Are you one of those start-ups or SME’s that relied on lead generation from offline B2B events such as expos, trade shows and conferences? Sales team coming back to office with a stack of business cards and starting to reach out to prospects? Wondering how to refocus your sales team activity during a hiatus of trade shows? Read on, there may be some ideas that would inspire you.

Building a successful start-up company means not only presenting MVP, but also being able to convert the interested clients to paying (and satisfied) ones.

All sales teams out there know the drill. Grinding and grinding and grinding. What are the alternatives when one of your main lead generation channels suddenly dried out? During 2020 we witnessed the implosion of revenues of the events industry that is continuing during this year. Event plans of many attending companies became ever changing activity with constant rescheduling, re-planning with last minute add-ins and drop-outs. Although offline events are not only popular but also essential for one on one in person meetings, one simply cannot rely on them being a single lead generation source.

Few words about us

We are a company of 16, while 4 of us work in business development. After almost 6 years we’re not much of a start-up company anymore, more of a deep tech SME.

Scope of our activities lies in customisation of fully developed sensing technology . Customisation itself in our case is a lengthy process (from 6 up to 24 months and it even became lengthier during COVID19 outbreak). Project work consumes substantial amount of our R&D capacities (team of 12 highly skilled PhD educated professionals)

From a sales perspective – we inevitably adopted solution-based selling, often adapted by consultancy or similar industries.

Developing any lead most often takes us approx. one year (or even two to three with several clients). From initial contact to the point when we are able to define the project time frame together, step by step development and delivery plan, set a budget and other details and sign a contract.

Online events

The most obvious one that happened naturally with great effort from the events industry itself. Virtual events have been on the rise for quite some time (not necessarily replacing offline events, rather playing to their strengths in parallel), however, pandemic only sped up the process. Traditional (offline event) organizers already active in the space of online were prepared to fully exploit the area of online events.

Response from event-hungry industry professionals was overwhelming and continues to this day. You can find useful data, statistics and information about online meetings on the Clickmeeting blog and on the online portal Statista.

Many sectoral media offer paid workshops and will be of great help – to not only provide you with the opportunity to present, but also to help you address the right audience as they collected extensive databases over the years, will feature you in regular mailing blasts to their readership and include you in the online ads. All in one package, tailored to your needs. Larger corporations hold such workshops to attract new customers inhouse on a regular basis. It is also a possibility for you. But careful, don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Direct sales activities

Building your own database of potential clients (in line with GDPR , US Privacy Shield and other regulations) is a very powerful tool. Correct segmentation and targeting, clear professional communication. with focus on valid, informative and useful content instead of hard selling.

First step typically involves research of prospect companies – broad research, where you would collect the company names from industry associations, magazines, sectoral trade show attendees, online databases and lists. You may need to fIlter them down to those with certain geographical focus or size (by employees or annual revenue).

Second step – putting together a list of professionals to approach becomes more complex and also GDPR sensitive. Set of tools for building such a database include LinkedIn, Xing, Twitter, Facebook, business cards collected via various online tools and event apps. And yes – your potential client is always just a telephone call away. Never underestimate a good old cold call. New type tools that have been gaining popularity include Rocketreach, Snov.io, ZeroBounce to name a few. For the emails or content delivery there’s not much new to be discovered. Mailing tools offering great management above your database are provided by Mailchimp, Constant Contact and others. There are also alternatives such as Sendinblue allowing you to send SMS campaigns too. And Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook all have their own messaging systems in place.

Our approach to direct sales and marketing activities

In our case, in one sub-segment of an electronics industry we identified approx 850 companies to be approached, while over 500 qualified of right size or regional presence. We identified over 1600 contact persons, managed to reach out to 880 of them, while 170 opened our message, 62 clicked through our informative white paper and video content, 15 reached out back to us and 2 of them stepped into collaboration and only one turned into an ongoing project.

Altogether 9 months sales project that involved a team of 3 business development reps. Funneled from 850 prospect companies down to 1 live project. With an upside of learning experience and open channel to many more in the future. It would also be correct to say that we are not able to digest more than three to four large projects at once and several smaller ones (feasibility studies). So despite the extensive work on generating one contract it has an immense value for the company.

Pay per click (PPC)

Is there anyone who hasn't at least heard of Google Ads? This is a very elegant option to try working with different keywords, increase your website traffic, track conversion rates etc. Should your business work with products or SaaS and you don’t have experience or an expert in your network, you may need to contact certified PPC professionals.

In our case, we set limited budgets for 2 keywords we are tracking and pay for every ad click directed from Google to our website. Does it pay off? Well some of the keywords we are trying to have covered have very low annual search volume. Below 100 searches a year! So our strategy with PPC for now is to make sure we don’t miss on any of these searches, however low they are. In a nutshell PPC is a rather small jigsaw puzzle piece in our sales strategy, but may play a key role in yours.

