Generate More Leads
A SmartSearch Marketing White Paper
Proven methods to generate more B2B leads — at every stage of the B2B sales cycle
Organizations that nurture their leads experience a 45% increase in lead generation compared with organizations that don’t.
For most business-to-business (B2B) marketers, mastering the complex sales cycle is essential to your business success. You need prospects to turn into quality leads, and for leads to become loyal customers. But how do you achieve this goal when the B2B sales cycle is complex and lengthy, often lasting 6 - 12 months? With economic downturns, growing competition and a renewed focus on the bottom line, how do you meet your company’s strategic goals while keeping today’s web searchers — with their short attention spans — engaged at every step of the B2B complex sales cycle?
More Leads = More Customers
About This Guide
In this guide, we’ll provide the tools and tips you need to be successful — and reach your prospects — at every stage of the B2B complex sales buying cycle.
We’ll show you how to:
• Master the four stages of the B2B complex sales cycle
• Keep your prospects engaged at every step of the B2B complex sales cycle • Match content to the buyer at each stage of the sales cycle
• Where to focus your team’s efforts
• How to integrate social media into your lead generation strategy • How to nurture the sale — after you’ve won the deal
The Challenge of Lead GenerationYou’re not alone in this challenge. Marketing Sherpa’s 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report found a top challenge for B2B marketers is generating a sufficient volume of high-quality leads. A telling 80% of B2B marketers indicated they struggle with generating high-quality leads, while 62% said they face challenges in generating a significant volume of leads.
In addition, Marketing Sherpa’s report summarized that 55% of large B2B companies say that lead nurturing is their most challenging aspect of the sales cycle. According to Marketing Sherpa’s findings, organizations that nurture their leads experience a 45% increase in lead generation compared with organizations that don’t. In order to successfully manage the B2B complex sales cycle, you must understand how to retain and nurture leads at every stage. You must understand who is searching — for what information and why — in order to deliver the content they’re looking for at the very moment they need it.
Characteristics of B2B Complex Sales Cycle
• Complex products or services • High-consideration purchases
• Important emotional or expensive products • Long research cycle
• Multiple buyers and influences involved • Delayed Purchases
• Negotiation and/or purchases occur offline
8 days - month 17% 2 - 7 days 13% 1 -3 months 27% 4 - 6 months 16% 1 - 12 months 11% More than 1 year 11% Less than 1 day 7% 1 day 3%
Source: © 2012 MarketingSherpa Lead Generation Benchmark Survey Methodology: Fielded January 2012, N=1,1915
You must communicate at every stage of the sales cycle
Mastering the B2B Complex Sales Cycle
Let’s face it: The B2B sales cycle can be long, very long. Since most B2B buyers make high-cost and high-consideration purchases, it takes time to get purchase decisions through the corporate maze. This means B2B marketers must remain motivated and engaged throughout the entire buying cycle to ensure they find, nurture, win, and ultimately keep a customer.
Marketing Sherpa’s 2012 Lead Generation Benchmark Report shows that 17% of B2B marketers experience sales cycles from 7-12 months, while 16% report a 4-6 months sales cycle. The good news: when managed effectively, a lengthy sales cycle can create a “predictable and reliable revenue stream.”
Complex Sales: A Matter of Time
Managing the Complex
For B2B marketers in complex sales, you must develop a plan to engage a prospect at each of the four stages of the cycle, from first touch to closed deal. Your company must be present, from the first inkling of ‘we need a solution’ to the final decision and delivery of your product or service. You must communicate effectively with every person and every influencer, at every stage of the sales cycle.
4Awareness Research Negotiation Purchase Manager Executive C-level/Purchaser
B2B Complex Sales Stages Matched to Target Searcher
B2B Complex Sales Stages Matched to Buyer Needs Awareness Research Negotiation Purchase Independent Investigation of Opportunity Solidfy Facts. Formulize Needs. Identify Vendors. Vendor Evaluation Vendor Selection and Contract Searcher demographics can vary from industry to industry, so it’s a good idea to ask for job title information in your forms
The Four Stages of B2B Complex Sales Cycle
B2B Complex Sales Cycle Searchers and Buyers
You’ll also need to understand the B2B searcher and buyer at all stages of the B2B complex sales cycle. The job title and demographic of your searcher is valuable intelligence, as it can help you craft effective calls-to-action and develop marketing tools based on the job level, education and needs of your searchers.
