B-to-B Lead Generation: It's All About the Offer
The main difference between a sales message and a B-to-B lead generation message is that, to maximize response, lead generation does not sell the product, it sells the offer and gives prospects a reason to raise their hands. The reason for this is simple: Lead generation is used for higher-priced products that tend to require a longer, more complex decision process and often multiple decision makers. The goal of your initial direct mail contact is not to convince prospects that they need to buy your product or service, but rather that they need to learn more about it. That's why focusing on the offer is so important. The messaging reminds your prospects of the pain they are experiencing, then invites them to request information on how to relieve that pain.
Selling the Offer
The most common offer used in B-to-B lead generation is information. This includes whitepapers, briefings, how-to guides, checklists, case studies or any combination of these items. Start by choosing an offer that lets your prospects instantly know that the free information you are offering will lessen their pains and help them meet their challenges. For example, you can:
- offer a checklist to help prospects measure whether their business practices reflect industry best practices, e.g., "How secure is your customer data?"
- offer a whitepaper about what experts have to say about the advances or best solutions for their current pains or challenges, e.g., "10 Secrets to a Successful DCAA Audit" by Charles Wilkins, partner, KPMG.
- offer a how-to guide or booklet that takes prospects step-by-step through how they can achieve their goals, e.g., "20-Minute Guide to Going Digital."
- offer case studies that show how prospects' peers and colleagues have solved the same problems they are facing,e.g., "How Five Global Companies Turned a T&E Challenge Into a Financial Win."
These offers can be sourced from existing materials or crafted specifically to fit the goals of your campaign by third-party industry analyst firms, in-house specialists or a contracted writer, as in the examples above, which I developed for various clients.
A benefit of such premiums is that by providing valuable information, you instantly position your company as one that cares about and contributes to the advancement of best practices in your industry. Although your product is not being sold directly, you gain the positive positioning that comes from providing valuable information at no cost or obligation. Here's an example of how San Diego-based information systems solutions provider Rancho Santa Fe Technology presented itself and its "IT Manager's Survival Guide" premium in a lead-generation letter:
The enclosed brochure tells you a little about the authors of this bookletRancho Santa Fe Technology. Our expertise is in design and installation of voice/data cabling systems, and installation and maintenance of LAN/WAN equipment for new or existing enterprise systems. This booklet has been prepared from our hands-on knowledge of commonly encountered issues that cause major problems and delays. It's based on insights and planning experiences from IT Managers such as yourself.
Informative premiums also can be delivered via online download, e-mail or at a low cost through regular mail, allowing for quick and easy fulfillment. Offering to e-mail the premium to the respondent is a smart and effective way to build your prospect e-mail contact list. Many companies also combine multiple items into one offer and refer to it as a kit. This tactic makes it possible to have a single offer designed to appeal to a variety of titles throughout the prospect company.
Stick to DM Tried-and-true (With a Few Variations)
Targeted B-to-B lists often are too small to achieve the kind of extensive testing available to B-to-C marketers.Since I'm a B-to-B direct marketing copy specialist, most of my clients are agencies serving B-to-B clients. These agencies consistently set up matrices to test lists, offers, packages, teasers and other elements that impact response. From these results, I have learned certain B-to-B tac-tics consistently out-perform others.
First of all, as discussed above, you can never go wrong by offering free information directly related to the target's pains and challenges. In this case, your message should focus on what the prospect will learn by requesting your offer.
Second, reaching top-level executives in large companies often requires a dimensional mailing to get the message out of the mail room, past the administrative "gatekeeper" and onto the desk of the prospect, but when getting through to most other B-to-B titles and company sizes, a #10 letter effort consistently is the best performer. These packages can include brochures and lift letters, but these items should be tested to determine if they cost-effectively lift response.
Finally, there is a formula of sorts for developing winning B-to-B efforts. The step-by-step messaging I address next illustrates how you can use these proven tactics to craft your letter message in a #10 package. The example comes from a campaign I wrote for The Kern Organization to generate leads for Waltham, Mass.-based software provider, Geac's Global Expense Management software. It was sent to CFOs and other financial titles within the prospect firms.
Outer envelope. Testing shows that in the B-to-B space, envelopes without teasers typically outperform those with teasers. The assumption is that the more the envelope looks like a real business communication, the better chance it has of being distributed and opened. When a teaser is not used, the message that would be in the teaser should appear as a Johnson box. Now, instead of being used to get the envelope opened, the teaser is used to get the letter read.