Development of partner network

Partner network meaning differs from business to business. IT partner network works with scaling to platinum, gold and silver partners, financial advisory uses a different logic.

You may want to consider partnering up with companies or individuals which have the market knowledge, market access (professional network to introduce you to) or in certain cases can be an integrator for you. It will take some time to get to know each other. Do not think of partner organizations strictly in terms of providing sales activities. The key is to understand what is your partner organization key competence you don’t have.

In our case, the partner network is built to promote and reinforce our activities in the regions where business culture does not necessarily work the same way as in western hemisphere. We focus on **providing our technology to economies with fairly high spending on R&D* (both on country and corporate levels) and high-tech companies. Over the years the great partnership was formed with the company of Dr. Sudy Zoltan, former ambassador of Hungary to Japan and Thailand and his professional team at Sudy & Co . This partner selected the right target customers, personally introduced us to executives of large Japanese multinational conglomerates and facilitated the meetings. This partnership proved to be great added value and secured several ongoing projects for us. Especially in Japan it is not typical to achieve it by yourself in such time frame.

Web generated leads and search engine optimisation (SEO)

You may argue that web generated leads are more marketing than sales related. And in fact, you are absolutely right to say so.

A need from our side was clear from the beginning. We needed to convert our rather static website to a powerful tool generating business. More so, when we sell unique (or niche market) sensing technology. Last time we checked on Google Trends – e.g. term “biocompatible sensors” – that is one of the several unique features we offer – Google Trends finds less than 160 demands over the span of past 12 months on a global scale – meaning that finding the right partner to sell our technology to fits the “needle in a haystack” definition. For comparison, “contactless temperature sensor” gained around 50 searches per month globally over the course of the past year. Therefore in such case ad network will not be able to help you unless you have an unlimited budget. Simply put it would be bringing cannon to a rabbit hunt.

What did we need to define when focusing on an SEO project?

  • find the right SEO agency to guide us through (you can do this step with a skilled freelancer or hire and SEO expert, verifying the credentials is of essence, we currently work with the slovak online marketing agency Visibility),
  • define the project focus – needs to be local, region-specific or global,
  • define the project objective – whether is to generate more web traffic, more requests, more sales, telephone calls etc, make sure your goals are measurable,
  • build the custom website with clearly defined sections and call to action buttons,
  • fix all technical issues on the website that can be connected to pagespeed, indexing, crawling, canonicals, sitemaps or internal linking etc,
  • define keywords you need to work with in website contents, articles, blogs or dictionary,
  • create long-term SEO/content strategy with concrete steps, activities and measurable goals,
  • identify also industry channels where to publish your PR, articles, blogs etc and work hard on publishing them,
  • plan out your work with social media (and choose the right channels too).

Advantages that such project would generate for your sales team are:

  • having pre-qualified client – already actively seeking solution for his/hers pain point,
  • having right contact without a necessity to find the one on your own (especially in large multinational corporations),
  • being able to focus your sales team activities on pre-qualified leads instead of generating one from X cold calls or email blasts,
  • shortening the lead qualification process significantly.

All the steps above took us a bit over a year to accomplish.

Our results of SEO project

The results in a nutshell are as follows: 60 leads generated via website during last 3 months, 20 of which are multinationals with annual revenue of 500 mil EUR or above, 16 signed NDA’s, several projects already reached the negotiation stage, one in the process of signing the customisation agreement. Not to forget, part of our job is also to identify appropriate leading sector media with higher domain authority (DA) that you can check using tools such as ahrefs, moz or others. We communicate and publish press releases, case studies or other useful content (related to our technology or service offering).

Conclusion

Having a rather conservative approach to lead generation means that it is always better to have several streams of leads combined instead of heavily relying on just one. There are and always will be companies to play it safe. If one lead generation stream suffers, few other streams are able to keep the sales team busy. There are (and also always will be) companies that will drift between different lead generation models and be able to quickly refocus their activities to most performing ones. However, neither direct sales, nor web generated leads (requests), nor partner networks are the channels that you can build overnight. Keep that in mind whenever laying out your own strategy.

You may be thinking that it is too late now, but in fact it never is. The sooner you have more lead generating streams than one the better for you. Our case of rebuilding lead generation approach may seem clairvoyant now as we started approx. two years ago, but the future is always full of surprises. It is better to be prepared. Hope to see you soon at good old fashioned trade shows in the post-pandemic era.

PS: You may know the famous saying “veni, vidi, vici” commonly attributed to Caesar. There is also roman tradesperson version you haven't heard yet. Veni, vidi, vendi :)