As a B2B marketer, you’ll need to understand every stage of the B2B sales cycle in order to meet your prospect there, provide relevant content, and stay in front of your prospect’s needs. Understanding the four stages of the B2B sales cycle —
Awareness, Research, Negotiation, and Purchase — will help you deliver the right content at the right time — ensuring you’re a top contender until the sale is made.
Typically, early stage searches begin with general, short phrases of two or three words
At each stage of the B2B complex sales cycle, your buyer becomes more sophisticated. In the initial or research phase, entry-level employees or interns may conduct the online search to compile general information on a product. As the sales cycle progresses, the search is managed by higher-level, more experienced employees looking to streamline the list of possible vendors and make a purchase. Therefore, your late-cycle marketing assets need to be increasingly sophisticated. Ensure your marketing assets match the searcher profile at every stage.
Sales Cycle SEO and Keywords
Because both searchers and their searches evolve through the sales cycle, you’ll want to create a keyword strategy tailored to each stage. Typically, early stage searches begin with general, short phrases of two or three words. As the cycle progresses, the keywords often change to multi-word, detailed “long tail” keyword phrases to help produce more targeted search results.
During Stage 1, provide content without asking anything in return. You’ll see more website traffic and quickly position your company as a thought leader.
How CMOs improve Lead Generation ROI • Improve Use of CRM
• Quicker initial contact with customer • Elimination of print media spending • Focus on Quality
• Implement and integrate lead tracking system • Measure and refine
Reach Prospects Early
in the Buying CycleIt’s early in your prospects’ buying cycle — it’s important to reach your buyers now. During Stage 1, Awareness, the hunt for a new product or service begins. At this stage, searchers look to develop a short list of vendors —
you want to make sure your company is on that list. Your potential customer has a problem, and needs a solution. The search often begins online by an intern, researcher, or entry-level employee assigned with finding baseline information about prospective companies that can provide a solution. There is no need to engage with a sales person at this point. While an executive may initially identify the need, the preliminary research will likely be delegated as a fact-finding mission. Before compiling a list of vendors, the researcher will scan through the wealth of information available online including company reviews and reputation, product and services offered, team members, and social media.
Provide Helpful, Expert Advice
The key at this stage of the sales cycle is to provide helpful, expert advice — on a regular basis. Make sure you establish your presence, consistently and broadly, on multiple websites, in particular in places frequented by potential clients. Think of your marketing efforts literally as providing a valuable service to your prospects: Marketing as a Service. When measuring your return on investment in marketing, it’s essential to measure the value of each stage. Frequently, too little value is placed on early stage, too much on late stage. But brand building and site visits in the early stage often plant the seeds for end sales.
A good strategy during this stage is to give away information — both on-site and off-site — without requiring searchers’ contact information. You can ask for information, but do so without requiring it. During initial searches, your potential customers will be averse to giving out their email address or contact info. The average person receives more than 7,000 advertising impressions per day — and they don’t want more!
Give away just enough useful information to position your company as the leading expert in your field, while incenting the searcher to return to your website — at stage 2 — for even more compelling information.
7Blogs Videos White Papers Print Magazines Print Newsletters eBooks 2011 2010 65% 52% 51% 31% 20% 16% 9% 41% 43% 42% 25%
Differences in Content Marketing Usage ( By Tactic)
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 51% Social Media News Release Guest Articles Blog
Website Your Calling Card Thought Leader Third Party Validation Brand Presence
Tailor Your Content to the Buying Stage
Content is key for success at each stage of the B2B Complex Sales Cycle — content that wows the reader and presents your company as a trusted expert.
According to B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, on average, marketers use eight content marketing tactics to achieve their marketing goals including article posting, social media, blogs, e-News, case studies and events. Develop a content strategy to manage as well as to create new content.
B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends
Stage 1 Marketing Tools:
Use these marketing tools to provide relevant and compelling content during Stage 1:
8Track your results to see what’s working and where to make
improvements to better reach your target audience — and make the sale!
Increase your conversions: Offer more than one call to action such as a white paper download and newsletter sign up.
Website: The Modern Calling CardYour corporate website is most likely the first stop for most B2B buyers. It’s the modern calling card used to introduce your company to the world. You’ll want to ensure your website message and services target your potential audience. Provide overview and concrete information, customer testimonials, and information about company leadership. Also, offer free thought leadership assets such as webcasts and whitepapers, to prompt the researcher with enough data to include your company on the short list of potential vendors.
