Because interactive marketing is inherently more addressable and measurable, B2B shouldn't wait for further proof that online channels pay off. Marketers who fail to adopt these tactics will fall behind with the online buyer acquisition as competitors move ahead with more engaged prospects.
In an online sales environment that is both increasingly competitive and cluttered, business-to-business (B2B) marketers must be able to perform two critically important tasks:
- They must communicate a unique brand identity.
- They must be agile enough to quickly customize lead generation and communication programs to meet their measurable objectives.
These tasks can be especially challenging for small-to-medium-sized B2B firms, as well as for divisions of very large firms. Their sales and marketing organizations often have limited budgets, and their IT departments often are not attuned to marketing.
To meet these challenges, a growing number of firms are turning to sophisticated but low-cost and high-performance interactive technologies. The new solutions allow them to create effective yet affordable landing pages and microsites that can be customized, and they avoid the need to involve IT professionals who may be too busy with other corporate requirements.
Introduction: A Challenging Online Sales Environment
B2B marketers in the United States spent $972.4 billion on on-line outreach in 2006, a 4.1% increase from the year before.1 As a result, the online sales environment is not only intensely competitive but extremely cluttered. For example, with the email marketing industry spending $950 million on email campaigns in 2006, a 7.5% increase from the previous year, inboxes are more crowded than ever before.2 Recent research by Akamai Technologies found 75% of customers surveyed would not return to Web sites that took longer than four seconds to load.3
To succeed, therefore, B2B marketers must set themselves apart from competitors in two related ways: They must establish a unique brand identity, and they must also be able to use interactive technology effectively. That is, they must be able to use the technology to attract prospects, convert prospects into qualified leads, and assist in making the sale.
In addition, one of the elements that sets B2B apart from business-to-consumer (B2C) or other marketing is time. It often requires more time for a B2B marketer to move a prospect along the sales funnel from searching for a vendor to agreeing on a contract. To succeed, B2B marketers have to be able to devote extended periods to nurturing a relationship with a prospective customer. Moreover, they must be able to provide tailored information and services to the customer throughout the lengthy lead management process.
Unfortunately, these requirements for success in the online sales environment can prove daunting for many B2B marketers.
Laura Ramos, a senior analyst who covers lead generation at Forrester Research, describes one of the challenges:
Often marketers work hard to fill the sales funnels with as many prospects as possible. In turn the sales department cherry-picks prospects it thinks are likely to close in the shortest possible time. The net result? Respondents who have longer purchasing horizons [and who often have the largest budgets] or need further information or education leak out of the funnel.4
Until recently, sustaining contact with prospects and providing them customized treatment throughout the lead management process required expensive technology and expertise. Many marketers have tended to rely on quick-sale customers because they lack the resources to meet the needs of those who demand more time.
Moreover, when the sales and marketing departments of smaller B2B marketers (and even some large ones) turned to their IT departments for help, they were often disappointed. They found that IT departments have sometimes been spread so thin that they could not provide sales and marketing departments the resources needed to respond quickly to customer needs. The IT departments are also unfamiliar with or uninterested in lead-management technology
As a result, large B2B marketers—armed with sizable budgets for lead-management technology, staff, and technical support—enjoyed significant advantages over their rivals.
The Emergence of New Tools
In recent years, the balance has shifted. Sophisticated new interactive technologies have emerged that are helping small-to-medium-sized B2B firms and divisions of very large firms meet the challenges of the current online sales environment. In particular, new solutions are allowing B2B marketers to use two powerful interactive tactics—landing pages and microsites—to generate leads and convert them into sales.
Microsites are page groups of personalized content that marketers can add to Web sites. As a recent report by Forrester Research notes, they allow "B2B marketers [to] target specific product features or offers to unique buyer segments."5
Landing pages and microsites can play a pivotal role in reaching prospects, promoting a B2B marketer's brand awareness, and managing leads in the following ways:
- Promoting brand identity. The most successful landing pages and microsites are an extension of the company's unique brand identity. They resemble the company's main Web site in layout and design.
- Gathering information. Effective landing pages and microsites make it very easy for prospects to supply qualifying information. At the same time, landing pages and microsites can convey the message that any information the marketer asks for is needed solely to better understand and meet the needs of the prospect.
