The phones are ringing, web traffic is up, and the sales manager is telling everyone you’re a marketing genius. Your business-to-business lead generation campaign is a success!

But before you break out the bubbly, remember that getting prospects to express interest in a product or service can be the easy part of business-to-business marketing. Converting those leads to sales is often a lengthy and complex process.

Here’s how to build a smart marketing strategy that engages B-to-B prospects and helps persuade them to say “yes.”

6 Steps for Successful Lead Conversion

Business purchases typically involve multiple decision-makers who can take weeks or even months to select a vendor. Since leads may need to be nurtured over time, you need to build a relationship with these prospects.

Your sales team will make frequent contact with prospects during the sales process, but marketing can play a pivotal role, too. Following these six steps can help you create a successful lead conversion marketing strategy.

1. Capture Contact Data to Facilitate a Dialogue

During lead qualification, capture the contact data needed for an ongoing sales dialogue, especially e-mail addresses and permission to send e-mails. One way to get this data is to require it for fulfillment of your original direct mail offer, such as a product sample, free trial of your product or service, or a premium.

It’s also a good idea to ask prospects to help you identify other team members who will have a role in the purchasing decision, so you can reach out to influencers, authorizers, and end-users.

2. Develop a Data-Driven Contact Management Plan

Use prospect data to build a contact management program, a carefully planned series of regular touches with prospects to keep them interested, keep your product and company top of mind, and create additional opportunities to generate a response.

Use data such as company size, NAICS code, industry, geography, or future revenue potential to group prospects with similar characteristics into segments. Then, develop a marketing communications plan for each segment that regularly delivers information tailored to prospects’ interests.

Most B-to-B marketers try to reach prospects at least quarterly. For others, a bimonthly or monthly contact is appropriate. A mix of tactics and channels, such as direct mail plus e-mail, can help you keep in touch with hard-to-reach business executives.

3. Send Information that Helps Prospects Make the Buying Decision

Your goal is to persuade prospects to make the buying decision. Send information that facilitates that decision, such as:

– Product samples;
– Newsletters about industry trends or product usage, such as new applications, peripherals, upgrades, or enhancements;
– Case studies showing how others are using your product or service;
– Customer testimonials about your company.

4. Tailor the Marketing to the Prospect

Nothing turns off a prospect faster than feeling like you don’t know them. Thus, it’s vital that your lead conversion marketing campaigns reflect your prior contact and the budding relationship.

A data-driven sales/CRM system can help you track contact with prospects and tailor future initiatives to each individual. It’s also smart to customize communications to various individuals within a company according to their level of authority and their role in the buying process.

5. Treat Top Prospects Like They’re Already Customers

Even among qualified prospects, all are not equal. Move your very best leads – those with the greatest likelihood of converting to a sale or offering the highest potential revenue – into a preferred contact queue that treats them like they’re already customers.

Send these prospects higher-end, highly personalized direct mail and consider offering them, for a limited time, select advantages only your customers receive, such as special offers, preferred pricing, new product previews, or private invitations to customer-only events.

6. Create Opportunities for a Face-to-Face Dialogue

The Holy Grail for most business-to-business sales reps is an in-person meeting with the prospect. Identify potential opportunities for face-to-face contact and use direct marketing to promote them. Invite prospects to events, seminars, or educational programs, or encourage them to meet with you or attend activities you sponsor at trade shows.

When They Still Haven’t Said “Yes”

Be realistic about the timeframe for B-to-B lead conversion. What seems like a long time to you can seem perfectly appropriate to the prospect. Keep your best prospects on your contact list, be sure to keep the list current, and continue sending marketing messages to prospects that clearly have a need for what you sell. Communicate regularly, stay on the prospect’s radar screen, and your next marketing initiative could be the one that finally results in the sale.

Jean M. Gianfagna is a strategic marketing consultant and the founder and President of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing, Inc., a consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio that provides marketing strategy, direct marketing, and creative services to leading business-to-business and consumer marketers.

Jean has been creating and implementing successful, integrated marketing communications plans and programs for more than 30 years. She founded Gianfagna Strategic Marketing in 1992. Jean’s blog, Smart Marketing Strategy, provides marketing insights and ideas to help marketers generate a higher return on their marketing investment: 

A frequent speaker on developing marketing strategies and campaigns, Jean has taught advertising, branding, direct marketing, marketing strategy, and marketing communications at several universities and professional conferences and authored articles on effective direct marketing techniques in national marketing publications.