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August 29, 2008

Pushing Prospects through the Pipeline

A recent Marketing Sherpa report addresses lead nurturing best practices, and is a helpful update on how to best reach prospects once they've engaged with your content, but not independently returned to your site. By applying the practices outlined in Lead Nurturing Best Practices: New Data, Charts, Tips to Put More Punch in Your Cultivation Tactics, you can align your lead nurturing program with what's shown to be working industry-wide. In compiling this report, Marketing Sherpa partnered with Eloqua (a lead management & demand generation powerhouse) and On24 (a leader in the virtual event and webinar space), to survey over 1000 marketing professionals to learn about their lead nurturing methods.

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According to the report, lead generation isn't what's difficult - with the general thinking being that most lead generating companies already have plenty of leads, they just don't have plenty of sales ready leads. In order to deliver high-quality, sales-ready prospects to your sales team, you need to put your energies into nurturing your existing leads over the long term, and expect that it will take up to 24 months for some of your leads to turn into sales. To effectively nurture leads over the long term, your lead nurturing programs need to be elevated within your organization, and given the same kind of time and energy that's put into generating leads.

The Marketing Sherpa report touches on a few key concepts that I've examined and explained in further detail below:

Best Practice #1. Use multi-media touches to nurture leads

In order to effectively reach your prospects, you need to use more than email newsletters or triggered email messages to move leads through your sales pipeline. While email marketing is a tried-and-true method of nurturing leads, you need to do more. According to the report, a combination of email messages, direct mail, and telemarketing efforts works best when trying to segment your leads.

If you really want to reach people where it counts, you can look to telemarketing as a tool to help increase your brand awareness, determine where in the buying cycle prospects are, and offer educational materials to help further their awareness of your company, products and services. Direct mail is a great way to invite people to virtual and face-to-face events, and remind users of new content or marketing materials they might want to check out on your site. Email marketing is a good tool for drip-nurturing, and can be employed when you have a group of prospects that are actively involved in researching solutions, and want to nudged along with new content or new information related to your offerings.

Best Practice #2. Quick response to Web leads can maximize conversions

With our always-on world, it's no longer good enough to wait 24-hours before making contact with a new prospect. With so many competitors vying for the same sets of eyes, it's crucial that you cement your relationship with new leads inside of an hour (!). And according to the Marketing Sherpa data, "calls placed within five minutes of receiving a Web lead have the highest likelihood of making contact."

To achieve this kind of real-time responsiveness, you need to move toward automating your lead generation and reporting processes, so that leads land in your CRM system as soon as they're generated. And while moving from weekly lead reports to automated reporting processes might require an overhaul of your entire lead management practices, doing so may also significantly improve your overall sales.

Best Practice #3. Use a lead scoring system

Lead scoring is a great way to segment your leads and determine how best each prospect should be nurtured through the pipeline. By rating leads based on a series of filters, such as their location, their time frame for implementing a solution, or their role in the IT decision making process, you can place your leads in separate silos, and nurture each group according to their specific needs.

Scoring is also an effective way to separate the "wheat from the chaff," and figure out how long any given lead should require nurturing before they reach sales readiness. While some leads may enter your sales pipeline with low scores, you can develop strategies for nurturing those prospects and keep your pipeline full as each group of leads receives your messages and moves through the buying process.

By scoring leads, automating reporting so that leads are contacted immediately upon entering your CRM system, and nurturing your scored and segmented prospects with a variety of tools, you should be able to accelerate your sales as you continuously move leads through the pipeline.

You can learn more about Lead Nurturing by listening to this podcast from The Innovative Marketer, What is lead nurturing and why should you care?

August 22, 2008

Optimizing Organic Search Strategies

searching_revised.jpgWhile site subscribers are the bread-and-butter for all kinds of B2B organizations, building a strong subscriber base over time is essential to maintaining and growing your pool of leads over time. Organic Search, defined by SEO-Space is the "process by which web users find web sites by a keyword query and click on an unpaid search engine listing," and is increasingly being used by B2B marketers as an inexpensive and highly efficient method of building an audience using existing infrastructure (search tools like Google), and their own content.

When making a conscious effort to increase your search rankings and drive traffic to your site via organic search methods, it's important that you consider all of the different tactics required to create a successful strategy. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a relatively complex field, and implementing search tactics that work requires that you do more than simply tag your content with keywords. Search experts, such as the folks at Search Engine Land, have taken the time to compile a list of common mistakes made by marketers when attempting to optimize their sites to generate (unpaid) search traffic.

In their article, Six Mistakes B2B Marketers Continue To Make With Organic Search, Search Engine Land outlines the most common mistakes made in terms of getting a great organic search strategy up and running. With a focus on the mistakes of B2B marketers, Search Engine Land offers tips on how these generally tech-savvy organizations can get their organic search strategies straight. And while inadequate site architecture (which is difficult to correct if you don't have a site redesign planned) tops the list of errors, the other errors commonly associated with optimizing organic search can all be remedied without having to rip apart your entire site.

