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Testing for B-to-B marketers: How hard is it?

B-to-B marketers are often guilty of laziness when it comes to testing their communications, whether it’s testing the copy approach, the layout, the offer or the target audience.  Well, to call it laziness may not be entirely fair.  It’s a fact that the typical B-to-B campaign targets universes that are too small to support a split test.  If you’re selling specialized machine tools, you’re lucky if you have 10,000 potential customers worldwide. 
I work with a company that offers employee benefits programs, and markets to HR professionals.  We are planning a campaign to take the service into the Boston area, targeting firms with more than 100 employees, which number about 6,000 sites.  At two HR contacts per site, using direct mail, we would have a mail plan of 12,000.  With an estimated response rate of 1%, we’re looking at only 120 inquiries—clearly not enough to conduct a test of the two good offer ideas we are kicking around.  Which is a shame, because we really have no idea which motivational offer is going to work better with this audience.

But in the digital world, B-to-B marketers have a lot more options for testing.  Split tests are easy to set up, and applicable to any communications vehicle that drives a response—whether it be an email, a landing page, a banner ad, Adwords copy, anything, using free tools like Google Website Optimizer or scores of other SaaS or enterprise software tools.

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Plus, there are abundant resources out there now to guide and inspire business marketers.  Have a look at Which Test Won, a weekly comparison of two B-to-B live test versions—usually landing pages—where visitors are invited to go with their guts, and pick a winner.  Then, you can view the actual winner and participate in a lively discussion of possible reasons why.  This brilliant site was the brain child of Anne Holland, the founder of Marketing Sherpa.

So my client would like to conduct an offer test through digital channels, and we are exploring various options.  It’s still not easy with a small prospect universe in a limited geographic area.  There are not enough targeted banner media available to reach HR professionals in the Boston-only area.  Email to entirely cold prospects is too spammy to generate leads at a reasonable cost—and still doesn’t solve the universe size problem that we face with direct mail.   We considered Google AdWords with location targeting, but it’s going to be hard to sell the offer properly within the AdWords copy limits. Not to mention questions about how long it would take to get enough clicks to call the results.  So our search continues, and we’d welcome ideas from Biznology readers on this one.

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Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens advises clients on customer acquisition and retention. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is an author and contributor to many notable business publications. Her books include B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results and Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff Davis, and IBM.

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