Your Corporate Blog –
Be a Thought Leader
A corporate blog provides an opportunity for you to provide thought leadership outside the
scope of your main website. Your corporate blog can focus on an endless list of topics all designed to position you as a thought leader and trendsetter of your industry. From tips and advice, to commentary on industry topics
and current events, your blog provides limitless opportunities to hook the buyer.
The more valuable your content is, the more inspiration you’ll provide to visitors to return to your blog — and your corporate site — on a regular basis to see what’s new, and to discover information to help them do their job better.
Plus, fresh content is key to improving search engine rankings. The fresher the content, the better the rankings. The more often you update and add content, the better you’ll do with search engines – and prospects.
Guest Articles – Third Party Validation
Consider publishing articles written about your industry but by experts in your field, rather than your staff. You can offer content that’s similar to that on your corporate website or blog, but the articles are hosted off-site rather than on your corporate site. This is a valuable method for creating third-party credibility for your product or service. Ideally, your guest articles are hosted on authoritative sites that link back to your site – which helps improve SEO rankings.
Many websites — especially industry or trade sites — are starved for content, and welcome well-written, informative articles authored by out-of-house experts. The more useful information you provide, and the more third-party websites will publish it, the more you’ll entrench your brand name across the Internet.
On LinkenIn, focus on posting in groups frequented by potential customers rather than your industry
News Release – Brand Presence
The news release is one of the most effective ways to drive brand awareness and thought leadership. Your news release can announce almost anything about your company including a new product launch, an award your company has won, events you attend or speak at, and new industry experts you’ve added to your staff.
Your news release will be distributed across the web, increase your SEO rankings, and provide journalists and analysts with information about your company — helping to build brand awareness. It also shows perspective buyers you’re vibrant, engaged, and providing thought leadership in your industry. It shows them that your business is a serious contender.
Social Media – More Than Just Friends
In the past, marketing was brand-to-consumer. Today, it’s increasingly peer-to-peer: people want to hear from their peers about why they should — or shouldn’t — buy a particular brand. In the last 12 months, use of social media by B2B companies has increased an average of 20%. Position your company as an influencer. That’s the main reason why, even in complex B2B sales, social media plays a key role. Your company will need an intelligent, professional strategy for social media to influence your rankings among search engines. Bing, for example, publicly declared that it relies increasingly on Facebook and other so-called ‘social signals’ to deliver rankings. But don’t wing it on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter with great expectations — only to experience underwhelming results. The key to success: avoid lumping social media into a single group, and understand the unique value proposition of each.
The foremost social media platform for B2Bers, LinkedIn has 175 million members in over 200 countries and territories — and adds two new members per second. You need to make sure your company is capitalizing on this audience by being present. You must share ideas, post links to blogs and articles, join LinkedIn groups frequented by customers and potential prospects (or create one of your own), and promote your business.
With more than 900,000,000 users, Facebook is an exciting daily stopping point for users. The problem: prospects seeking an esoteric $1 million B2B purchase are unlikely to post an information request on Facebook, which is more of a personal and social website.
B2B marketers should think of Twitter as a headline generator. Some large
companies – including divisions of Fortune 500 companies – delegate their Twitter account to young new hires, who tweet about travel, music, and…drinking. Don’t do this. Your goal with Twitter should be to publish compelling, intriguing headlines that drive visitors to your website to read the actual article. Using Twitter in an informed, professional manner will help build the value of your brand.
The more compelling the information you provide, the more likely prospects will offer their contact information to you.
Stage 2 Tools and How Each Influences Your Buyer
White Paper Case Study Web Cast
e-News Expert Advice Industry Teacher
Third Party Validation Thought Leader
Stage 2: Research
In Stage 1, you built awareness about your brand. You posted expert advice — on a regular basis — on multiple websites, especially in places frequented by potential clients. Now it’s time to up the ante. In Stage 2, Research, you’ll offer more
valuable content in exchange for a prospect’s contact information – gaining quality leads. The more compelling the information you provide, the more likely prospects will offer their contact information to you.
It’s essential that you ask for as much information as necessary to move the prospect to the next stage, but as little as possible to ensure the prospect feels he/she has the
time needed to complete the form. Studies show that asking for less information, such as only name and email address, leads to higher conversion rates and therefore increased leads.
It’s great that you’ve captured the contact information. But remember the key to web marketing is building trust. So live up to your promise, and provide an asset filled with unique, valuable, expert information.
