The Role of Online Marketing in BtoB Lead Generation

Over the last couple of years, those of us in the direct marketing business have heard some pretty phenomenal stories about the unique pulling power of online BtoB lead generation.

A number of online champions even predict the death of traditional media in this role advocating the use of online marketing as the only medium needed for successful BtoB lead generation.

Some direct marketers take issue with this point of view. They use the Internet, but see it as yet another tool available to BtoB marketers rather than a replacement of traditional media.

Your experience may differ.

So I asked a professional direct marketing consultant who has performed BtoB lead generation for a number of small and large BtoB organizations using every available medium for her perspectives on this issue.

She is passionate about BtoB marketing and has dedicated her entire career to the art and science of marketing accountability. She has worked on both the agency and client sides of the business in New York City, Washington, D.C., Richmond, VA, Atlanta, GA and now Fort Worth, TX. Her goal is to educate clients and anyone who will listen on the value of using direct marketing as a business strategy and not a tactic.

You can access more information about Carla Joye on LinkedIn or call her directly at 817-521-3469.

Let's begin with Carla’s interview.

Question: In the last five years, what have you seen as the most significant change in the direct marketing business?

Answer: The most significant change I have seen in the direct marketing business in the last five years is the almost exclusive use of Web 2.0 tools and the belief by clients and agencies that this is the be all and end all to a successful direct marketing program.

Question: Narrowing down the field to a fast growing direct marketing category, what changes have you seen in the BtoB lead generation area?

Answer: There are three major changes I’ve seen and experienced in the area of B2B lead generation:

1. The use of email mail marketing ONLY as a customer acquisition tool
2. The success of white paper and webinar offers in customer acquisition campaigns
3. The explosion in the interest of using social networking tools for customer acquisition

Question: What do you think about the heightened interest in digital lead generation?

Answer: My experience has been that both agencies and clients see digital lead generation as a low to no cost medium for customer acquisition and therefore want to make it work.

However, where they are short sighted is in making digital lead generation their only means of generating leads. Like any other successful lead generation efforts, digital marketing has a role to play but should be used in concert with other media such as direct mail, telemarketing, email, and so forth. 

Marketers are always looking for the one magic bullet medium that will meet all their needs and are playing a fools game because that medium never will exist.

Question: Have you seen or experimented with BtoB lead generation using the Internet as your only medium? If so, what were the results?

Answer: Yes, I have had many clients in the past year who only wanted to use the Internet for lead generation.

The results were dismal!

What we found, was that we needed to use the most responsive list at least four times before we saw any response rates above 1%. However, that’s not the end of the story, the leads were mostly information seekers. So our conversion rates were next to non-existent.

Question: How should businesses approach their lead generation efforts?

Answer: Ted, that’s the $64,000 question! Businesses should approach their lead generation efforts the old-fashion way. Start with a strategy and a list of who you want your customers to be in the next three to five years and then use every available means of communication to market to those chosen few until they appear on your customer list.

What people need to remember is lead generation is the first step to gaining trust and building a relationship with a potential customer. 

However, in today’s business world it’s all about the quick sale without regard to the lifetime value of that customer.

Speaking of customer lifetime value, that should be part of the strategy and target audience identification stage which comes first. The more lifetime value a customer has the more marketing $ should be spent on them. In business, the cliché that no two customers are created equal should be the mantra.

Question: Where do such programs tend to fall short in your opinion?

Answer: In my opinion and experience, there are several factors that cause lead generation programs to fall short.

The first and most important factor is the lack of a strategy that ties into corporate business goals. Marketers by nature are not strategists, they are tacticians. They can plan a great program and know they want to generate X number of leads from it but how does that tie into the big picture?

Second, is a shallow understanding of how to build a lead generation database that will be responsive.

And, lastly, looking at lead generation on a campaign by campaign basis (again from a tactical and not strategic perspective) rather than on a customer lifetime value basis.

Question: If you had to pick the top three predictors of BtoB lead generation success, what would they be?

Answer: That one is easy, from experience both on the client and agency sides, the top three predictors of B2B lead generation success are:

  1.  
    1. A strategy that ties the lead generation efforts to actual revenue and corporate business objectives which is more than just the ROI of a program.
    2. A database of real prospects. This is where B2B and consumer marketing differ. With B2B marketing, the sales force and probably the CEO have identified their most desired customers. So the guess work is removed. Whereas with consumer marketing, unless you are selling a high ticket item, your customer can be anyone on a targeted mailing list.
    3. Make a real offer. If the objective is to get an appointment, then a strong offer has to be made and that offer has to be more than just a white paper or demonstration. It has to have value to the prospect. Offers I have seen that work well include gift cards, product discounts and free additional services.

Question: What advice would you give advertising agencies in supporting their clients with BtoB lead generation?

Answer: This is going to sound cold, but I have seen this so often that it makes me want to scream. Advertising agencies should stop pretending they know how to generate leads by using the latest “fad” mediums such as email only and social networking and hire people who actually have a track record of generating leads using any and all media that are pertinent to the clients revenue goals.

Question: What advice would you give to clients trying to select the best resources to support them in their lead generation efforts?

Answer: Don’t hire an agency!

Hire a strategic B2B consultant to help you plan your entire year of lead generation programs around corporate goals and departmental goals. Then use that same consultant to oversee the tactical development of those programs. That’s the point where an agency or freelance creative talent should be brought into the process. In the long run, an experienced B2B consultant will provide a tremendous value and boost to your ROI.

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Well, there you have it from Carla Joye. She certainly brings some different perspectives to the BtoB lead generation world.

But I suspect that some of you hold different opinions. That's particularly the case when she refers to solo online lead generation.

Do you have data showing better performance in BtoB lead generation using online alone versus online plus traditional media support? Or do you have actual results showing traditional media alone tested against online media alone that shows a different result from Carla's experiences?

If so, please describe your test in sufficient detail to validate your conclusions. This would help educate all of us based on your experience.

Posted on June 4, 2009 and filed under Lead Generation, Online Marketing.