One thing we’re good at in business-to-business marketing is understanding that in general, sales don’t come about by selling to people “cold”; we know that there has to be a need first. For most companies, sales teams have to work from enquiries. You can’t just give the sales team a vague list of potential buyers and tell them to get on with it. That sort of approach might work with domestic double-glazing, but not with components and systems for engineers, scientists or architects.
So, no great revelation then: to sell more, you need to take the long view, and ensure that whenever a prospect decides they need something, you’re already in the back (or front) of their mind, and/or you’re in their face when they start looking. That should be the conceptual start of your marketing planning.
The first option – staying in the back of their mind – has always been expensive, and continues to be so. You might do this with something memorable, such as a massive exhibition stand every year, or magazine front covers. Regular visits from salesmen, even when there’s no discernible need, have traditionally done the trick, but that’s not a cheap exercise either. Getting the prospects on a mailing list ought to be a cost-effective approach, ensuring that whenever they need something, it’s only been a few days or weeks since they were reading about you. But providing something which they’ll actually read during the long periods when they don’t need your products is a seriously tough task. Precious few companies seem to be up to that. I’d bet that 99% of regular corporate mailings (by email or in the post) fail to get the sender’s branding to sink in.
The second option – ensuring you’re there when prospects start looking – is the one which is exercising progressive marketing managers nowadays. That’s because we all know where prospects will start their search for new or alternative suppliers. However, it’s not the easy option. A consistently high profile on Google for hundreds of “long tail” searches requires more than a token AdWords budget, or it needs sustained investment of time and effort in search engine optimisation.
If there’s one thing which marketing managers I speak to have in common, it’s a lack of time and freedom to consider the strategic options above properly. The result is that they tend to dip into various approaches without the blank-sheet-of-paper planning which could transform the number of enquiries coming through the door. Doing a little bit of everything can’t be as effective as doing one or two things well. Do keep reminding yourself not to fall into that trap.