Inadequate Site Architecture - if you're trying to drive traffic to your website based on specific search terms, you need to make sure that there are landing pages on your site to increase traffic to your site, and "welcome" traffic once it lands. If you simply drive traffic to your site, without tagging specific pages for specific search terms, not only do you lose out on an opportunity to push your site up in the search rankings, but you also lose the ability to effectively track your visitors once they hit your site.

Lousy Meta Descriptions - according to the article, many B2B marketers fail to fill out their site meta descriptions, and when they do fill out meta tags, they often either leave the task to the IT department, or write tags that they understand, but which don't resonate with users. Instead of taking a casual attitude to crafting meta descriptions, it's important to consult with (or hire) someone who understands how to write meta descriptions and which descriptions will attract the most search traffic.

Not Analyzing Organic Landing Pages
- In order to successfully implement a search strategy, you need to make sure that your organic landing pages are attracting the appropriate traffic. It's important to analyze your organic landing pages for, "for all significant, ranking keywords," and ensure that any organic traffic is, in fact, landing on the pages you want them to land on!

Not Monitoring Analytics - While pay-per-click search results are generally analyzed at length, organic search results don't always get the same attention. To capture the effectiveness of organic search however, it's crucial that you look at all of the statistics related to your search campaign and analyze your traffic, where it originates from, its bounce rates and so on. By understanding the path that organic search traffic takes to your site, you gain a better understanding of how you can better attract more of it.

Failing to Optimize Printed Marketing Assets Before Converting them to the Web - Before starting a campaign that's heavy on white papers, case studies and technology briefs formated as PDFs, make sure you optimize those materials for search. While the casual web surfer might not click on a PDF link, a tech-savvy B2B buyer may be specifically searching for these types of materials, and will be more likely to click on them if they come up towards the top of their search.

Duplicate Title Tags and Meta Descriptions - If you haven't optimized your site content for search, chances are excellent that you have duplicate title tags and meta descriptions associated with your site. Because of this, your search rankings will be lower, and users won't necessarily be able to find your valuable content.

While these 6 common mistakes represent just the tip of the organic search iceberg, they present a good place to start when evaluating your organic search strategy. If you're interested in learning more about optimizing your site (and/or content) for search, you may want to visit Search Engine Guide, Search Engine Journal, SearchEngineWatch, or any of these other sites compiled by SearchRank.

August 13, 2008

Viral Video as a Brand Builder

I received an email recently with a link to a YouTube video that, once I'd checked it out, made me think differently about how viral video can be used to market or promote just about anything, regardless of its connection to the video's content.

In this video titled, "Where the Hell is Matt? (2008)," a young man named Matt dances in 42 countries on 7 continents, and with adults and children, various animals and even fish. He doesn't advertise anything in the video, conveys no obvious marketing messages, and is seemingly unconnected to anything other than himself. At the end of the video however, there is a brief message thanking Stride Gum for making the whole thing possible.

Wanting to know more, I went to both Matt's site, Where the Hell is Matt?, and to the Stride Gum site to find out how this gum company is connected to this dancing guy. It turns out that Matt made an initial dancing video several years ago, which was passed around the internet by friends and was eventually viewed by someone over at Stride Gum. According to Matt's website, Stride contacted Matt and asked if he wanted to travel around the world on their dime and make another dancing video.

From what I can tell, Matt isn't chewing gum in his videos, he doesn't talk about gum, and there's no pitch for viewers to go out and buy Stride Gum. Instead, Matt and Stride Gum have produced and released a really cool video that, according to the counter on YouTube, has been viewed 3,250,510 times! Of those 3 million plus viewers, there's no doubt that some of them watched the video and wanted to know how this dancing American and this gum company were connected.

By sponsoring this kind of video, Stride Gum took a leap of faith that the video would take on a life of its own on the internet, and that (at least in some instances), the company would gain some brand recognition once viewers got to the end and saw Stride listed as the sponsor. I'd never heard of Stride Gum until I watched the video; now I know the name, know what the company makes, and will look for the brand the next time I go to buy some gum.

Instead of trying to build their brand by forcing Matt to wear a Stride Gum tee-shirt, by making him chew gum and dance, or by having him shout the company's slogan (The Ridiculously Long Lasting Gum) at the end of the video, Stride Gum let Matt make a message-free video, and counted on the fact that people would want to know more about their company once they'd finished watching. In this instance, less is actually more, and Stride Gum wins by leaving the corporate message out of the viral video.

Other companies might try similar tactics in using video to promote their products. While it may seem risky to leave your message out of your marketing content, it could also pay off. If you're considering using viral video as a marketing tool, think about Stride Gum's strategy, and consider creating content that builds brand by making great videos that everyone wants to watch.