B2B prospecting isn’t synonymous with lead generation, but it is part of lead generation. It’s the part that takes place on the very front end, before qualification, nurturing, and development.
Companies use B2B prospecting to build lists of prospects. Pretty straightforward. Once you have your lists, you can market and sell to them — i.e. launch campaigns to engage and nurture leads, collect more information, and hopefully convert new customers.
Prospecting is a critical step of the lead generation process that bears heavily on lead velocity and lead conversion rate. Despite its simple definition, prospecting can be difficult. B2B companies frequently struggle with both quantity and quality:
- 70 percent of B2B marketers said improving lead quality was their top objective in 2015 (Tweet this stat)
- 54 percent said increasing the number of leads was their top objective (Tweet this stat)
Although some traditional tactics have withstood the test of time, prospecting is changing. A number of different forces (marketing technology, economic shifts, customer migration between channels, etc.) are moving businesses to test out new strategies for B2B prospecting or, in some cases, double down on the old.
If you want to keep a steady stream of leads flowing into your pipeline and a steady stream of revenue from customers, you need to know where the industry is headed.
Here are some of the most promising tactics for 2016:
Inbound Content Marketing
Content is the marrow for almost every digital marketing tactic in the spectrum. As Seth Godin once put it, “Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.” An effectively crafted content strategy will help you engage with prospects at each stage of the buying process. It also positions your brand as a leading source of information, which means greater “mindshare,” more exposure, and more opportunities.
ALSO READ: 7 Companies Winning at B2B Content Marketing
Marketo recently published some interesting stats on the popularity and success of B2B content marketing:
- 71 percent of marketers use content marketing to generate leads.
- 93 percent of B2B companies say content marketing generates more leads than traditional strategies.
- 60 percent of B2B decision-makers say branded content helps them make smarter buying decisions.
Obviously, all of your content should be high-quality and speak to the interests, needs, and objectives of your target personas. But if you want to use content for prospecting, that’s not enough. You also need to make sure every asset includes a relevant call to action (CTA) linked to some kind of landing page. That might be as simple as asking them to subscribe to your blog, or it might be a more focused exchange, like an industry-specific e-book.
In either case, you offer the prospect something free (an e-book, weekly updates, an ROI calculator) in exchange for their contact information. This gives you an opportunity to convert casual readers/visitors into known prospects.
Take our blog post on JIRA alternatives, for example. The post targets people looking for software that’s a viable alternative to Atlassian JIRA, so they’re probably in the consideration stage. Our CTA, in this case, is to download a free software buyer’s guide, which links to a landing page with a web form.
Historically, video marketing has been a B2C content strategy used for building brand awareness on the web. But many B2B companies are tapping into the medium to find new potential customers. According to CMI’s 2016 benchmark report, 79 percent of B2B marketers use video content and 74 percent use YouTube as a marketing channel. Creative SaaS companies like Vidyard and Brightcove have built their entire business model on helping companies create and monetize video.
The key to using video as a prospecting tool is to engage buyers as they are defining their needs — which some refer to as the “zero moment of truth,” or ZMOT. In the world of written content, marketers use SEO strategies to rank for relevant keywords that could indicate need or the beginning of a procurement process (e.g. “best HR software for small business”).
The strategy is similar for video marketing. Figure out what your prospects are searching for as they define their needs and search for solutions, and create original video content that captures their interest. Below is an example from our library. We created a video designed to capture interest from buyers shopping for marketing automation software and comparing specific solutions:
Here are a few pointers to help you maximize success. Make sure all of your videos are:
- Useful: address a common problem, question, or pain point
- Relevant to the prospect’s stage in the buying process
- Actionable: use an embedded CTA to connect your video with a landing page
In-person events are by no means cutting edge, but they’ve stood the test of time and proven their value even as new digital channels and distribution tools emerge. Last year, 75 percent of B2B marketers said in-person events like conferences and trade shows were their most effective tactic.