Stage 2 Marketing Tools:
As your leads move to the Research phase, use the marketing tools below to provide relevant, and compelling content:
More Compelling ContentYour potential customers need a solution, and they’re seeking information on what to look for — and what to avoid — in a product or service. During Stage 2, you should provide more detailed and more valuable information to your potential customers such as a white paper solving a specific issue, a webcast featuring your staff expert, or a customer case study demonstrating a client’s challenge and success.
Make sure you deliver a quality product: your free download will reflect the quality of your brand and your product
It’s important that you invest time and resources to create a useful guide that solves a common problem your customers have. Avoid repurposing some dull FAQ from years ago. Act is if you’re publishing a book. Aspire to create something so valuable that you could charge money for it – but you give it away in exchange for contact information.
Quality Counts – In return for a download, you’ve likely received your web visitor’s contact information. But don’t slack off. You need to deliver a quality download: your white paper will reflect the quality of your brand and product.
Get Organized – People increasingly read by skimming. Use plenty of headlines, bullet points, bolded text, etc., for quick navigation and easy reading. Have a clear index and table of contents, repeated throughout document.
Peer-to-Peer – Increasingly, the most effective marketing is peer-to-peer. Get insights, comments and quotes from your customers or other client peers, rather than just your in-house experts.
Get Graphic – Downloads are like free publishing: there’s no printing cost. So be sure to use colors, photos, graphics and more. A highly visual look is an excellent way to increase engagement and effectiveness.
Call to Action – The web visitor has downloaded your white paper. Now what? Be sure to have a clear call-to-action and links, embedded throughout the document.
Case studies should provide information on generalities and best practices. It’s best to focus on general tips to help your leads increase their sales and cut costs, rather than aggressively pitching your brand. Your case study might focus on how Acme Co. (which happens to be your client) slashed data storage costs by 17% by moving to cloud storage.
Remember, the visitor is still in the research phase. If your case study is a heavy-handed sales pitch for your brand, the value is lost and the potential customer will move on.
In the Research stage, the great value of webcast is that potential clients can ask and receive expert answers that will help with their research. It’s essential that a) your presenters are industry experts, and b) the webcast is interactive and allows plenty of opportunity to ask questions.
Webcasts present an opportunity for your company to position itself as an industry expert. An expert authority that is knowledgeable, eloquent, and cheerfully provides expert answers will go a long way toward building this trust.
Extra, Extra! – e-News Tips
Open and Click – An email newsletter has two main metrics for success: open rate and click through. First, your recipients need to open your email. Then they need to click on the desired action.
Subject Line – The #1 factor for a successful email is your subject line. Make it short, dynamic, attention grabbing – and honest. Best practices continually evolve: stay up to date and continuously test different
Give Choices – The goal of most emails is to get recipients to click through to your site. So give them multiple reasons to click through. While you should have a clear, primary call to action, offering additional links can increase your click-through rate.
Now What? – The recipient is on your website, now what? Every landing page should have a clear and specific goal, usually in the top right corner. Know what you want your visitor to do next, and escalate to the next level of engagement. When a visitor gets to your landing page they must instantly know a) where they are, b) what they are supposed to do, and c) why they should do it (what’s in it for them).
Measure and Grow – That which is measured, usually grows. Track your opens, clicks, and on-site conversion. Continuously test, learn from each campaign, and always grow.
Publish tips and advice on doing something better — something you happen to be an expert on.
Publish a regular news email to be delivered on a subscription basis to prospects and customers alike. Keep the sales pitch out of the e-News, and instead publish tips and advice on doing something better – something that you happen to be the expert
on. Your company gains followers, and you further your company’s reputation as a thought leader.
Knowledge Centers are powerful tools for creating stickiness on your website. You can boost traffic — and increase the length of site visits — with tips, tutorials, best practices and more. The more visitors you have, and the longer their average site visit, the more likely you’ll convert them to leads.
One method to create an engaging knowledge center on your website is with video. YouTube is the third most popular site on the planet, and roughly 25% of Internet users worldwide visit YouTube — every single day! People like to watch. Informational videos are low-cost and easy to produce, and could give you a powerful marketing advantage.
Buyer’s Guide Audit
Free Trial Experience the Product Understand the Product Sample the Product Product Specifics
Create a list of how your products are superior to your competitor’s products
Stage 3: Negotiation
Once you get to Stage 3, Negotiation, searchers have narrowed their selection of products and services and are comparing features, benefits and pricing to choose a new vendor.
