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Case Study: How a B2B Community Site Increased Lead Volume for Its Advertisers by 50%

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Company: ITtoolbox
Contact: George Krautzel, Cofounder and President
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
Industry: IT industry community/marketplace (B2B)
Annual revenue: $6,000,000
Number of employees: 50

Quick Read:

ITtoolbox was looking for a way to increase ROI on lead-generation campaigns for its 700 advertisers, among them such big guns as IBM, Microsoft, and Accenture. So ITtoolbox built its own contextual keyword engine, which provided a greater than 50% boost in lead volume and dramatically increased relevancy, boosting conversion rates for advertisers.

Background:

ITtoolbox was founded in 1998 with the goal of creating a community that empowered IT professionals to communicate with each other and build a vast best practices repository.


"IT is a knowledge-based industry," says George Krautzel, a cofounder and the president of the company. "Those with the knowledge have the power." The idea behind ITtoolbox was to enable a community of peers to collaboratively create a wide-ranging knowledge base. "We wanted to have people access this knowledge base," says Krautzel, and through word of mouth grow the community virally.

ITtoolbox also wanted to attract top advertisers by delivering a larger number of higher-quality, more targeted leads than contextual advertising on Google or Yahoo can provide.

For instance, advertisers can target community members who are discussing topics relevant to their products in knowledge bases, discussion groups, and blogs. Members subscribe to a pipeline of new whitepapers on their topics of interest and subscribe to whitepaper alerts.

To increase the quantity and quality of leads, ITtoolbox developed a contextual matching engine, a proprietary product that matches keywords in advertisers' whitepapers to online keywords created by the users themselves in discussion groups, blogs, and wikis, ensuring relevancy and driving lead fulfillment.

Industry-average abandonment on lead-generation forms is about 92%, according to Krautzel. "Our conversion rate from form entry to a quality lead is 35-40%. Because users participate in the creation and modification of the content, they are more engaged with it and focused on it, providing a trusting and powerful audience for advertisers," he says. "And they engage with advertisements because of their relevancy and because they understand we are sponsor-driven, which means they don't have to pay a subscription fee."

How the ITtoolbox community works:

The ITtoolbox platform integrates the following collaboration and community publishing tools:

  • Groups: More than 700 targeted discussion communities allow peers to ask and answer questions.

  • Blogs: A community publishing service where more than 300 prescreened professionals post IT news and knowledge from the front line and community members comment on the entries.

    ITtoolbox screens bloggers based on writing samples they submit. Bloggers agree to post two or three times a week to improve their chances of sustaining and building an audience. Readers can opt to get email alerts when there are new posts or subscribe to an RSS feed.

    To provide additional motivation for blog authors to build a strong readership and continually publish high-quality content, ITtoolbox offers a Blog Author Incentive Program: Popular authors can receive up to $400 a month in compensation and additional visibility such as homepage entries for each post in the "Entries from Popular Blogs" section.

    The blog section is the fastest-growing area of the site, Krautzel says. Overall site visits are up 40% in 2006, but blog pageviews are up an impressive 300%.

  • Wiki: An in-depth IT reference guide and instruction manual created by the community, including definitions, source code samples, FAQs, and How-Tos.

  • Knowledge Bases: Targeted Web sites that allow members of the IT community to interact with peers on topics of interest through the tools listed above. Communities include CRM, Developing and Integration, Networking and Infrastructure, Enterprise Back Office, Data Management, and IT Management and Trends.

ITtoolbox has 700 advertisers, including IBM, Microsoft, and Accenture. Advertisers run three main types of campaigns on ITtoolbox: (1) display advertising for branding, (2) email advertising for direct response, and (3) lead-generation programs that utilize whitepapers, webcasts, and other information that users can download after providing their contact information. When they submit the forms, they give their assent to this statement: "By submitting this form you are agreeing to receive relevant information from the sponsor." Members can sign up for email alerts about whitepapers on topics that match their interests.

The site just introduced demographic targeting. Advertisers can run display units on the site and demographically match using audience profiles.

There are 1.2 million pages of user-generated content consisting of blog posts, discussion group forums, and wiki entries. The information helps community members keep up to speed in their information-intensive fields.

That highly focused peer-to-peer content, says Krautzel, opens the potential to influence someone while they're looking at something related to your advertising. "It's not that users don't want to see advertising; it's that they don't want irrelevant advertising."

Members can receive email alerts or newsletters containing content they are interested in following.

Professional profiles are being introduced, and a members' social network recently launched. Unlike other professional networks, ITtoolbox has integrated member-produced content, as well as content from a member's connections, into the member profiles.

Contributors to the community understand that if they want to learn they have to be willing to share information, too. The site's community-based model could also be applicable to other industries and professions, including healthcare, legal, HR, PR, and marketing.

Oracle recently ran a new initiative, a sponsored blogcast, with popular blog author Lewis Cunningham. ITtoolbox promised Oracle 300 leads and over-fulfilled its promise in the first two weeks of the campaign; normally, such campaigns take three months to complete.

A representative advertiser:

Business Objects SA is typical of ITtoolbox advertisers, which tend to offer whitepapers and webcasts to those who fill out a form to get the information.

Business Objects wanted 86 high-quality North American leads for its product. The company specifically wanted the leads to come from people who had read its whitepapers and were interested in its products and services.
 
The company offered three whitepapers:

  1. Designing Executive Dashboards: How to Create an Effective Operational Dashboard, and the Associated Design Best Practices

  2. Designing Crystal Xcelsius Dashboards for Microsoft SharePoint

  3. Crystal Xcelsius Workgroup—download a free trial

ITtoolbox delivered the target number of leads, 86, to Business Objects in just 11 days, and ultimately 102 viable leads, or 118% of the goal.

Professionals in business intelligence, project management, and knowledge management provided the majority of leads—all key targets for Business Objects.

Lessons Learned:

In hindsight, Krautzel says, ITtoolbox should have held a contest on the site for the creation of the contextual matching engine. "We have a passionate user base that would have been intrigued with the idea of creating something within their community."

"And," he says, "we should have done it a lot sooner."

Related Links:

Note: Privately held, ITtoolbox has been profitable for six years. Revenues projected for 2006 are $6 million—or 43% more than in 2005. ITtoolbox expects revenues to total $8-10 million in 2007.


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B.L. Ochman is a social media marketing strategist for S&P 500 companies, including McGraw Hill, IBM, Cendant, and American Greetings. She publishes What's Next Blog and Ethics Crisis, where readers can confess their worst ethics transgressions and others can rate them on a scale of one to ten. She also blogs for MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog.

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