Every business owner knows there are customers for his business offering. The very basis of a business idea rests upon the assumption of a ‘customer’, either ready or soon to be, to lap up the manifestation of the idea, whether as a product or as a service. But ask a business owner about how exactly his customer acquisition journey has been, and you’ll get him talking, particularly if his is a business-to-business business or B2B, as customers are limited, and every one of them are really hard to come by!
So, how difficult is B2B lead generation?
I have identified the following steps which I feel are the most critical in the B2B lead generation to customer acquisition cycle. This is basis my limited but quite intensive work in this field.
Who is the person that requires your product or service? Is he the owner of a fast food eatery, an iron tool manufacturer, a stockbroking firm or a Marketing Manager in a mid-sized organization? What will make him take notice of you?
a) Differentiating between the Buyer, Consumer and Influencer: While in a country like India, most buyers are the customers as well, due to the sheer volume of small & medium sized businesses or SMEs run by a small team of people, in a lot of other cases, the buyer or the key influencer are very different from the ‘Customer’. For instance if you wish to reach the ‘Marketing Manager’ community with your offering, you might do well in reaching out to Advertising agencies or Media planning agencies, who are very key influencers to the community. At the same time, each agency would have access to multiple client ‘Marketing Managers’, thus allowing you access to a much larger base of prospects than you would have imagined.
b) Understanding their media habits and behaviour: While ‘Consumer behaviour’ as a term is largely prevalent and synonymous with Consumers or B2C marketing, its importance is no less in B2B marketing. Every business owner or influencer also has a pattern in his behaviour towards marketing stimuli, if you are smart enough to observe. With the proliferation of smartphones among the masses in India, and Jio making it easy to access the joys of the internet, social media platforms like Facebook or games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush saga have become very popular even among the semi-literate population who comprise a large part of the small business community. And, the best time of the day to reach them might just be lean periods like 11am-1pm or 3-5pm, when they are relatively ‘available’. Hence, advertising on Candy Crush in Hindi during these time-periods might just win you many new customers very easily.
c) Choosing the right Stimulus or ‘Offer’: It’ll pay if you spend some time in understanding what really gets your audience excited and make her respond to your communication. While all of us are ‘Offer-seekers’ or rather value-seekers, we tend to get most excited if someone on the other side speaks our language and empathizes with our problems. Hence whatever your offer or promotion, if you have made some customization towards your audience, chances are you will have a higher success rate. Take the instance of a restaurant owner burdened with the thought of paying a steep license renewal fee in March. If a bank highlights this and offers him an easy loan with an exclusive offer, there is no reason why he wouldn’t consider.
B2B marketing needs to be a much more precision-targeted ball-game altogether compared to B2C, which is more mass and ubiquitous. The focus should be on quality of database rather than the volume, because both the audience and budgets are severely constrained in numbers. Hence hand-picking of the data, and picking them up from the right sources can hold the key.
a) Beware of Database Vendors: There has been a proliferation of ‘Database vendors’ in recent times boasting of millions of database of professionals, profiles with high credit card limits, businessmen, doctors etcetera. However, any B2B marketer who has tried them out would have a really frustrating story to tell. More often than not, the data would be old, obsolete and inaccurate. These vendors play on volumes, hence they will lure you with ‘large databases’ which in fact would contain just a sliver of your target profiles, while the rest is junk.
b) Focusing on ‘Quality’: A superior quality database, even small, can make a big difference to your marketing efforts. Using a method of ‘Data Quality Scoring’ or ‘Lead Scoring’ can help you in segregating good data from bad, especially if you are using data from a secondary source or past records. This method, in layman terms, checks the rich-ness and relevance of each data-point (profile) on quality dimensions and assigns a score to each as a match against your business. The process, though quite tedious and intensive, can further help you in creating sub-profiles and plan your communication in a more customized, personalized manner, thus increasing the chances of higher conversions. If your business requires you to connect with HR Heads of organizations, a tool like LinkedIn Sales Navigator would be helpful in segregating specific profiles and creating Data Quality Scores basis their industry exposure, past experience, mutual connections and other key points that align most with your business.
c) Smart sourcing of database: It would be a smart decision to look towards like-minded businesses for database, rather than database vendors. Indian cities host a large number of trade exhibitions and events every year, and the number is growing steadily, like ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ ‘AceTech’, ‘Auto Expo’ et al. If you are targeting textile manufacturers, a good way to start would be to explore events and exhibitions firms who would have direct access to the manufacturers participating regularly in textile exhibitions.
