Working with reduced budgets and buyers that have substantially extended their buying cycles, marketers are being forced to adapt their demand generation strategies for 2009. However, Despite the challenging climate, industry experts point out that opportunities still exist to engage prospects in a dialog that translates to qualified leads and conversion to closed deals.
Now that the New Year is officially rung in, DemandGen Report polled leading consultants and analysts to learn how marketers can adapt their approach to address the current market realities. While sales teams may instinctively expect a higher volume of campaigns and responses, insiders suggest the smart money will flow toward more targeted outreach and a renewed emphasis on re-engaging contacts already in the database.
Based on the feedback from these market experts, here are the seven key strategies marketers can adapt during the downturn to turn reluctant suspects into engaged and informed sales leads.
➢ Get Targeted & Turn Down The Volume
The old school theory that more names poured into the top funnel will result in more closed deals at the bottom is a myth, especially during a downturn. Howard Sewell, President of Connect Direct Inc. (CDI), a marketing agency that specializes in demand generation, says he has seen a shift in investment from push-based acquisition strategies like email to pull-based tactics such as SEM, content syndication and online sponsorships. “With fewer buyers in the marketplace, the challenge is no longer convincing someone to buy your product here and now, but rather finding the people who are already looking,” Sewell says.
➢ Reduce The Risk
While some organizations are dropping prices in order to entice buyers in this environment, industry insiders suggest offers that mitigate risk will generate better response. Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group, a leader in Web 2.0 marketing services for BtoB marketers, says free trials and guarantees are working well, as well true partnership deals. “I personally favor a pay-for-performance model where appropriate. If your products/services can really do what you say they can do, then partner with your customers and help them win – if you do, you win too and you will have a customer for life,” Pedowitz says.
➢ Take the Lead on Content
Prospects will require more hand-holding and education before committing to a purchase. So, insiders remind marketers that strong content will be even more critical. “Demonstrating thought leadership and executing lead management programs and campaigns that emphasize content over product promo are essential to stay top of mind with target buyers,” says Henry Bruce, President of The Rock Annand Group, a consultancy specializing in client acquisition. “That means fine tuning messaging and positioning on the key problems you solve and how and who you solve them for must be emphasized and repeated on a regular basis (monthly at the very least). Thought leadership campaigns should be supported by free trial offers with self-service sign up to simplify buyer review and evaluation."
➢ Emphasize Value & Feel Their Pain
The car companies have missed the mark on a lot of their marketing over the years, but analysts have given high marks for some of their recent campaigns. Mike Gospe, author and co-founder and principal of KickStart Alliance is an accomplished leader, points to the Hyundai “Assurance” program http://www.hyundaiusa.com/., as an example of empathizing with the concerns of a buyer. Marketed as “certainty in uncertain times,” the campaign promotes that customers who purchase or lease a vehicle can return it if they lose their income in the next year. “What's amazing here is that this offer was covered by the news!” Gospe says. “Marketers must find new ways to attract and retain customers. Creativity will be born during this economic stressful period.”
Dave Green, CEO and Co-Founder of PipeAlign, a consultancy which uses the B2B Refinery® Methodology to help BtoB organizations improve results from demand generation and lead management investments, suggests some companies are expecting sales cycles will be extended without researching the cause for the delays. “It's very important for each company to take the time to research business buying behavior and understand why sales cycles for their products and services are extending and not just assume a lengthening sales cycle is a result of a slowing economy,” Green says. “Then, sales and marketing should do whatever they can to remove any obstacles to a faster decision. If the lengthening sales cycle is a result of tight credit markets, for example, marketers might find a competitive advantage in providing special financing terms in order to remove that particular objection to purchasing now.”
➢ Revisit the Existing Leads Database
Analysts have been preaching the value and ROI of sales nurturing for several years, but the economic downturn could finally force sales and marketing executives to adopt nurturing strategies. “Ironically, 2009 could be the year when lead nurturing, and by extension marketing automation gain real traction,” says CDI’s Sewell. “Companies will need to show a better return from the leads they already have, and also because customers are delaying their decisions and lead nurturing programs offer a systematic, automated means of staying in front of prospects until those individuals are ready to buy.”
Lead nurturing has also become a much higher priority for the companies the Pedowitz Group is working with on 2009 plans. “Many of our clients have moved lead nurturing to the top of the list because it has great ROI,” Pedowitz says. “You can market to leads you have already spent money to acquire and very effectively reach them with targeted marketing messages and keep them warm until they are ready to buy.”
➢ Rethink Current Lead Scoring & Prioritization
Although a lot of organizations have seen the benefits from systems that score leads and prioritize follow up, industry experts suggest marketing teams should be avoiding offers that require a prospect to be far along in the buying cycle with budget and timing established. “Because fewer people are buying, companies should be adjusting their offer strategies and engaging with prospects regardless of where that person is in the buying process,” says CDI’s Sewell. “For example, a demo or free trial offer requires a certain level of interest and commitment. In this economic climate, a simple white paper or other informational offer may fare better. Those who are ready to buy will respond any way, and the remainder can be nurtured and educated over time until their needs become more acute.”
➢ Get Closer To Customers & Prospects
Targeting will not be limited to the types of offers marketers extend in 2009. Industry experts suggest segmentation strategies will be even more critical as organizations refine their databases and strive to be more relevant to their base of customers and core prospects. “In this climate, marketers must build iron clad use cases and define business scenarios. This will make persona-based marketing even more effective,” says Pedowitz. “Any considered purchase as part of a complex sale will always require sales-ready marketing to align with the buyer as they move through different phases of consideration.”