Monday, September 26, 2005

B2B activity *NOT* worth doing

I have two posts that talk about what cost effective activities are worth doing for B2B companies. In this one, I am going to talk about some of the activities that most small B2B companies should NOT do as they are usually not cost effective.

One thing that is often asked about is whether branding activities should be done, and for many people that means the look and feel of literature, website, logos, etc. In reality, branding is much more than a logo or a slogan, but is made up of all impressions which a prospective customer has of your business and product. This includes phone calls, whether the product worked or broke down, etc., along with all the slogans and logos.

For small companies, the focus should be on providing products and services that provide a high level of value to your customers, and it will be based on this as to how your brand will be perceived. Have the product your customer needs, don't make them jump through hoops to be able to order it from you, etc. is what I am talking about.

It would be nice if you had the money to make new logos, update all the literature and web, etc., but this is generally not the best place for small companies to spend their limited resources.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Other B2B marketing activities to do first

In a prior post, I talked about how direct sales is often the most cost effective first step a B2B company should take. In this posting, I will talk about other cost effective marketing programs that young companies could consider.

Once you have the basics (sales literature, pricing, web site, etc.) in place, using press releases, by-line articles, speaking opportunities, and direct mail are the marketing steps you may want to consider.

Press Releases
An easy and inexpensive method for simple marketing is to submit press releases. Many magazines and newspapers have New Products or News sections, and are always looking for pertinent items to list there. Company press releases are one way that they get information to fill these sections.

There is a format that you should follow to write a press release, which is explained in many areas online. More important to that is using pertinent content – you must write the press release so that it is relevant to their readers, or they will not run it.

On submitting your press release, one method is to use a service like PR-Web. Even though it is generally not all that effective, because it is simple and inexpensive, it is probably worth doing. To get the press release published in more media, you would want to also send individualized press releases to the key media for your product. For example, I sent a set of press releases out for the staffing software product. For the media that outside recruiters read, I focused on the benefits of the product for recruiters. For those serving hiring managers within companies, I sent one that focused on how it helped fulfill a hiring manager’s needs. And for local business magazines and newspapers, I focused on the company being local.

By-Line Articles
By-line articles get their name from the “Written By” section of the article, which talks about who the author is. These articles are written by you, and at the end there will be a brief summary of who you are and who you work for. By writing articles, you both become perceived as an expert in the field, and also get some publicity for your products and company.

In order for an article to be published, it must be of interest and benefit to the readers of the magazine. This means the article can’t be overt sales pitches. Two basic types of articles are often published - technology review and case studies.

Technology review articles are kind of like white papers, but in article format. For the recruiting software company, I was able to get an article published that talked about the technology used and how people could actually implement that method by themselves (without using the company’s software). This may sound like you are giving away your crown jewels, but it would cost the user much more in time and effort to do by hand what the software could do, so in reality it was a good marketing piece.

Case studies are articles that review a particular case about how someone solved some problem of interest to others. An example would be why a company chose a particular asset management software - what the problem was they wanted to solve, what options they considered, why they chose the option they did, what it was like to implement, and results. One note – case studies are often better to have written by someone outside of the firm providing the product, as the article may seem less believable if the person writing it benefits from what was written about.

Articles have an added benefit in that once they are published, you can then get reprints of the article to use as additional literature.

Speaking Opportunities
For many products, you can use speaking opportunities as a way to spread the word. Speaking events include teaching classes in your subject, being speakers or panel members for associations in your target area, and the like. Basically, you are using some other organization to bring together people who might be interested in what you have to say. In return, you need to provide interesting and informative content for them (not a sales pitch). Good content for speaking is often the same as good material for by-line articles.

Direct Mail
Press releases, articles, and speaking opportunities are cost effective ways to inform the market of your product, but they are not good at asking for the sale. It would be nice if people hear of your product and automatically buy it, but the reality is that more is needed to close the sale.

The next step for many products, direct mail, is a good medium to start closing the sale. The basic method is that you come up with a list of names to mail to, a letter or literature to mail, and put it all together to send out either as email or printed mail.

The names you send to are generally either produced internally or bought from an external source. Internally, you will be given some of these names as responses to your press releases or through collecting names and business cards at networking events. Or you can buy these names from any one of the many list brokers. If you do go the route of buying names, it is worth the extra cost per name to have a reputable list broker sort the list to just the contacts that would most likely be interested in your offer.

What to send is impacted by how many pieces you plan to send. If you are sending many thousands, making a custom direct mail piece just for that program may make sense. But for smaller quantities, usually you send a custom letter, a piece of literature (like a data sheet), and perhaps a relevant article reprint (you did write articles, didn’t you?). As with the press release, what you say and what collateral you include must be relevant to the recipient. For the staffing product, I had had a different letter for the recruiting agencies than what I would send to the corporate HR recipients – each letter detailing what is important to that target market.

Email or Printed Mail?
There definitely are cost advantages to email, but the open rates are much lower. And email has additional laws (CAN-SPAM, EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, etc.) that you must follow, and even if you follow them, recipients can still feel like you are spamming them. In the end, the cost benefit of email is offset by the negative, such that email often ends up with an ROI that is comparable to printed postal mail. Given this, you shouldn't rule out sending postal mail.

Closing the Sale
Beyond these, you need to go back to doing Direct Sales. Follow up with the people who have contacted you, or those you sent direct mail to, and work on finding their level of interest, overcoming any objections they may have, and closing the sale. This can be done either by someone within your company or by finding a channel partner (VAR, distributor, rep, etc.).