Alternatives of lead generation to expos, trade shows, conferences and offline events for startups and SME’s
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
define the project focus – needs to be local, region-specific or
define the project objective – whether is to generate more web traffic,
more requests, more sales, telephone calls etc, make sure your goals are
build the custom website with clearly defined sections and call to action
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
create long-term SEO/content strategy with concrete steps, activities and
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
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
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
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
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 :)