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.

To Gate or Not to Gate, That Is the B-to-B Content Marketing Question

There’s a spirited debate in B-to-B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (aka “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Here’s why.

There’s a spirited debate in B-to-B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (AKA “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring Web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Here’s why.

I know that plenty of very smart and well-respected Internet marketing experts line up with dear old Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, who famously said in 1984 that information “wants to be free.” The underlying assumption there is that people buy from companies that they trust—a valid point, to be sure. Casting a net through free—unimpeded—distribution of content encourages both trust and, perhaps more importantly, wide dispersal and sharing of information. You’ll get to a much bigger audience, who will be educated on the solutions to their business problems, will be grateful for the free info and, one hopes, will think of you when they’re ready to buy. So far, so good.

The problem is that this model—which lives under the umbrella concept known as “inbound marketing”—leaves marketers in a serious quandary. We don’t have any way of knowing who is reading our informative, educational and helpful content. We are left sitting on our thumbs, unable to take any proactive steps toward building relationships with these potential prospects. All we can do is wait for them to contact us and, we hope, ask us to participate in an RFP process, or, more likely, give them more info and more answers to their questions. Is that any way to sustain and grow a business relationship—not to mention meet a revenue target? In my view, it leaves too much to chance.

Let’s look at the numbers. The ROI model for inbound marketing says that distributing the content to a wide audience will eventually result in more sales than gating the content and marketing proactively to a smaller universe. Let’s look at how these numbers might actually work:

To start the conversation, say that wide distribution would put your content in front of 10,000 prospects, via free downloads and pass-along.

In contrast, we might similarly assume that by gating, and requiring some contact information in exchange for the content download, we would only get 1 percent of that distribution: 100 prospects. These are now legitimate inquirers, and we can conduct outbound communications to them. By applying typical campaign conversion rates, we could predict that of 100 inquiries, 20 percent will qualify—producing 20 qualified leads. Of those, we’ll be able to contact 50 percent (or 10), and of them 20 percent will convert, resulting in 2 sales.

But how many sales will we get from the 10,000 with whom have no direct connection? It’s hard to say. When inquiries come in, we can ask where they heard of us, and certainly some will say they read the white paper, or whatever content we put into circulation. But this data tends to be unreliable. Inquirers usually don’t remember how they heard of you, or they just make up an answer to get the question out of the way.

This is exactly why business marketers debate the subject with such vigor. We have data, and thus proof, on the gating side. But we only have conjecture on the other. So it boils down to which side you believe. It’s tough to do sustainable marketing on faith.

Myself, I grew up as a marketer in the world of measurable direct and database marketing. So it’s no surprise that I favor the gating side of the fence. I like marketing campaigns that provide predictable results. Where I can stand up in court and show a history of my campaign response rates, conversion rates, and cost-per-lead numbers. And most important, where I can reasonably expect to deliver a steady stream of qualified leads to my sales counterparts, who are relying on me to help them meet their quotas.

So that’s my argument for gating content in B-to-B marketing. I understand the logic of the other side. And I see clearly situations where it makes sense to let the information run free-as a teaser, for example, to persuade prospects to come and get the richer information that is so useful that they’ll be falling all over themselves to give me their name, title, company name and email address. But what about you? Where do you sit in this debate? It’s a biggie.

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

Five Ways to “Get Real” With B-to-B Social Media

Today, 89 percent of B-to-B marketers in the U.S. are using social media, says a study conducted by iTracks and the Business Marketing Association (BMA). In fact, B-to-B use of social media may have even eclipsed that of consumer marketers, according to another report from White Horse Productions. But the B-to-B marketers I talk to still sound confused. “What should I be doing,” they ask. “What’s really worth my time?”

Today, 89 percent of B-to-B marketers in the U.S. are using social media, says a study conducted by iTracks and the Business Marketing Association (BMA). In fact, B-to-B use of social media may have even eclipsed that of consumer marketers, according to another report from White Horse Productions. But the B-to-B marketers I talk to still sound confused. “What should I be doing,” they ask. “What’s really worth my time?”