But this does not mean that teasers cannot be successful. Teasers that clearly communicate a strong, targeted offer still perform very well. In this particular campaign, the decision was made to use a teaser because lists were available that precisely targeted the executive titles most concerned about the costs and challenges of handling T&E, or travel and expenses, in their companies:
"How Five Global Companies Turned a T&E Challenge Into a Financial Win."
Learn how in this FREE Report.
Letter opening. In B-to-C marketing,the letter opening can be a dramatic and powerful creative statement that can take dozens of directions. But, business people don't have time to be romanced. You need to get to the point and get to it immediately. If you are writing a product sales message, the opening can be a benefit or promise of a benefit.
In lead generation, however, the opening needs to tell the reader instantly that the message addresses something vital to his or her business life. Therefore, it must focus on the most significant pain suffered by the prospect in relation to your product or service. In this mailing, I drew in the executive by focusing on a challenge he would immediately identify withmanaging employee expenses. This also leads directly into the offer:
Managing expenses that are in the hands of employeestravel expenses, vendor payments, billable hours or paid time offis a significant challenge.
Make the offer, then immediatelymake the first call to action. Remember, your reader is busy and needs to absorb your message in seconds. The opening line says, "This is for you." Next, deliver the other elements in the message: the offer and the call to action. If your prospect does not read any further, your entire message has been communicated.
Here, I clearly made the connection between the reader's pain points and Geac's offer. Notice how the title of the report also demonstrates a benefit, and the online response option allows prospects to respond quickly:
Now you can learn how other leading companies have met this challenge. Just visit [www.url.com] to request the report entitled: "How Five Global Companies Turned a T&E Challenge Into a Financial Win."
Expand on the benefit. The next section is for prospects who want to know more before responding. Here, you explain what they will learn by reading this free information. The content of this section often is exactly what your product can deliver. But, by not mentioning the product by name, you make the sales pitch while eliminating the barrier the prospect might have responding to a specific sales pitch. Here, I enumerated a number of the product's key benefits:
In this report, financial executives tell you, in their own words, how they have transformed the management of costs, representing over 40% of their company's controllable expenses.
Find out how A.T. Kearney saved close to $10 million on T&E expenses in one year.
Learn how Thomson Corporation cut the cost and time to handle 30,000 expense reports by over 50%. ...
In addition to the insight provided, these accounts also present an excellent opportunity for you to compare your practices with other leading firms.
Repeat the call to action and add your plug. If the offer is a published book or report by an independent third party, you should mention this up-front. But, if the information is compiled by your company, this is the place to take your bow. As I mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of this kind of offer is its ability to position your company in the prospect's eyes.
Just go to [www.url.com] and enter the priority code of [XXXX] to download the report in seconds.
Or, if you prefer, use the enclosed form to request this informative report by fax or mail, or call us at [800-000-0000.] This report has been compiled for you by Geac, a global software company dedicated to enhancing business performance. It is yours without obligation.
Close. Traditionally in direct mail, the close includes a statement of what the prospect will lose by not responding. Inthe case of offering free information, what is lost is the opportunity to learn what the offer covers. So in this mailing, the close repeats the call to action and the main benefit:
Request a copy now and find out if your company can apply the winning strategies that worked for these global leaders.
P.S. Since the opening line and the P.S. are the most-read sections of a direct mail letter, yours should contain the offer, or, as in this example, a secondary incentive to respond. Just as stated earlier, your busy B-to-B prospects need to get the entire message as quickly as possible. This tactic in the P.S. accomplishes that:
P.S. Be one of the first to respond and also get "The CFO Project." This respected publication, from Montgomery Research, gives you more vital insight on issues faced by today's financial executives. Valued at $195, a copy is yours FREE if you request the report now at [www.url.com.]
Keep it Simple, Keep it Short
Direct marketing wisdom states that a longer message is fine, as long as it keeps the reader engaged. However, in the business world of non-stop demands on our time and an exploding volume of daily marketing messages, my advice is to keep your letter to one page, or make sure that the benefit, offer and call to action are all prominent on the first page. In addition, leave out your trendy, industry lingo. Speak in straightforward, simple and direct language so your messages communicate quickly, no matter how educated your market.
Success lies in following good direct mail practices. Just remember, in B-to-B lead generation, it's all about the offer.
Susan Fantle is a 24-year veteran direct response copywriter and consultant specializing in B-to-B direct marketing. Her firm, The Copy Works, serves clients nationwide from offices in Denver. She can be reached at (303) 750-3113 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.