(Note: To clear up any possible confusion, this Case Study is about ProfNet.org, a successful business consulting firm, which is NOT related to the well-known ProfNet.com media relations service offered through PRNewswire.)CHALLENGE
Back when Nancy Roebke, Executive Director ProfNet, started her consulting company in 1992, she marketed it through giving speeches at related trade conferences, and attending professional networking events. Soon the company had a "healthy" client base spending ten thousand dollars per average account.
Then in the mid-nineties, disaster struck. Roebke was seriously injured in a car accident and laid up in traction for two years. She needed to find a way of marketing ProfNet's services without making personal appearances. It was the perfect time to launch a Web site.
Like many B-to-B marketers, Roebke was disappointed in her initial site's results. She says, "I made mistakes. The most common is to put up a site and not have anybody find it, or use it because it's not user friendly. I learned it's a misconception that if you have a great offline following that it will be the basis for your online success. It's absolutely not true."CAMPAIGN
Undeterred, Roebke began to surf the Internet looking for examples she could steal ideas from. "I thought about myself as a Web site user, and what made me stay on a site, and what made me feel as thought I wasn't just being sold. I realized I liked being given something free that helped me be more productive, helped me understand things better. Then I realized I wasn't unique in that respect."
Roebke had already developed a personality quiz as a handout for her speeches at conferences in the past, to get attendees more involved. The test asked attendees to rate themselves quickly on 40 different attributes, such as "Are you more Persistent, Playful, Persuasive or Peaceful?" Then she'd hand out a printed answers sheet, attendees could use to score their answers with.
So, one day she had a brainwave, why not put the quiz online? She says, "I wanted people visiting the site to feel like I was as concerned with helping them, as I was with getting their money."
Instead of just posting the two handouts online, Roebke turned the quiz into an interactive site feature that would gather opt-in email addresses for her, so she could continue to build a relationship with quiz-takers and turn them into sales.
However, it's easy to overlook clear communication in the rush to gather email addresses. Roebke felt strongly that her site should very clearly spell out that quiz-takers would be added to a mailing list, instead of just alluding to it briefly in the fine print. Although this would reduce the number of people who would opt to take the quiz, it would also increase the quality of sales leads gathered, and their likelihood to respond to future offers.
Therefore Personality Test page (link below) begins with three paragraphs of copy reading: NOTICE! This profile is used to help business professionals develop stronger business relationships and better networking skills. Persons taking this profile will be added to a mailing list to receive information on how to improve networking skills to increase revenue. Those not wishing to be added to such a list SHOULD NOT TAKE THIS PROFILE. Also, a correct and valid email address needs to be provided, so the results can be returned to you. If there is no valid email provided, you will not get your results.
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The quiz follows below on the same page, built as a series of radial buttons for the 40 questions. Then at the bottom of the quiz, after visitors have invested a bit of time giving their answers, they are asked to enter their email address to receive their personal results. Names receive an automated message with their results, and are added to the regular opt-in list for ProfNet's weekly email newsletter.
The newsletter (link to sample below) continues the sales process through three types of content:
1. Warm, personal tone: Roebke says one of the biggest mistakes many B-to-B newsletters make is to use a formal business tone. "Human beings make buying decisions most of the time through body language, eye contact and voice inflection. Buyers tend to be very loyal to people they know, like and trust." However since there is no body language on the Internet, online buyers rely heavily on a company's writing style to determine if they trust that business.
Roebke cautions, "I see an awful lot of people try to write really businessy, really professionally online. How you would make a sales presentation doesn't work online. It kills people when it's just words and there's no way to soften it with your own presence and facial expression. People don't want to be sold. The more real and conversational you are in how you present yourself, the faster people are going to take to you."
2. Q&A: Every issue of ProfNet's newsletter contains a section where Roebke answers readers' questions. This allows her to show off her expertise, involves readers in the newsletter as an interactive conversation, and subtly establishes credibility for the Company by showing readers that their business peers are also subscribers.