Having a presence and meeting people at industry events is a good start, but you need to go further. Think about scale. How can you make 200 new connections, versus 10?
Many B2B companies will run some kind of list-building play on-site, like a contest drawing: people submit their name, company name, and contact info for a chance to win [a prize]. In many cases, you can get access to a full list of attendees if you offer to sponsor the conference or contribute to publicity efforts. Even better.
Let’s face it. Traditional telemarketing has a less than bejeweled reputation, especially from a vendor’s perspective. Maybe you’ve worked with an outsourced telemarketing service before and been burned: you paid an exorbitant amount of money for a glorified list of phone numbers.
Teleprospecting is different. Instead of cold-calling a large list of contacts and selling your services to a small percentage, teleprospecting is based on targeting and permission. Before you make any phone calls, you define a set of targeting criteria and only pursue contacts who meet those requirements. Instead of pitching your product, you offer a piece of content or a resource relevant to their needs and ask for permission to follow up.
A typical set of targeting criteria might look like this:
- Job title: IT manager or above
- Company size: 500 – 1,000
- Industry: Manufacturing
- Is currently using server-based maintenance software
At TechnologyAdvice, we call this process “teledemand,” since we use it to generate demand for your content and products. Teleprospecting combined with email marketing can be a great one-two punch for connecting with new prospects. And contrary to what some suggest, it’s not falling out of favor. An Aberdeen report from 2013 showed that 60 percent of leads still come from outbound/direct marketing channels.
Social media isn’t just a brand awareness play anymore. Thanks to the proliferation of social marketing, listening, and analytical tools, thousands of B2B companies can now use social media to collect business intelligence and identify new prospects.
According to a 2014 study from IDC, 75 percent of B2B buyers and 84 percent of C-level executives said they use social media to support purchase decisions. If you’re smart, you can use social media to connect with buyers in a relevant, personal way that influences their decision.
If you don’t have an existing strategy for social, the immensely popular LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a great place to start. Sales Navigator uses an algorithm to recommend accounts that match your prospecting criteria and syncs up with your CRM database for easy import. At that point, it’s up to you to build a plan for outreach, lead nurturing, etc.
Paid social advertising (promoted posts, social ads) has also proven a successful strategy in the B2B world, or at least more successful than banner ads and traditional print advertising. Just be sure (again) to connect your social ads with relevant landing pages. For example, you could invite target prospects to register for a free webinar related to their job role.
Account-based marketing (ABM) isn’t a new concept, from a purely strategic standpoint. Salespeople have always understood that that targeting their ideal prospects is the best way to get their ideal customers. But scalable ABM in the context of digital marketing is a recent development, made possible by the advent of new technologies like predictive analytics and personalized retargeting.
ALSO READ: An Inside Look at an Account-Based Marketing Technology Stack
ABM overlaps with B2B prospecting in its earliest stages — which most agree are (1) identify target accounts, and (2) map the account structures. Similar to traditional prospecting, your objective in these stages is to build a list of prospects that match your targeting criteria. But instead of focusing on specific lead information, you let your ideal account profile inform your search. According to the Altera Group, 97 percent of ABM users say it brings higher ROI than other marketing initiatives.
There are a number of B2B data vendors that can help you build a list of contacts and map out organizational structures at your target accounts. Examples:
Just keep in mind that the data these vendors supply will be raw and untouched. I.e. cold leads.
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The average B2B company won’t have the resources to run prospecting programs at full speed across all of these channels. Even if you do have a multichannel strategy in place, you may still want to reinforce your campaigns with help from an outside service. Don’t settle for indiscriminate list-building. There are hundreds of services that provide cheap lists of contacts scraped from the web, but their tactics aren’t always ethical, and you certainly won’t get opt-in leads.
At TechnologyAdvice, we take the pain out of prospecting by supplying qualified, opt-in leads that match your targeting criteria. We’ll even warm them up with a phone call or email nurturing, based on your needs. Click below to learn more.