A well-planned and executed campaign not only does complete justice to the efforts that you have put in towards procuring the database, it also helps immensely in generating entirely new database on its own. A good campaign would also get you a large number of both ‘Interested’ and ‘Eligible’ leads, which need to work in tandem for your campaign to be successful.
a. A good ‘Creative’ makes all the difference: A well-thought out creative catches people’s attention, and substantially increases the probability for him to respond or engage. I have experienced high responses to SMS campaigns (one of the cheapest marketing mediums as far as cost per unit is concerned) if the message tone and content looks ‘relevant’, ‘personalized’ and ‘urgent’. The same can happen in E-mailers which are otherwise expected to have extremely low open-rates. In the B2B space, there can often be a lack of credibility about your offering, due to low or non-existent brand awareness. One way of overcoming this is to adopt ‘Testimonials’ as one of your creative routes, where you show real life success cases for your offering. Needless to say, this needs to be portrayed in a different way than just a customer visual and quote. If you are using social media platforms, short but crisp videos should be able to garner more eyeballs and attention than just a photo or a static carousel ad.
b. Right ‘Offer’ and ‘Call to action’: If I want my communication to generate responses rather than just create awareness, there needs to be a strong offer with a call-to-action like ‘Call now’ or ‘Sign up free’. An offer or promotion needs to be designed keeping in mind customer insights and learnings from the category. Most often, the ‘carrots’ that work are based on either ‘Greed’, ‘Urgency’ or ‘Discount’. Example: Hurry, first 50 registrations will get a 5 year free subscription to Harvard Business Review magazine! Or ‘Get 50% off on Processing fee if you apply for a loan by 23-Aug!’
c. Customization & Personalization: While the profile of your target customers looks quite homogenous at first glance, there would be more than what meets the eye. Every broad profile is possible to be sub-grouped into micro-profiles in marketing. For example, restaurants can be of various kinds – Fine dining, Udupi, Snack bars, fast food stalls etc. The profiles of owners of each of these would also be quite different. Hence if your database allows you further segregation in terms of the information available, you should definitely try to customize your creative, communication, channel and offer targeting each sub-group. A fine-dining restaurant owner is likely to be more internet-savvy hence SEM and other advanced digital marketing tools might work for him, while for a Udipi owner the best way to reach might be through a Mobile SMS or an automated Voice message.
d. Choose the right medium: Understanding the exposure and relevance of marketing channels for your target audience can be a key deciding factor for the success of your efforts. There are various mediums to choose from in B2B marketing, right from participation in exhibitions or trade shows to direct communication through mobile or digital channels. The first task is to identify and evaluate every medium available and then narrow down on the ones that look most beneficial in terms of cost per reach / response / conversion whichever your ultimate goal might be. It however, might pay to adopt more than just one channel to communicate to each segment. There are some unconventional mediums that an increasing number of smart B2B marketers are using, like a large color display ad insertion in the business classifieds section of a popular daily. This is high value-for-money as it is targeted towards the relevant business community while ensuring a much lower cost over the mainline section of the publication.
e. Execution to the T: The proof of all your planning, database collection and other efforts boil down finally to the execution of the campaign. This must be handled by a professional if you have the budget to hire one, otherwise just stick to a few channels for execution which you can handle on your own, with a bit of external help. Both Mobile and Digital channels are somewhat manageable with a bit of time & effort. It is best to execute traditional or on-ground initiatives through an external agency, who would not only be experienced, but also be cost effective due their economies of scale. An important part of the execution is to monitor the performance with pin-pointed precision and take corrective actions whenever necessary, in order to optimize the campaign. Platforms like Facebook ads, LinkedIn, Instagram are quite easy to use and can be tweaked and fine-tuned in almost real time.