3. Testimonials: Whenever a happy client writes a note to ProfNet, Roebke also adds that to the newsletter at the end, where more salesy content is permissible because she's already given away "valuable" advice before that section. (Note: Never make your sales pitch or company news the top story.)
She notes that she's actually received many more testimonials from clients because they see there's a place for them in the newsletter.
Roebke has relied 100% on two key guerilla marketing tactics to drive traffic to the Personality Quiz. The first is to offer the best of her email newsletter articles for free distribution to sites and newsletters seeking related content. She gets a high pick-up rate because her articles are both non-salesly (she leaves the sales message to her hotlinked author description at the end) and they're packed with evergreen advice that doesn't go out of style.
She says, "Type my name into most search engines and you'll see articles I've written in hundreds of places. An article I wrote in 1996 was just published in the current Home Business magazine. I don't have to be writing every single second of the day -- old articles are still effective."
The second guerilla tactic Roebke relies on is sending messages to email discussion groups (aka email discussion lists) on related business topics. (See link below to MarketingSherpa's special free report on how to do this.) She notes, "The more words you put out there, the greater chance people have to get to know you."
Currently she subscribes to a total of 93 (!) different email discussion groups, all of which she found through client and colleague referrals. She set up a special email box for this purpose so her regular email isn't overwhelmed, and has all messages automatically directed into folders that she can scan through quickly at her leisure. She notes, "I only participate in moderated lists. Unmoderated lists don't stay on topic and tend to allow spam, so they are a real waste of time."
Roebke watches each new list she joins for about a month before she carefully enters the conversation or decides to unsubscribe from the list because it doesn't appear to be a valuable one for her. Although the purpose of these lists is business networking, she never posts straight sales messages that might offend participants. Instead she tries to contribute in a useful manner to the conversation at hand, and relies on her SIG (email signature), which includes links to the ProfNet site, to do the selling for her. (See SIG sample below.)
The ProfNet site now gets about a half million visitsevery month. Of these, about 2,000 per year accept the site's quiz offer and add their email to the opt-in list for the newsletter. Then, each year Roebke's newsletter converts more than a dozen of these opt-ins into consulting clients, "paying thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars."
The slowing economy has not slowed down ProfNet's business growth at all. In fact, Roebke says, "I have more people converting to sales now because they need the edge. They need our help."
Can all types of businesses use online quizzes to gather leads? Roebke is convinced they can. It doesn't matter what industry you are in, everyone still wants to learn more about themselves. She says, "Most business Web sites have a huge flaw. A million people could come to the site, and you'd never know who they are, unless you have someplace where they can leave a footprint."
When she looks around at other B-to-B marketing efforts online, Roebke says she sees marketers making three other typical mistakes that hurt their sales lead generation:
Mistake #1: Marketing campaigns and email signatures that link to your site's home page. "Marketers have the misconception that people will click around until they find what they want. You've got eight seconds. If they can't find what they want, they will leave your site. Why not send them right to what they want, so in that eight seconds they are doing something with it?"
Roebke also recommends that you create different landing pages for different niches of your marketplace. Then when you're marketing to that niche, give them a direct link to the site page that's meant for them.
Note - this rules out using frames in your site.
Mistake #2: "Business card-style email signatures with your company name, phone number, fax number, home page. That's a huge waste of very important space. For god's sake, use it for promotion! Don't use it to give people contact information they can get at your Web site."
Again, Roebke advises if you serve more than one niche market that you develop SIGs for each, including links to the appropriate niche page on your site. Don't use the same SIG for every market.
Mistake #3: Publish your email newsletter more frequently than monthly or quarterly. Roebke says, "I strongly encourage you to do it weekly because of the math. Even with holidays, you'll have 50 contacts a year. You do it monthly and that contact number drops to 12. It doesn't work every other month or quarterly because they forget who the heck you are, and it's a waste of time."Useful links related to this article
ProfNet Personality Test
Sample issue of ProfNet Newsletter:
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