"We had trade show burnout," says Dan DeKemper President DeKemper & Associates.
"We certainly would have a booth at industry trade shows such as COMDEX, but you don't really have a targeted audience. You get millions of people walking in looking for free stuff."
DeKemper's typical clients spend at minimum $100,000 on IT consulting services with them (and often a whole lot more). Which means, generally it is a C-level exec who makes the final hiring decision.
"It's the type of guy you reach through personal relationships, or when you're invited to propose an RFP," notes DeKemper.
Which, no matter how enthusiastically your current client base recommends you to friends, limits you to a small pool compared to the RFP requests more famous firms get. "We're typically against IBM, Accenture, KPMG. People say, 'Who the heck are you guys? We've never even heard of you.'"
DeKemper needed another way to generate highly qualified new sales leads. Although he did not dump trade shows entirely, for 2002 he decided to test putting 20% of his regular marketing budget into buying ads in email newsletters and Web sites.CAMPAIGN
"I have an innate insecurity about advertising," says DeKemper. "I know there is branding, yeah, yeah, yeah. At the bottom line I want to see sales. I want to see results. Clicks are not working for me unless I see some sales or some prospective customer visits scheduled."
Prior to launching an online marketing campaign, first DeKemper had his in-house Web team set up a system whereby they could track all resulting clicks to see what they did once they got to his site.
In addition, his team developed reports that would quickly reveal the quality of leads registering for offers at his campaign landing pages. He was not just tracking how many leads he got, but how many were qualified, and ultimately how many turned into clients.
Next DeKemper tested three different offers that appeared on banners and/or email newsletter ads at TechTarget's SearchSAP.com and ComputerWorld.com:
Offer #1: White paper
Media sales reps told DeKemper that white paper offers usually got the highest click rates, so he tested one.
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Offer #2: Trial "QuickStart" offer
Prospects always want to be able to see how their data will look using a new software system before they bite the bullet to invest in it. DeKemper offered them a two-week trial for a flat fee of 10% or less of what they would expect to pay for the final project to see their own data demoed using the new system.
"I was completely arrogant," he recalls, "I told everyone, we're going to be overwhelmed with takers!"
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Offer #3: IT staff training
The problem with buying new software systems is the high costs of continually hiring consultants to run the darn thing. DeKemper decided to offer "knowledge transfer engagements" whereby his team would train the client's in-house techs to run the system completely as it was being implemented.
"At the end of the day you're not relying on us, the whole goal was to get rid of us," he explains.
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At the same time as he launched the new online campaign, DeKemper also had his marketing team develop and launch a new newsletter for prospects.
"You do an ad, you get a lead, but as you start to qualify leads you find some are not ready to do anything more for three-four months. Well that's perfect for the newsletter," DeKemper explains. "We can be continually in their face for those three months."
However, instead of launching an email newsletter, he launched in print. "Most of our target audience gets barraged with email."
The newsletter was mailed as a folded self-mailer (i.e. not enclosed in an envelope. Link to sample below) and had three unusual features:
Feature #1: Lots of content
Each print issue is eight pages long with three columns of fairly small 8-point type per page. That is a heck of a lot more content than most email or print newsletters include.
Feature #2: Links to yet more content online
Many of the most interesting articles end with notes telling readers they should go to DeKemper's "members only" Web site area to get more data on the topic. Each newsletter subscriber has a personal password allowing them access to this site section.
Why not post it publicly instead?
Dan DeKemper says this allows his sales reps to know who is deeply interested in the information (and hence perhaps a better prospect), and it lets the prospects feel like they are getting access to something more valuable than content that is available at no-cost on open sites.
Exclusivity breeds value.
Feature #3: Not everything is serious
While many of the newsletter articles are professionally useful (i.e. "4 Trends that are changing the face of Enterprise Resource Planning"), some are not related to work.
For example, the Feb 2003 issue featured a lighthearted item on Hoboken NJ's lame approach to snow removal, and reviews of the best places to eat in Rome, Italy.
The lighter articles still have a tie-in with DeKemper, the firm is headquartered in Hoboken and his staff contributed the reviews.
None of the content is salesly. None talks about DeKemper's new accounts or partnerships or pushes special offers. If it is not truly useful, interesting or fun for readers, it is not included.
Dan DeKemper says he is awfully glad he set tracking in place instead of just counting clicks because some of the ads and offers that got the highest clicks ended up being worthless, and vice versa.
The campaign as a whole was so successful that he is again dedicating 20% of his 2003 marketing budget to online, and continuing with the print newsletter.
- The white paper offer got lots of clicks, but not good ones. "We found a lot of competitors and current customers downloaded them." DeKemper does not offer white papers in initial lead gen campaigns anymore.
- The "Quick Start" offer tanked big-time. DeKemper yanked it within a week.
He is glad of the investment though because running a fast test online told him it was not a good offer so he could change the rest of his traditional marketing materials to a more popular offer.
"I got instant notification that I was off-message. That was very good for us. It helped us change messaging at trade shows."
- The "Knowledge Transfer" offer was enormously popular. "We got literally about 100 enquiries filling out the form within two days of running the ad. I was looking at click through rates of 1.5-2%." These leads were definitely qualified. So far four have turned into paying consulting gigs worth six figures each.
- While ComputerWorld ads generated lots of clicks, many of them turned out to be less qualified. DeKemper moved more of his media buying budget to SearchSAP.com which was more targeted to his specific niche.
- Even then, DeKemper's team discovered that many of the clicks were actually from job seekers rather than prospects. "We saw a lot of people were coming in and going to our job board."
He took advantage of that by running banners and email newsletter ads instead of standard recruiting classifieds when he needed more staff. "It beats Monster.com," says DeKemper.
- Over 2002 it became apparent that the email newsletter ads were performing significantly better than site banner ads. DeKemper has started to "thin out banners" in favor of newsletter ads.
- Feedback on the print newsletter has been highly positive. "Now people come up to us at shows and say, 'I get your newsletter every month and I love it,'" DeKemper says. "It's so cheap to get your face out there. Just $.85 per piece."
The most popular, and remembered, articles are the lighthearted ones.
Sample of print newsletter:
TechTarget's SearchSAP.com http://www.searchsap.com
Software that DeKemper uses to track his Web visitor activity: