B2B Prospecting on a Small Budget

Bootstrapping your sales and marketing efforts with a B2B offering is a lot easier than trying to do it for consumer-focused products or services. I’ve spent many years promoting B2B services to Internet marketers with budgets smaller than the weekly allowance my parents gave me as a kid. In 2002, I had the pleasure of heading up one of the early bid management platforms, KeywordMax.com, before almost anyone realized that you could automate paid search campaigns. Today, I can tell you that prospecting on a budget is a great game. I’ve used a few key methods over the years to reach target markets, even with a small sales and marketing budget.

1. Establish expertise. You will have an easier time generating interest in your services if you can establish yourself as one of the experts in what you do. Cost: $0.

  • Get published. Write articles on interesting topics that your target market yearns to learn about, and get them published in e-mail newsletters that already target your market.
  • White papers. These get great exposure and provide your sales team with powerful fodder to send to prospects, provided that the topic is interesting, informative, and an easy read. For better exposure, promote your favorite white papers using a bit of advertising dollars on targeted publications.
  • Speak at tradeshows. After you’ve started your journey as a subject matter leader via your articles and white papers, get in front of a crowd and speak on these topics at industry events.
  • Your website. As you develop your site, promote your publications and any accolades you’ve earned as a company on your landing page(s).
  • Answer questions. Seek out questions posted by other folks in your industry on sites like LinkedIn, and post your well thought-out, non-salesy answers.

2. Inspire word-of-mouth. Most B2B industries are made of tight networks of people who have known each other for quite some time. It’s important to inspire industry insiders to talk about you and write about you. Cost: $0.

  • Bloggers/message board posters. Seek out active and respected voices in your vertical. These folks are always on the lookout for fresh topics to discuss. Then reach out to them by providing informative content, perhaps your expert thoughts on a recent post, and/or a trial of your product of service.
  • Customer service. Provide your customers with excellent and honest customer care and support. Know them well – follow Google Alerts, for example, to stay up-to-speed on what your clients are doing. The more you listen to your customers and act like a responsible and proactive vendor, the more your customers will talk about you – in a good way.
  • Social networking. Of course you can use Twitter or Facebook, but neither will have any impact until you establish a following and have a specific objective in your communications. We use Twitter, for example, to promote our articles and let people know where to find us at tradeshows. We could probably do more, but we subscribe to the “less is more” philosophy. Over-tweeters get ignored.
  • 3. Identify prospects using low-cost tools. There are great research tools to find prospective clients that cost only your time and effort.
    • Tradeshow websites. Find popular tradeshows in your vertical. Most will not publish the attendee list, but the speaker list and exhibitor list will give you a good start.
    • LinkedIn. Use the company search features to search for companies that fit in with your business. Then use the advanced people search function to identify staff in the appropriate job functions at those companies that you wish to prospect.
    • Searches on search engines. Use search engines, especially those targeted to your subject matter, to find appropriate companies to target.
    • Top lists. Find top 50 lists, top 100 lists, or top 500 lists – most of these are published for free on the Web.

    4. E-mail. E-mail is free, and it enables us to reach a specific audience quickly. It’s dangerous if you do it wrong, but powerful if done right. In my experience, 99 percent of the e-mails I get from B2B folks are completely off the mark. I see things like special deals and limited time offers, messaging that has nothing to do with our business, and high-pressure, impersonal communications. You can always tell when you are sent an e-mail as part of a big blast to a list. We recommend sending e-mails one at a time – you reach less, but your impact is better. We never sell in our e-mails because the prospect doesn’t even know us yet. E-mail is your introduction and first impression, so make it personalized and relevant to the recipient, or you will meet delete.

    5. Capture leads. Don’t forget to capture leads. Most B2B buyers do not purchase on the spot; you’ll need to follow up with these folks down the road.

    • Your website. We like to make it as easy as possible for folks to communicate with us, and therefore all of our contact information, along with a demo sign-up form, is easy to find on the front page of our website.
    • CRM. It’s imperative that you use a CRM tool, like SalesForce or Landslide. All of your prospects, including out-bound efforts and in-bound requests, need to be recorded in an easy place that’s accessible to anyone who will be interacting with prospective customers. Otherwise, you risk prospects falling through the cracks, you’re certainly not able to do appropriate follow-up, and you’re setting up your sales team to step all over each other.

    In addition, we’ve built robust tools for our sales team that work in a semi-automated way to identify prospects, find specific problems unique to each prospect, discover e-mail addresses in a responsible manner, and tie our communication efforts all together using a CRM tool.

  • This column was originally published in SES Magazine in August 2010.

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