During Stage 3, you should provide concrete content to guide a buyer to a final decision to purchase your product. You should provide content that helps to close a deal by answering all questions and removing all ambiguity — and competitors — from the equation, leaving your company, products, and services as the sole contender.
Stage 3 Marketing Tools:
Your leads know they have a challenge to solve and a need to fill, and they’ve researched various solutions and providers. Now it’s a matter of choosing the ideal vendor. Use this short list of marketing tools to close the deal:
Stage 3 Tools and How Each Influences Your Potential Customer
While you’re an expert in your industry, your lead likely is not. Therefore, your prospects will be seeking how-to information or a buyer’s guide to review comparative product information, features, pricing and more. Provide unbiased information to increase reads and shares among your prospects, their team and executives. If the guide’s goal is solely to sell your brand, the customer is more likely to move on. Useful information will provide more traction than a sales pitch.
You might create a list of how your product and service is superior to your competitors’, and situations in which another brand might be a superior choice. This will convey a sense of honesty and build trust. Think of features and
Demos allow you to meet your prosects in person and understand their unique challenges
benefits, buyer regret (especially with competing brands), and anything that a buyer needs to know about making the best decision regarding purchasing a product in your industry.
Complimentary audits performed to analyze a prospect’s problem or challenge — delivered with a few ‘teaser’ techniques on how to solve each — may land you the deal. If a prospect can see your team in action, what you offer, and understand what it will be like working with you, then the business may be yours. Make sure you are highly responsive during this phase, as prospects are likely requesting audits from your competitors as well.
Offer free product demos to ensure your prospects have a grasp on what you offer. Demos allow you to meet your prospects in person, understand their unique challenges, and answer all remaining product and company questions. You’ll also better understand where your prospects are in the decision-making process and how close they are to closing the deal.
Although not applicable to all products and services, free product trials can help automatically close a deal. A thirty-day free trial can convince a buyer to convert a free trial into a paid subscription with a monthly or yearly contract. Using the product allows your prospect to experience the features and benefits you’ve been touting. Also, if the customer starts a project or enters data as part of the free trial, they are most likely hooked and do not want to re-enter the data, or start the project again, on a competitor’s product.
Publish tips and advice on doing business better — choose a topic where you have expertise. Stage 4 Tools and How Each Influences Your Buyer
In-person Meetings Monthly Reports
Social Media Keep the Conversation Going
Deliver / Show Success Build the Relationship Share the Knowledge - Get Social
Solidify your Reputation
Publish a monthly news email to be delivered on a subscription basis to prospects and customers alike. Publish tips and advice on doing business better – something that your company has expertise in. You’ll gain
followers, and further your company’s reputation as a thought leader. You can also include a summary of current events at your company, such as a list of events, new customers, new employees, and more.
Invite your customers to meet you at industry events — provide complimentary passes as an incentive. It’s a great way to catch up, gain social traction, and discuss topics key to your customers’ success. If you have the right fit, you can even ask key customers to co-present at important industry conferences.
Congratulations, the prospect purchased your product! Don’t pat yourself on the back for too long, as the real work has just begun. First, you’ll want to ensure you retain your new customer. Second, customer retention provides increased opportunities to continue to sell additional products and services to your customer.
Stage 4 Marketing Tools:
Many of the assets we’ve explored can be useful in staying front and center with your clients. These include, but are not limited to, e-News, events, in-person meetings, monthly reports, and social media.
Make sure you meet in person on a regular basis with your new customer to build your relationship, connect with C-level executives, and guarantee the continued success of your project.
Deliver regular monthly reports that provide an overview of project success and direction. Meet to ensure your customer understands the report, and that it provides the data they need to report to the C-level.
Social Media – More Than Just Friends
Continue your company’s social media strategy to influence your rankings among search engines, and to ensure your customers know you are active. Make sure you’re connected with your customers on LinkedIn, share articles and blog posts often, and keep your account profiles up to date.
For most business-to-business (B2B) marketers, understanding the long sales cycle is essential to business success. At every stage of the buyer’s search, your company must be present, offering quality content tailored to each stage of the sales cycle. Understanding the cycle, nurturing your leads, and maintaining customer relationships are the keys to success — and the secret to generating more profitable B2B leads.
Discover more expert tools for B2B Marketers at
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