- Providing crucial information. The best landing pages and microsites provide leads with information that is directly relevant to their specific needs. In addition, the data gathered by landing pages and microsites can be used to create personalized marketing collateral, such as personalized URLs (PURLs). That personalized collateral can be used in direct mail, email, and other marketing tools.
Using landing pages and microsites does not, of course, guarantee success. Success depends on speed, customization, and sustainability. The most effective B2B marketers are able to change their landing pages and microsites quickly to respond to the changing needs of individual customers and the changing contours of marketplace.
Successful marketers can customize landing pages and microsites, using the data they gather to tailor that information to the needs of specific prospects. Moreover, they can use landing pages and microsites to sustain the kind of long-term relationship with a prospect that is often needed to complete a sale.
Opportunities for B2B Marketers
Increasing numbers of marketers are exploring landing pages and microsites because new software solutions have made them affordable and agile. A recent survey by Forrester Research found that more than half the respondents "are using or piloting microsites aided by technologies, from companies like iNeoMarketing [now PluraPage] and Relevant Works, which help B2B marketers publish buyer-friendly mini-sites without specialized Web skills or information technology (IT) intervention."6
These new solutions provide B2B marketers with the following:
- IT independence. The technologies give marketers the ability to create microsites and landing pages without a database administrator, a Web master, or IT support or resources.
- Better response rates. Experience shows that effective landing pages can increase response rates up to 40%.
- Instantaneous live sites and URLs. The technologies give marketers the ability to create new and updated sites and pages and make them immediately available for use.
- CRM integration. The technologies allow marketers to create personalized microsites driven by the data stored in their customer relationship management solutions.
- Response-to-close insight. Microsites and landing pages can incorporate and track responses with the reporting tools already in a marketer's CRM solution.
- Data entry and duplicate elimination. The technologies allow marketers to add new leads or append preexisting contact records.
- Consistent brand use. Microsites and landing pages enable marketers to maintain domain identity, as well as a consistent campaign and Web site look and feel.
- An affordable solution. The technologies usually have incremental campaign costs, because they are offered under a pay-for-conversion pricing model.
TFC, Inc. is a northern-California-based provider of specialty marketing services that executes one-to-one marketing and customer communications programs. Its client base ranges from Fortune 1,000 to medium-sized companies, with typical annual client spend of about $750,000. Given the size of TFC clients, the sales cycle for new business is usually long and complex. Sales depend on precise, highly personalized outreach.
TFC's marketing director is responsible for creating a large corporate imprint for the firm. Recently, she planned a campaign to promote a valuable research report through an email outreach program and a postcard direct-mail follow-up. The campaign resulted in an above average response rate of 0.7%.
The marketing director wanted to see whether she could get better results, so she adopted PluraPage Landing Pages solution, combining it with Vertical Response. PluraPage enabled her, working as a team of one, to mass-produce highly personalized landing pages for target customers.
By incorporating PURLs into emails and direct mailings, TFC more than doubled its initial response rate from 0.7% to 1.8%. Moreover, all responses were directly input into Salesforce.
It seems clear that to succeed in an intensely competitive and increasingly cluttered online market small-to-medium-sized B2B firms and divisions of very large firms should explore the new technologies that support landing pages and microsites.
To do so, marketers should ...
- Analyze the market and the competition.
- Define your position in the market and your goals.
- Analyze the relationship between your IT department and your sales/marketing organizations.
- Interview technology solution vendors.
- Test-drive technology solutions.
- Pilot a marketing and lead management program that uses landing pages and microsites.
1 EmailLabs, "Email Marketing Statistics and Metrics"
2 April 2, 2007, B-to-B Magazine "Increased ad budgets, new media services drive agency growth"
3 Extended Retail Solutions, "What's Hot on the Web"
4 October 4, 2006, Forrester Research, "Improving B2B Lead Management "Use Forrester's Maturity Model To Upgrade Lead Management Processes
5 July 19, 2007, Forrester Research, "B2B Marketers Dip A Toe Into Emerging Tactics" Further Adoption Hinges On Evidence Of Customer Use And Peer Success