Pinpoint B2B Marketing: The case for highly targeted, one-on-one meetings instead of broad based marketing

For a B2B marketer in a fairly contained industry (e.g., higher education, publishing, etc.), utilizing broad-based marketing effectively can be a challenge.  Attending the right trade shows, utilizing the right email lists and advertising via the best web and print publishers can ensure you’ll reach people within the industry.  However, how do you know you’re reaching the right people within the industry:  the people who can buy?

As VP, Marketing, at one of my former employers, I launched what I thought was a well-planned, well-executed “integrated” marketing campaign to drive our lead generation efforts among our target market.  I combined email with webinars, trade show presentations/sponsorships and print ads that were well-aligned, consistent in tone, graphics and copy points. I delivered these messages through industry media (trade print and online publications), hitting every deadline and budget parameter.  As a result we produced more than 2,400 leads in a six month period that represented a 300% increase over anything the organization had ever done before. 

The campaign was a failure.

Yep.  A failure. Why?  Because, although we had generated great numbers in terms of response, we were reaching the WRONG people.  Instead of reaching decision makers, influencers and budget owners, I reached tire-kickers with no authority to spend and little influence over the buying process.  What made this even more frustrating is that these were the people I thought I wanted to reach.  Big mistake.

The saving grace was that I had the analytical tools to discover this before a point of no return, before my budget ran out (bad) or the buying cycle ended (tragic).  Through analysis, we discovered that there was a very limited group of decision makers who represented the real buying authority in our industry.  The good news?  We already knew who they were and how to reach them.  The bad news:  we were going about it all wrong.

Realizing this, we stopped nearly all our broad-based marketing efforts.  Instead of trying to bring new companies into the fold, we turned our attention toward expanding sales or services to our existing clients.   We began setting up targeted one-on-one meetings — “Summits,” we called them — with our top 30 current clients. The goal was to reach a broad audience within our existing customer base and introduce them to the many other services we offer.  

Great idea, but we wondered:  why would anyone take an obvious “sales” meeting like this?  How would we get senior level decision makers to attend and listen?  We came up with a hook.  We did not aim to sell something.   Instead we promised to SHOW them something.  That “something” was a preview of the solutions we were in the process of developing that represented potential solutions to the toughest, most prevalent problems in the industry.  We offered a peek behind the curtain before we formally shop it out to the industry (i.e., your competitors).  We did this for each of our top 30 clients in a way that matched the issues we knew were critical to each of their businesses.

Out of 30 clients, only one refused to set up the meeting.  In some cases we had two to three senior executives representing a couple of business units.  In other cases, we had 25 decision makers in the room.   What resulted was an influx of opportunities from various contacts whom we had never met within our current client organizations. 

In fact, the summits were so successful they ultimately represented one-third of our total qualified opportunity volume for the year.  The only real out-of-pocket expense was travel.

So, when developing a Summit or Symposium based initiative, consider these steps:

  1. Identify a targeted list of current clients and prospects with whom you have strong relationships.  This will increase your chances of getting the attention of a broad range of decision makers across the organization
  2. Give them a reason to attend.  Clearly identify a value for their time based on their specific challenges and needs.  Offer to teach them something.   Don’t make it an obvious sales event.
  3. Make sure at least one person from your company travels to their site for the meeting.  It’s OK to have others attend virtually
  4. Be prepared for the conversation to veer off course.  That’s a good sign.  It means you’ve hit a nerve and an opportunity to learn something is imminent.
  5. Have a clear follow up plan in place for everyone in the room.  Everyone in that room is a decision maker.  Follow up with each of them.  They want to hear from you.  Schedule one-on-one time within a week of the meeting.

Cut through the wasted effort of marketing to large numbers of industry contacts who can’t buy anything.  Think about how to replace some of the broad-based marketing efforts you’re executing in favor of highly targeted one-on-one meetings with people who can buy. 

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