What you want to do is get out of the hype, get real, and get results. Here’s a simple plan of attack.

First, get busy on LinkedIn. This is the no-brainer of B-to-B social media marketing. You, your company, and all your employees need to take maximum advantage of the exposure. Your LinkedIn to-do list looks like this:

  • Fill out your profile 100 percent. LinkedIn will prompt you on how to make sure every element is captured. Encourage your employees to set up their profiles, including their skills lists. Prospective customers will check out you and your staff as part of their due diligence before doing business with you—so be prepared.
  • Set up a company page, with your logo image, plus a crisp, benefit-laden company description. Invite links from your customers, suppliers and friends. Along with a Google search, this is how you will be found in the marketplace.
  • Join groups, or set up fresh groups, in your field of expertise.
  • Post regular status updates in the micro-blog area LinkedIn provides.

Then, examine your marketing objectives. Each social medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. What you want to do is get the most bang, by applying them to their best use.

Here’s a typical array of business marketing objectives a company may be pursuing. Let’s look at how social media can be applied to support what you’re trying to do.

Understand your market opportunity. In other words, market research. What customers and prospect are talking about on social media gives companies valuable insight into customer needs, issues and trends. You can set up a listening post using tools like Radian6, or simply set up an RSS feed from sources like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Focus, Quora, YouTube and Wikipedia, so you can keep current with what’s being said in your field.

Stand out in the crowd. Social media can help you differentiate your company from your competition. If you want to be seen as a thought leader in your industry, or a trusted advisor to businesses trying to solve problems, then it’s all about content. You’ll be publishing white papers, research reports and case studies, and tweeting about them. Or publish an informative blog and promote it via Twitter and LinkedIn micro posts.

Blogging can be a powerful way to establish thought leadership, but it does represent a risk. Only start a blog if you have valuable content to present, and if you can commit to keeping it up. Editorially, the tone should be informative, not sales-y. If you don’t have good writers in house, there are plenty of freelancers available to help. Another tip: If you hesitate to take on a blog on your own, you might provide guest posts to influential blogs managed by someone else. (As you see, this is the route I took for myself—it’s great!)

Find new customers. There’s a lot of hue and cry out there about whether social media can help you find prospective customers. Of course it can. The trick in B-to-B is to turn your social media messaging into a lead generator, with the addition of three essential elements:

  • A compelling offer, such as an intriguing research report or white paper.
  • A clear call to action, like “Download now.”
  • A dedicated landing page that captures the respondent’s contact information.

We can debate the merits of gating your content for lead generation, versus making it available to all, for thought leadership. A worthy discussion. But if your objective is to launch a business relationship with a prospective buyer, than the lead generation route is the way to go. So add an offer and call to action to your blog posts and tweets.

Expand current customer value. Social media can serve as another useful “touch” in your ongoing effort to penetrate accounts and deepen your relationship with current customers. Encourage customers to follow you on Twitter, subscribe to your blog, or connect with you on LinkedIn. A smart salesperson will link to every possible contact at a current account, and post company and product news in the LinkedIn microblog a couple times a week.

Now, what about Facebook? With 845 million users worldwide, it can’t be ignored. Ask yourself whether your customers are there, and whether they want to interact with you there. According to Globalspec, 66 percent of industrial workers have Facebook accounts, but 67 percent of them say they cannot access Facebook from their office computers. Given its vast reach, at the very least set up a company page on Facebook—for employee recruitment, if nothing else.

And don’t forget YouTube, the world’s second largest search engine. Set up a channel to give exposure to your product demos, training videos and corporate videos.

So, with that, you have a reasonable attack plan for cutting through the hype and putting social media to work for you in a manageable way. Now, what have I forgotten? Do you have any good social media applications you can share with the rest of us business marketers?

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