killer emails, send them to Debra at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

Are Your B-to-B Social Media Strategies Socially Appropriate?

There’s lots of talk these days about how to leverage social media for your business. And with few exceptions, I’m a big believer that B-to-B marketers should subscribe to a strict division of “church and state” when it comes to Facebook and business relationships. Business colleagues/associates/clients/brands are part of my LinkedIn life, while my family and my “I’m interested-in-trivial-things-about-you-and-your-kids” peeps are part of my Facebook life. So I fail to understand why any B-to-B brand would even consider having a Facebook page.

There’s lots of talk these days about how to leverage social media for your business. And with few exceptions, I’m a big believer that B-to-B marketers should subscribe to a strict division of “church and state” when it comes to Facebook and business relationships.

Business colleagues/associates/clients/brands are part of my LinkedIn life, while my family and my “I’m interested-in-trivial-things-about-you-and-your-kids” peeps are part of my Facebook life. So I fail to understand why any B-to-B brand would even consider having a Facebook page.

It’s true that Facebook is the most popular social networking site. But it’s also true that it’s a place where I reveal some personal facts (my birthday, for one) and my latest family vacation photos. While I can’t control any of the comments written on my wall, I also don’t worry because I know the only people who can see them are those who are part of my personal tribe.

So how can you leverage social media for your business?

I think it’s time to go back to basics. And, not to be insulting, but if you can get these basics right—which so many B-to-B marketers do not—you can graduate to a more sophisticated use of social media.

Smart B-to-B marketers have already discovered that their websites need to be well organized and segmented by target audience—whether by vertical segments, company size or some other segmentation strategy that’s appropriate for your business/industry. The goal is to help your site visitors navigate your site quickly and easily in order to find information most relevant to them.

Savvy marketers take their websites one step further and create pages directed at each targeted “segment” and include useful content beyond just product/service descriptions or purchase options. Whether it’s a series of case studies that clearly lay out the problem and how their brand/product provided a solution, a topical white paper, or the results of a current research study, the goal is to stimulate engagement such that the visitor thinks, “I can clearly see how these guys understand my business needs and how their products/services can help a company like mine.”

The next step should be to refresh the content on a regular basis. By doing so, it gives you the right to invite your site visitors to register for updates with the promise of emailing them when new content is available.

There are two ways to leverage that email message: You can craft a short, pithy email with a focus on and a link to the content itself, or create an email with a link to the page that contains the content. If you’ve updated your site with lots of new content, I’d choose the latter strategy, but if you’ve only added one or two new items, just provide links to that content directly (the less work you make for your target, the better).

Now that you have an easily navigable site, good core content and regular updates, the next goal should be to drive new prospects to your site so they can begin to engage with your brand. As I mentioned before, I am a firm believer that Facebook is simply not the place to be trolling for B-to-B prospects. So instead, here are a few tried and true strategies for starting socially appropriate relationships online:

  • Guaranteed Lead Program: Using a third-party media provider, place one of your most current white papers in an online media property where you know your target seeks information. It costs nothing to post and you’ll only pay for those leads that download your white paper. Chances are that these information seekers have some sort of problem they’re trying to solve and they’re in the right mood to be gathering intelligence on potential solutions. To make sure your white paper gets noticed, have a professional copywriter craft the headline and word-limited description in order to “sell” the white paper without a big sales pitch about your company. Remember the goal at this stage of the game is to start trying to make a connection with a potential customer; it’s not the time to offer discounts, freebies or other “offers.” Once they’ve downloaded and you’ve acquired their contact information, it’s appropriate to send them follow-up email and invite them to view additional content on your site, or offer an additional white paper or case study related to their particular industry. This is a productive example of how to get social with your prospects.
  • Expand your reach: Contact the editor of your industry trade publication(s) and, using a current white paper topic as a hook, outline an article you can offer as content. It’s important that your white paper NOT be self-serving (i.e. a blatant attempt to simply push your brand or one of your products), but rather an article written from a third-party perspective about the industry or a trend. Your business/product can be mentioned, but so should other products from other companies, otherwise an editor is not prone to accept the article as it’s more of an advertorial and should be part of paid content. This places your company in the right “social” setting and lays the foundation for the credibility of your brand.
  • Seek out speaking engagements: A knowledgeable expert is always a draw at an industry conference. Identify those in your organization who have the ability to speak intelligently about a current trend—perhaps they were quoted in or authored your white paper. If they don’t have great speaking skills, get them enrolled to gain superior presentation skills, and then leverage them across many industry events throughout the year. During and after the conference, there are plenty of ways for your speaker to participate in social events and swapping business cards over a meal is certainly a better way to be building future relationships than pithy notations on Facebook.
  • Leverage the company blog: Reach out to the company blogger and provide a truncated version/extract of the white paper and then link to it from within the blog. Tweet about the blog topic and provide a link, then link that tweet to your LinkedIn update. If your blog allows outsiders to post comments about the topic, that’s a great way to start engaging with a potential customer.
  • Increase LinkedIn connections: Once sales start a dialogue with a prospect, it’s appropriate for them to reach out and invite that prospect to connect on LinkedIn. Don’t use the default copy on LinkedIn to connect! Instead craft an appropriate message that’s meaningful to the target to make it feel like a worthwhile connection. I’m always surprised when someone I don’t know invites me to connect on LinkedIn without identifying a reason within an appropriate context. My first reaction is to reject the invitation because I think it may be spam—and, is a good example of how NOT to be socially appropriate.
  • Video on YouTube: If your company provides products that require instruction manuals, consider developing a series of “how to” videos. Host them on your website, but also on YouTube. These types of videos can help increase the post-purchase engagement factor and, are often one reason I make a purchase in the first place. It’s gratifying to know that if I get “stuck,” there’s an easy-to-view solution at my fingertips vs. the dreaded customer service support line. You’ll also find many viewers will post supportive comments about the video—again, a great way to use this social media to build support from customers and prospects.

