Problem Solver: How can b-to-b marketers stretch their marketing budget to generate leads in this economy?

With too few dollars in the ever-shrinking b-to-b marketing budget, marketers are hard-pressed to quickly generate qualified, sales-ready leads. M. H. (Mac) McIntosh, president and principal consultant of Mac McIntosh Inc. suggests eight tips for making the most of a minimal budget.

Focus first on your existing prospect and customer database. The in-house database is often the most productive source of short-term leads and sales. That is because the people in the database have already expressed an interest in your products or services by responding to previous marketing programs, inquiring or buying. They also may have been added to your prospect database because they were similar to your best customers, or they appeared likely to have problems or needs your products or services can solve. That makes them the right people to target with lead generation campaigns.

Avoid one-size-fits-all messaging. Group your prospects and customers by similar industries, company sizes, applications or job functions. Then tailor the messages to address each group accordingly. For example, use jargon that demonstrates a familiarity with their industry. Address a specific problem that is widespread in companies their size. Make relevant offers that address their unique application for your products or services. Use testimonials from others with similar job functions. These tailored messages will increase the number of sales-ready leads generated.

Make offers that your prospective customers can’t refuse. Compelling offers or calls-to-action are the key to getting prospects to identify themselves and take the next step in their buying process, from awareness to inquiry to consideration to qualifying as sales-ready leads. With this in mind, create a suite of offers each designed to address those different stages of your prospects’ buying cycle. Be sure to include some “buy-now” offers intended to incentivize prospective customers to buy now rather than later.

Use multi-touch direct marketing to increase your chance of being in-sight and in-mind at the right time with your prospective customers. You’ll generate more by touching 1,000 prospects three times with your direct marketing, than you will by touching 3,000 prospects once. Each contact is another chance to be in the right place at the right time.

Start with e-mail. If you can get your e-mail through and read, it can be a quick and cost effective way to generate responses and identify qualified leads. However, e-mail experts will tell you that most unsolicited commercial e-mail is now blocked, and they privately admit that from 20% to as much as 70% of opt-in e-mail never gets through the spam filters, or past the delete key, to be read by prospects. If you want to generate the maximum number of leads from your database, you need use other lead generation tactics too.

Reach customers and prospects with direct mail. If your budget is tight, consider personalized, laser-printed letters or postcards. These formats are some of the lowest cost-per-touch mail formats and are a way to reach prospects you can’t e-mail. These mail pieces are getting through and getting the attention of your prospective customers. They also are cost effective (if the other tips are followed) on a cost-per-lead basis.

Use search engine optimization or paid search if you want more leads that represent short-term sales opportunities. You need to increase the likelihood of being found at the top of the search engine results when buyers are actively searching for products or services like yours. Despite what the SEO experts say, optimizing your pages can be as easy as putting the right words or phrases in the right places on your Web pages. If you can’t get to the top of the results that way, consider spending a portion of your limited marketing funds on carefully targeted pay-per-click ads.

Leverage social media as another inexpensive way to stay in sight and in mind with your prospects. Being in sight and in mind at the right time is often the key to generating qualified, sales-ready leads. All it costs to use social media, like LinkedIn or Twitter, is time. Start by investing an hour a day to read whatever you can find on the subject. Soon you’ll know more about social media marketing than most. Then, join appropriate LinkedIn groups and search in Twitter for terms related to your products or services. Observe for a while to get a feel for what’s working, and then jump in and start contributing to the conversation. And even if it doesn’t get you lots of leads, it will keep you from twiddling your thumbs because you have no budget to do marketing.

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