Tuesday, May 10, 2011

B-to-B Lead Generation: The Rise of the Web.

Lead Gen Revolution: 
Dramatic change to Business-to-Business (B-to-B) lead generation in just 10 years.

Over the last decade, promoting technical services to businesses has been transformed, going from mostly 'physical' tactics like sales rep cold calls, trade shows, print ads and stamped mail shots to new technologies including dynamic websites, paid search, organic search, banner ads, social media, and email campaigns. 

Various web experts are saying that in 2010 around 58% of all B-to-B leads were web generated in the USA. That number is expected to rise to 75% in 2015. Already, 80% of buyers said they contacted the vendor, presumably most of them referenced the web for research. Only 10% of buyers came from traditional cold calls. These figures state what we now take for granted: the web has radically changed how a business does business with another business.

I am very lucky and privileged to have been a full and deep 'brick-and-mortar' web marketing player in this unique period of human history - when the business world became wired and went global. When marketing began to transform from 'analog' to 'digital'. Back in 2000, business websites were rather simple, static, 'brochure-ware webpages', not really written nor geared to this novel new way people could find and scan (not read) information on the web. Most people had only thin copper wire connectivity to the web. Broadband was expanding but a rarity. Worse, many sites were not search-engine friendly  because search engines like Google and Overture were not a big factor in search engine traffic.... yet. Remember those disastrous 'framed' content management systems?

I had the pleasure of seeing my first web-leads generated in 1998, they came from extremely qualified customers who were technology savvy, early adapters - - they saw and understood the fantastic potential of the internet, and also appreciated it as extremely cool. They were the customers who kept asking me why we didn't have a website. After months of advocating and pushing, I secured agreement and resources to get the new site built. And surprise! We started to get visitors, and real live leads. That first web-lead in 1998 was very exciting, the beginning of a dramatic shift in lead gen, and a big surprise to skeptics and doubters. 

How did the clients find us in those pioneer days? Promotion. Mostly because I insisted we have our URL domain and an email address printed on business cards, ads, listings, and promotional giveaways. Promotion was our primary way to build awareness of the site, search engines were not an important factor back then. I first heard about Google in 2000, and my first impression was that the name was pretty funny. Little did I know that because of Google, I would spend literally thousands of hours working on webpages, Adwords and Analytics to generate tens of thousands of B-to-B leads a year.

Once Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, MSN (AKA: Paleolithic Bing), Copernicus, and many other search engines became popular, lead generation from B-to-B websites really took off. I am honored to have been involved in the exciting, early stages of this revolutionary change.

Organic and Paid search became extremely important for generating leads. A potential customer could now find that needle-in-the-haystack with relative ease - - you being that needle, that lucrative niche service, for example, if you did your job right!
The customer now controlled the lead generation process, to your advantage. If you took the initiative in, say 2003, with fresh web content and innovative paid search, and your competitors were oblivious (and most of them were), you could enjoy a near-monopoly on key search terms and web leads.... an enviable situation which is still possible today if you are dedicated, creative and focused.