I’m often asked what the formula is for generating inbound leads for B2B tech companies. In other words, what are the most effective marketing activities that will generate a steady flow of qualified leads for a company’s sales team to pursue and close?
The answer almost always varies based on what you sell, who you sell it to and where the customers are located. But if I had to choose five marketing activities to generate a consistent flow of leads then it would be these:
The rise of social media was supposed to have signaled the death of email. And yet here we are in 2017 and email still leads the marketing pack. A 2016 study by the Direct Marketing Association and Demand Metric found that Email has a median ROI of 122%, more than social media, paid search, direct mail and online display ads combined. Email has a median ROI of 122%, more than social media, paid search, direct mail and online display ads combined. What’s more, average email open rates reached 28.8% in 2016, the highest level in the past six years, while click-through rates reached a three-year high at 5.8%.
And why shouldn’t email still rule them all? It’s a direct form of communication that reaches the buyer’s inbox, which explains why prospects and customers tend to respond to it more frequently than any other marketing activity, including social media.
Email marketing is an amazingly versatile format, thanks in large part to robust marketing automation tools like Hubspot, Pardot and Eloqua. You can send all manner of promotional emails full of graphics, and even videos, to elicit a purchase decision or spur event sign-ups. Informational emails like newsletters and company updates are perfect for drip marketing and keeping your brand top-of-mind among your customers and prospects. Simple emails sent by a key executive about a new feature or company milestone help foster a deeper relationship with your audience that more promotional emails can’t.
Blogging is the undisputed backbone of a successful content marketing strategy. As long as you are diligent about writing, blogging will attract new and returning visitors to your website. How frequently you should blog is a subject of some debate, but few will argue that weekly posts are a minimum level if you hope to build a following and seed your social networks with original content.
Blogging will also cement your SEO strategy (more on that topic below) because you can contextualize the keywords your buyers use to research your product or service. Baking in deep links inside blog posts to other posts and pages on your website helps you achieve higher organic SERP (search engine results page) rankings, not to mention increased awareness of your company’s offerings.
You can also use your blog to establish thought leadership in your particular industry vertical. Writing ‘listicles’ (e.g., posts organized into an easy-to-read list) makes your blog accessible, shareable and easy-to-digest Blogs can also subtly prompt readers to seek additional content in the form of white papers and webinars — just about any call-to-action that will move them farther down the sales funnel.
Finally, a blog is a great way to put your brand personality on display and make yourself more memorable (see our past post about how to make your brand personality memorable). What often sticks out most in the minds of prospects is personality. Are you funny and irreverent or down-to-earth and relatable? A lot of your personality will depend upon which industry vertical your technology offering serves. For instance, many B2B fintech companies will adopt a more serious, professional tone because their financial customers have brands that are built upon core marketing concepts like stability, dependability and security. Because a blog is a constant stream of communications with an audience, it is second only to email marketing as a way to create lasting brand image and stay top-of-mind.
A top three organic search engine ranking for the keywords customers use to find your type of product or service is the Holy Grail of SEO. Why is it so important? Research done by Advanced Web Ranking, which compiles over 2 million keywords on nearly 60 thousand websites, shows that the top three listings in organic search for desktop account for roughly 50% of all click-throughs; the number drops to a still-respectable 47% for mobile devices.
A solid SEO strategy should combine a variety of activities: onsite blogging, contributed posts to other blogs with backlinks to your website, membership in industry alliances, contributed articles to industry media outlets, media mentions from any PR activities you plan to pursue, and more. It also includes ensuring your website is well optimized for the keywords you want to emphasize. Without the judicious use of these keywords on your website, the breadcrumbs you placed in other locations will fail to deliver the higher organic search rankings you seek.
Paid search is a mainstay of B2B tech lead generation, if only because it attracts click-throughs from prospects with purchase intent. That’s driven partly by your ability to use strong call-to-actions with terms like ‘buy,’ ‘cheap,’ ‘purchase,’ ‘sale,’ and ‘pricing.’ B2B marketers are particularly fond of paid search because it’s highly measurable, easy to A/B test and can be turned on and off as needed.
Paid search is not without its detractors, however. Because paid search at providers like Google and Bing involves making bids, the cost of some competitive keywords can become prohibitively expensive relative to the ROI potential of an investment. In other words, you can either be outbid by the competition or end up winning the click-throughs but see your paid search investment balloon.
Bottom-line: For B2B brands with deep pockets, paid search is still a preferred marketing activity as they can afford to outbid the competition and give up margin points to achieve a desired result like increased market share or hit a quarterly revenue goal. For all others, pursuing a long-tail keyword strategy (using a string of 3-4 keywords) may be the best option as you are more likely to get highly targeted results.
Offering a free webinar either monthly or quarterly gives prospects a chance to learn more about your products and services in the comfort of their own office without feeling like they are being ‘sold’ to. Webinars can cover all sorts of topics: general presentations of your company’s offering, features that accomplish a specific business requirement, analysis of industry trends, and much more.
A word of caution: Starting a webinar series is a long, slow process. Don’t expect many attendees at the start. Attendance will grow only if you stay in the game long enough for your audience to become aware of you and come to you as a source of quality content. You can help your cause by creating an editorial calendar for your webinars (or work them into your existing content marketing editorial calendar) to make the brainstorming and organizing process easier.
The icing on the cake? When promoting a webinar you can use your other top marketing activities above to drive attendance: email notifications, blogging and even paid search. The key is to use ALL of your marketing channels to drive awareness of your webinars, cast a wide net and haul in prospects with the highest probability of converting into qualified leads.