Marketing BTB Services Online Can Be Tricky

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Marketing hi-tech business-to-business services demands superior focus and innovation. With proper execution you can build your brand and generate qualified sales leads. This holy grail of marketing doesn't come without obstacles.

BTB hi-tech services may be the most difficult type of online marketing you'll encounter. BTB marketing poses challenges business-to-consumer marketing doesn't, and communicating services rather than products involves intangibles on performance and effectiveness.

E-mail is a good starting place because it is a cost-effective way to generate high-quality sales leads in BTB marketing.

Comparing BTB with BTC, the most notable marketing difference is the size and savvy of the target audience. Industry professionals with purchasing authority are difficult to find, thus necessitating intense targeting and segmenting techniques. And once you find them, the audience consists of individuals who often understand marketing tricks of the trade, making it more difficult to entice them with traditional tactics.

When it comes to marketing services vs. products, marketing services is generally considered a greater challenge, often because services can't be touched and involve a leap of faith about how those services can be applied to your specific business concerns. Services marketing depends on creating confidence in past successes, including consultant experience and know-how. Products, on the other hand, are tangible and, in the case of hi-tech, are often software applications that can be thoroughly judged on performance, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. As a result, it is often easier to evaluate how a certain software application can be integrated into your business and how its success can be measured.

BTB services marketing often revolves around generating qualified sales leads and distributing them to your sales organization. Successful lead generation campaigns begin with a fully developed strategy and an understanding of the overall marketing metrics on which the marketing campaign will be judged.

A few months ago, a BTB Internet professional services firm with clients such as Citibank and Charles Schwab wanted to develop, execute and analyze a lead generation and distribution campaign to Global 2000 financial services companies. An appropriate plan was developed, including media choices - both for outbound messaging and inbound responses - as well as list acquisition selections, offer development, incentive options and innovative copywriting and design.

An integrated e-mail campaign with phone call follow-up was recommended. It is critical to secure targeted opt-in e-mail lists, perform demographic selects on criteria such as title and annual budget for related services, and push out a quantity of e-mails that will generate enough leads for your sales team to pursue. Develop a comprehensive testing strategy, including list, product and creative tests, and drive traffic to a unique Web page pitching your offer and incentive.

Incentives such as white papers, gift certificates and discounts are enough to significantly increase response, even in the BTB space. It is also important to qualify responders by asking them to provide basic information about their industry, annual revenues and time frames for needing the particular service offered. These leads then can be divided into categories based on urgency for follow-up. Technology is available that automatically will distribute leads, based on any predetermined business rules combined with response information.

Properly developed and executed lead generation campaigns via e-mail are realizing dramatic returns. Click-through rates in excess of 5 percent are common, and conversion rates should result in 50 percent of those interested responders who click through to your unique Web page actually filling out response information.

E-mail is a cost-effective medium for generating and distributing sales leads to your sales force and, when done well, can be instrumental in shortening your overall sales cycle and realizing improved marketing return on investment.

• Greg Fisher is director of marketing at Vizium, Framingham, MA. His e-mail address is

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