Tips for b-to-b lead acquisition

When the going gets rough, many marketers tend to focus on their existing customers. But your existing base may not be enough to sustain your company — you have to find more customers to survive.

By measuring your lead generation programs more effectively, understanding your initial lead sources better and following through on the initial customer contact, you can increase new customer file growth or reduce your prospecting spend for the same result.

How are you measuring your acquisition efforts today? Multistep marketers are familiar with a cost-per-lead measurement followed by a cost-per-lead conversion, but catalogers often focus only on order response rate or dollars per book and give inquiry analysis short shrift. To make the most of your prospecting spend, you need to start with measurement.

Begin with a list of your lead or inquiry sources. What is your cost of traffic? You may start with something simple like cost per click, but then move on to cost per subscriber or registration — not just cost per order. For leads generated through your call center, the measure could be cost per lead at database addition or cost per inquiry.

But don’t lose track of the original channel of inquiry to focus on the channel of conversion. For example, a lead added to the file generated by a PPC ad may eventually order in response to a catalog. Most merchants will recognize the revenue and ad cost of the order in the direct mail or catalog channel, but fail to analyze the performance of paid search as the original source of the lead.

Look at the cost of converting various lead sources, and use this to manage the channels or contacts that will best generate and convert leads. Including a cost per immediate order and a cost per eventual order will give you a better handle on the total return of your prospecting programs.

Some programs may have a ratio of 10 to 1 of eventual buyers to immediate buyers. Other programs may have a ratio of only 1.5 to 1. Considering all costs through the sales funnel can reveal a weak list as a huge winner.

Understanding your lead sources

The online world allows for an even earlier read on your prospective customers at the browsing stage. By using cookies, you should be able to track visitors at all stages of their engagement with your business.

Make sure your site is creating and keeping cookies without expiration, as the impact of direct mail or paid search takes on a dramatically different significance. You will discover programs that are good at generating a high number of early-stage shoppers. Those programs may not show return on the first visit, but they may prove valuable in the long term if you engage these browsers effectively.

Watch site visitors who haven’t registered or identified themselves. You can see where they came from and keep track of them for future visits — allowing for different marketing depending on their browsing recency or frequency.

Customers who have stopped by three or more times may just need some encouragement or offer to take the next step. Try using a popup, window shade, catfish or other interruptive device to capture their attention, and don’t be afraid to identify them as returning visitors.

You need to understand your visitor-to-registration ratio. If you aren’t collecting at least an e-mail address from more than 10% of your unknown visitors, you probably aren’t asking effectively — or often enough.

Offer to send information, save their cart, or continue the conversation in some meaningful way. If you don’t ask for contact information, you won’t receive it, and you will continue to waste your prospecting efforts.

Ask for contact information in multiple ways at multiple places on you site. Offer both rewarded (whitepaper, prize, special discount) and non-rewarded options.

The same principle of converting browsers applies in a call center. When customers call in with quick questions, do your reps answer the inquiry and then quickly move to add the customer to the file? If not, a hot lead is missed.

How best to ask? There’s the direct request strategy: “May I have your name? Your address? Your e-mail?” etc. Or you can explain how you intend to use the information as you ask for it: “May I have your e-mail address so we can send you information about weekly specials?” etc.

It’s important to open as many channels of communication as possible in the first 48 hours of your relationship. If he or she is a Web visitor, you should start the conversation by e-mail, but also reach out by phone and mail as well. Phone and e-mail convert significantly higher than e-mail alone. Adding mail increases lead conversion yet again.

So what should you say to increase results from your leads? Customers will respond to marketing content that is as specific to their initial visit or inquiry as possible.

In e-mail, variable content can reflect their browsing history, their cart contents or the search terms they used to reach you. Use this level of custom content and expect to see a multiple of your traditional response rate.

Prospecting leads to gold

The secret to converting your leads starts with capturing more leads in the first place. Asking for contact information more effectively will expand your internal leads and your ability to market to them quickly.

By looking at your prospecting universe with an eye toward lead generation and immediate order generation, you’ll have the chance to steer your marketing dollars to even better yield. And by using your knowledge of prospects’ initial impetus to find your business, you can make the conversation more relevant and push it toward a sale. l

Terry Flynn ( is president of consulting firm Market Chord Direct Group in Amherst, NH.

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