Deciphering Big Data Is Key to Understanding Buyer’s Journey

Long before a sale is won or lost, customers and prospects embark on what can be called the “buyer’s journey.” This journey is a complex evolution spanning the entire lifecycle of the customer-vendor relationship, beginning with identification of the underlying business issue or need, and culminating in vendor selection.

Long before a sale is won or lost, customers and prospects embark on what can be called the “buyer’s journey.” This journey is a complex evolution spanning the entire lifecycle of the customer-vendor relationship, beginning with identification of the underlying business issue or need, and culminating in vendor selection.

Along the way, the prospect engages in a wide breadth of activities. Some are internal, such as winning over key stakeholders, building internal consensus and acquiring the necessary budget; while others are externally facing. For example, market research, engaging with colleagues in similar firms to share experiences, and of course contacting salespeople for product demos and pricing negotiation.

I do not claim to have coined the term ‘buyer’s journey.’ For more information on it, you can check out a great article by Christine Crandell that appeared on Forbes.com earlier this month. Among other things, Crandell does a great job explaining how social media can be leveraged to better connect with and understand the buyer’s journey, particularly during times when prospects are not engaged with your sales team. What’s especially interesting about the concept of the buyer’s journey is that prospects are actually unengaged with your firm during the vast majority of this process. Engagement only begins when prospects start their market research and contact a salesperson—usually not before.

Now how does this relate to database marketing? Well, it does in two huge ways. On a strategic basis, any marketer worth his or her own salt knows that effective marketing depends getting your message in front of qualified prospects as inexpensively as possible. In order to do this effectively, identifying how prospects are researching the marketplace is key. Why? Because this is where your prospects are spending much of their time, this is where you need to have your brand appearing front and center. So, from a marketing spend point of view, without a doubt this is where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck.

Now, of course, this is far easier said than done. It’s going to take a ton of market research, including customer interviews, focus groups, industry insight and general analysis to identify how your customers researched the marketplace prior to making a purchase. Did they attend key industry trade shows or events? Do they belong to specific peer or networking groups? What publications do they subscribe to? Whatever the answers to these questions are … well this is where you need to be.

Another key to deciphering the buyer’s journey is understanding how the prospect is engaging with your firm across all Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This understanding can only be arrived at through a deep analysis of every touchpoint between you are your customers. The best way to achieve this is to identify and extract customer and prospect data wherever it may reside. There are no shortcuts here. For large organizations, it can be located in an email broadcast tool, CRM, ERP, Marketing Automation Solution or purpose-built Master Data Management (MDM) Hub, among other places.

Now, of course, this means extracting and sifting through tons and tons of data—everything ranging from garden variety campaign analytics to purchasing history, from personal attributes to company insight, from demographic data to psychographic profile. Tracking, archiving and sorting out all this information is big business. In fact, many in the industry are now referring to this reality as ‘Big Data,’ as companies track and store vast troves of information that they need to make sense out of. In addition to the physical IT infrastructure required to capture and store the information, making sense out of it often requires technical expertise. Without wanting to veer off topic, if this sounds interesting then I suggest turning to NPR, where an interesting and in-depth story on Big Data aired on November 29, 2011.

As I was saying, once the data is extracted, you need to make sense out of it. Paramount to this task is the process of creating robust user profiles replete with detailed demographic, psychographic and, of course, (for B2B) firmographic information—in effect, multi-dimensional user profiles—and mapping it back to KPIs that help identify engagement patterns and behavior central to the buyer’s journey.

Once user profiles have been established, this is where the fun parts comes in, as marketers leverage this information to create compelling offers that speak to the various customer segments. The good news is that recent technological innovations have made this job much easier and more effective. Using marketing automation tools, it’s now possible to broadcast varying sophisticated drip marketing campaigns to various segments of your database—segments that can now easily be created using complex rules based on both list attributes and user engagement. What’s more, the marketing message itself—email creative, direct mail piece, landing page, and so on—can now be highly personalized based on profile data, resulting in higher response rates, reduced media costs and, of course, improved customer satisfaction.

I hope this all makes sense. Any comments or feedback are welcome.