When it comes to generating leads, do virtual events make sense for B-to-B marketers?

Think of a conference or tradeshow conducted online with presenters, exhibitors and attendees exchanging information and networking from the convenience of their computers.

These “virtual events” can benefit all parties. Attendees don’t have to travel, or even leave their offices. Neither do the speakers and exhibitors. This saves everyone time and money.

And the convenience of attending via their computer can boost the number of attendees significantly.

I think virtual events are great. Why? Because few of the conferences or tradeshows I want to attend happen in little ol’ Rhode Island. So if I want to attend I have to waste way too much time at the airport and on the plane, then again in the rental car or taxi line, trying to get there. Or I have to spend three or four hours taking an Amtrak train to New York City. Or I waste an hour and a half or more, both ways, driving to attend the event if it happens to come to the Boston area.

Compare this to what is involved in attending a virtual event: I block the time on my calendar. Then at the appointed hour I click on a link and attend the event via my computer.

The same goes for when I’m speaking or presenting at one of these virtual events.

Yes, it is sometimes good to get out of the office and network with clients and suppliers at in-person conferences, tradeshows or seminars. But often that means losing the day or more just getting there and back, not to mention the time away from my family. This makes me pretty selective about which in-person events I will attend.

I’m less selective about signing up to attend virtual events. Why? Because if I determine that the virtual event isn’t a good investment of my time, or the presenter is putting me to sleep, I simply close my browser and use that time for other things instead.

 

For additional strategies, tactics and tips related to using B-to-B marketing events to generate qualified leads and drive sales, check out the articles under the heading B-to-B events & trade shows at my website’s Learning Center for Marketers.

 

How to incentivize lead follow-up by sales

Besides reporting from your CRM system, here are some ideas to encourage lead follow-up and reporting back on follow-up activity and results from your company’s salespeople, reps, resellers or distributors:

A “mystery lead” program

Follow-up the mystery lead, get an incentive!  Randomly select a lead in every sales territory each month and designate it as the “mystery lead.”  Then tell sales that if they report back on that specific lead they earn a prize or incentive.

What’s hot right now for incentives?

Common incentives are gift cards or pre-loaded credit cards, a night at a resort hotel, dinner at a top restaurant, or the latest electronic gadget. You can get creative and have fun with it too. One of my clients gives away a free house cleaning or a car detailing.

The value of the incentive is dependent on how much you are willing to spend to close the loop on lead follow-up. It also depends on the value your salespeople put on the time required to do the necessary paperwork, and how many potential winners there may be.

I recommend that every salesperson have a chance to win for a lead followed up in their territory every month, rather than pulling only one salesperson’s name out of a pool of potential winners.

Points for follow-up program

Your salespeople, reps, dealers or distributors earn a certain number of points for every lead they report back on.  You can give additional points for ongoing status reports and bonus points for reports on leads that resulted in closed sales. Then these points can be redeemed for merchandise such as logo-wear, desk accessories, iPods, digital picture frmaes or even laptops or a smart phones.   One client even includes housecleaning services and car detailing in the list of things their resellers can choose from.

Tie lead follow reporting to the size of their paycheck.

This approach works well for some companies. If they report back on the lead before the sale closes, closing the loop, they get a higher commission on that sale (the carrot).  Or if they don’t report back on 80% of the leads they were given within a 90 day period, they don’t qualify for their quarterly bonus (the stick).

So whether you do it yourself by querying the CRM system,  or use a carrot or stick approach to getting feedback on lead follow-up results from the folks in sales, you can get more of the information you need to determine how best to target your lead generation investments and resources for the maximum bang for your buck.

 

The Essential Marketing-for-Leads Formula

Build a clean database

Not every business can or will buy from your company. Gather all the miscellaneous lists of suspects, prospects and customers at your company and have a third-party list service to help you merge them, purge duplicates, update email and postal addresses and append information such as industry and company size.

The list service can add companies and contacts similar to your best customers and those in the specific vertical or niche markets you’ve identified as targets. Your goal is to determine which companies appear to have a need for what you’re selling, are receptive to working with your kind and size of company, and have the ability to buy when the time’s right. Then aim your marketing at them.

Keep in touch on a regular basis

You should use the database to drive regular direct marketing campaigns via direct mail, e-mail and telemarketing. Aim to use direct marketing to touch prospects at least once a quarter, but monthly is better. Even if you don’t make it every month you’re still ahead.

This approach also works well for nurturing longer-term prospects. And they are worth it! My research shows that the short-term buyers — those who buy within six months — represent only a quarter of the sales that will happen. The other three out of four sales occur between six months and two years later.

Multiple offers or calls-to-action

I recommend you always make more than one offer; each designed to appeal to people at different stages of the sales cycle. For example, offer info kits, whitepapers and case studies for those early in their consideration/buying process. Offer worksheets, checklists, webinars or live seminars for those a bit further along. Offer demos, assessments, quotations and “if you buy now…” offers for those who are ready to move forward with their buying decision.

Optimize your website to lead prospects through the sales cycle

Instead of scaring prospective customers away with confusing or out-of-date information on your website, consider re-focusing its content to help your prospects determine that your company is their best choice. Provide clear choices of navigation to help visitors self-identify where on the path they are and what step is next.

Involve the sales team when creating sales tools

If your salespeople turn more of your marketing-generated leads into sales, you won’t have to generate as many leads and you will get a higher return on both your marketing and sales investments. So what tools do they need? Start by asking them, or ride along on sales call and see for yourself.

Yes, this is a pretty basic formula. But I’m always surprised how many marketers go off the deep end on fancy or expensive marketing tactics that don’t get results. Instead, I recommend you start with this basic, but proven, formula. Add fancier and more expensive marketing ingredients to the mix later, when you can afford to experiment.

 

Optimizing your email marketing campaigns

As part of ongoing lead nurturing, I recommend staying in touch via multiple methods. Email is usually one of those methods.

With email marketing, I recommend aiming for sending something monthly. Why? To stay in mind and in sight as your prospects move from awareness to consideration to purchase, and to increase your chance of being there at the right time. But not too often to become a pest and risk increased opt-outs.

Beyond getting your e-newsletter or marketing piece out the door, there’s plenty you can do to improve results, both big and small. Some key ideas you may not be considering:

  • Make sure your email can be viewed well in the preview pane of email applications. And how does it look on your phone or iPad?
  • Check that you’re not using words that automated spam filters consider questionable.
  • Subject lines can have a surprising effect on open rates. Keep on top of your metrics and test even small changes.
  • Is the IP address of the server that the email is being sent from on a blacklist?

Looking for more ideas? I came across a useful list of 100+ Tools and Tutorials to Optimize Your Email Marketing Campaigns. They’re grouped into topics for convenience:

  • Email Marketing Packages
  • Testing
  • Analytics & Evaluation
  • Deliverability & Reputation
  • Design
  • Spam
  • Mailing Lists
  • Subject Line
  • Timing & Frequency
  • Conversion
  • Tips & Advice
  • Information Sources

What have you learned to improve your email marketing? Please share a tip that helped.

 
Need help with B2B lead generation, marketing and sales?
For more information, please call Mac McIntosh at +1-401-294-7730, send him email at or visit www.sales-lead-experts.com