On average, I meet 5 to 10 entrepreneurs a week. When I meet with them, I ask them questions like: Who is your ideal customer? Who are good referral sources? Where do you network? How do you attract customers? 95% of the time entrepreneurs tell me that all customers come from referrals or networking and they do nothing else. I think this is a great strategy if one wants their business to remain stagnant. If an entrepreneur is satisfied with the number of clients and leads they currently have, then continue this marketing strategy. However, if an entrepreneur is serious about growing their business, one must focus on more than one to two marketing tactics. I remind entrepreneurs all the time that one tactic does not comprise an effective marketing strategy.
When determining a 2012 marketing plan, professional networking and referral partnerships should be two critical components of an overall strategy. Besides networking and referrals, there are other effective lead generation and nurturing tactics that most B2B firms can implement with successful outcomes. Remember that many business decision makers may not network as much as you do. How can you find and attract their business? Depending on your ideal customer, tactics such as direct marketing, advertising, email marketing, social media marketing, webinars, etc. can serve as effective tactics to generate brand awareness and “pull in” new ideal prospective customers. Different tactics resonate with different prospects. The decision maker who rarely networks may read the business journal everyday or may spend 30 minutes on LinkedIn each day. Even for the people who regularly network, follow up marketing tactics such as social media outreach and direct mail are excellent methods to nurture these leads along. Remember that a marketing strategy with a tactical mix will help you attract a variety of ideal prospective customers.
Fear and Ego
I think many entrepreneurs prefer networking and referrals because these tactics produce warmer leads than other marketing tactics such as SEO, social media marketing, email prospecting, etc. For most entrepreneurs, there is a fear of rejection with “colder” lead generation tactics. It’s hard to hear a definitive “no” from a prospect and most entrepreneurs’ healthy egos cannot take that rejection. This is why it’s easier for most to maintain a reactive marketing approach by only responding to referrals. A proactive approach is more aggressive and can be out of their comfort zone. Yes, networking is more proactive but you are only hitting a fraction of your target market. The key is to manage that fear and ego so more aggressive tactics are possible. The other alternative is to hire marketing or sales personnel who can handle the rejection much easier.
Lead Nurturing as Important as Generation
Many entrepreneurs focus solely on lead generation and pay little attention to lead nurturing. Remember that lead nurturing is just as important as lead generation. You may feel accomplished when you collect 10 business cards from a networking event or your firm’s new website design has generated 5 inquiries in a day. However, what marketing tactics are being utilized to nurture these leads from inquiry to customer? Lead nurturing tactics provide the follow up to build confidence in your prospect’s mind about your firm’s product or service. Your firm’s website design can be a lead nurturing tool along with white papers, capabilities brochure, success stories, references, etc. These tools allow a sales team to move the process forward and close the deal. It is important that marketing not only focus on generating ideal customer leads but also giving the sales team the tools necessary to seal the deal.