Oct 19, 2011

Critical info for any business: an online marketing overview

Via Inbound

Put five business-to-business (B-to-B) marketers together in a room and ask them to name the best lead generation medium, then sit back and watch the sparks fly. One person will claim that email is the best medium because of the low cost per contact. Another will tell you that it’s Search Engine Marketing (SEM) because 83% of all B-2-B buyers start their buying process online. Yet another will tell you it’s social media because it’s the latest trend. Yet another will swear by virtual events and virtual trade shows. The truth is that each medium has its strengths, weaknesses, and best applications - and knowing their pros and cons will enable you to develop an effective strategy for your company.

When developing your lead generation strategy, you need to match the right medium for each job. Consider the following factors:
  • Time to Lead. While organic search (SEO) can take 6 months to gain traction, email marketing and paid search can deliver more instant returns.
  • Campaign Objectives. Are you looking to create awareness or an instant sale? Each medium delivers a different type of lead, with buyers who are at varying stages in their buying process.
When it comes to online lead generation there are 5 main options: Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Email Marketing, Virtual Events, Blogging and Social Media Marketing. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Search Engine Marketing
83% of B-to-B buyers start their buying process online with a search. Business buyers use the Internet to replace sales representatives as their primary research tool to solve their problems. Search engine marketing, both paid and organic, has become the hottest of the hot. It allows for highly targeted campaigns for specific search keywords.

Due to aggressive competition, both paid and organic search marketing requires constant attention. The “theory” that organic search is free is a big misnomer. It used to be during the early days, but things have drastically changed. For some very competitive terms, it can cost more per lead for organic search than it does paid search. In addition, if people do not search in your category, you’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Furthermore, you need to make sure that you combine your SEM (paid) advertising strategy with your organic search (SEO) for maximum results.

Email Marketing
Email marketing plays a huge role in any lead generation program. After someone has demonstrated that they are interested in your company or have a problem that you can help them solve, email is the perfect medium for staying in touch and nurturing the prospect along their buying cycle. E-Newsletters are particularly effective in this regard, especially in narrow niches where you can customize the content to be highly relevant to the industry. I have sent as many as five different versions of a newsletter in order to make sure the content specifically matches with the audience.

Email is cheap, but spamming is not. Cold selling a prospect that has never heard of your company or your product in one or two messages rarely works. Many companies try to send big fancy emails that do not make it past the spam filters.

Virtual Events
As the world is becoming more of a global marketplace, the cost to attend live events in person is becoming too costly for most companies. Enter the desire for virtual events. Web-based seminars, also known as “webinars”, have come into wide use in B-to-B. While most companies are usually using these for buyers who are in the later stages of their buying cycle, it can also work early in the buying process to educate prospects and create problem awareness.

While there are over 150 million blogs in the world, only a small percentage get any real volume or traffic. But instead of talking only about your product, service or how great your companies is, you need to take a more helpful and educational approach, talking about the problems your prospects have and how to solve their issues. Much like when you go on a blind date, if you only talk about yourself and how wonderful you are, your prospects will get bored quickly and move on.

It’s best to test the waters before you start. Read blogs in your field and start joining the conversation by adding non-sales-y comments to the posts you find interesting. Once you have a feel for the environment, you can start experimenting with your own blog. To convert your readers into leads you can provide references to useful content that goes deeper into the problem you are talking about and drive readers to a landing page, where you can capture their contact information and begin wooing them into a relationship.

Social Media Marketing
While Facebook is the largest player in the social media world, sizable social networks for business have also proven to generate quality leads. The largest of these is LinkedIn. LinkedIn encourages individual business people to leverage their contact network and connect with others who have connections with particular companies or lines of business as well as prospects.

LinkedIn allows banner advertising and paid email to reach prospects. LinkedIn, as well as other social networks like Twitter, allows you to take word-of-mouth marketing to the next level. On LinkedIn you can ask a current customer for a referral to a connection of theirs that may be one of your ideal prospects. These referrals are the lowest source for customers you can get. On Twitter, its quick and easy nature allows people to share what they are thinking with thousands of people with similar interests and provide the opportunity for your company to go viral.

When selecting which mediums your company should use, it’s important to remember that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Mixing multiple media can work beautifully, delivering a better response and lower cost per lead than each element working on its own. Just remember one, very important thing: The message must be consistent across the media.

An inconsistent message can cause confusion. Pulling this off may not be easy, especially with medium-to-large companies where a different person, with different goals and personal ideas, may manage each marketing medium. The best way to deal with this is to focus on your customers; their buying process and the experience you want to create for them. By doing this, the payoff is colossal.