September 26, 2007
Case Study

How to Use Social Networking Sites for Lead Generation

SUMMARY: Blogs, wikis and social networking sites are perfect channels for lead generation -- as long as you’re seen as a friend, not as an intruder.

See how one software maker used a B-to-B social network as a distribution channel for a series of white papers. They’ve already exceeded their goal for leads by 42.4% and have seen a 750% ROI. Five steps to follow.
“All vendors get involved to some degree with online groups, social networking sites or bulletin boards, at least to monitor what’s being said about their company and products. But there’s only so many times you can jump into a discussion before being seen as invasive,” says Chris Boylan, Director Internet Marketing, Information Builders.

Those limitations frustrated Boylan, who saw B-to-B social networking sites as fantastic potential channels to distribute marketing materials related to a company’s business intelligence software. Social networks provided an audience of potential customers and decision makers who were often debating key industry issues, looking for advice on technical challenges or researching new products.

Boylan wanted to see whether providing relevant content to a B-to-B social networking community could generate sales leads without making the company seem like an intruder.

Boylan and his team decided to use a B-to-B social network as a distribution channel for a series of white papers. Their goal: to put valuable supporting materials in front of prospects who were early in the product research stage or were actively soliciting advice about business information systems.

Here are the five steps they followed:

-> Step #1. Spend time learning members’ interests

To meet their goal of providing relevant white papers, they needed a detailed understanding of the online community’s makeup.

For a year before launching the white paper marketing campaign, they sponsored an email discussion group in the network on the company’s software.

From this, they discovered a key characteristic of the community that shaped their white paper marketing strategy: members were not just developers in charge of implementing or running IT systems, they also were decision makers and influencers.

-> Step #2. Create a mix of white paper titles

To improve their chances of delivering relevant content during online discussions, the team wanted a range of white paper titles that addressed several subjects. They settled on high-level, conceptual pieces related to the discipline of business intelligence and tactical reports that addressed specific technology issues, such as software implementation and scalability issues.

The six white papers used were:
- Establishing a Culture of Measurement - A Practical Guide to Business Intelligence
- Controlling Excel Chaos with Business Intelligence
- Best Practices in Operational Business Intelligence
- The Foundation of High-Value Business Intelligence: A Modular, Scalable Architecture
- Delivering Next Generation User Interfaces for Business Intelligence Using AJAX
- Data Visualization: Gaining Perspective

“There has to be a blend between thought pieces and other pieces that show we have the expertise to bring this in to deploy it at your site and make it successful,” Boylan says.

-> Step #3. Promote the white papers across the network

The features of the social network offered several places where Boylan’s team could target potentially receptive audiences for the white papers.

They promoted the six white paper titles on a rotating basis in the following channels:
o The RSS feed dedicated to Business Intelligence
o Weekly email newsletters aimed at developers and decision makers
o The network’s white paper alert email newsletter, which lets members opt in to receive notice of new content available
o Network blogs, discussion groups and wikis where business intelligence issues were being discussed; using the network’s keyword matching tool, the team delivered links to related white papers alongside relevant content

-> Step #4. Customize registration page to capture lead qualification information

Network members who clicked on an ad or a link promoting a white paper were taken to the social network’s standard registration page.

That form captured basic contact information, including:
o Name
o Email address
o Phone number
o Company name
o Company size
o Job description

Members who were logged into the network when they clicked on the link would find all this information pre-filled, based on their user profiles.

In addition, Boylan and his team added two custom questions to the form to help qualify leads:
o Your company’s annual revenue?
o Do you have a specific project and budget?

-> Step #5. Add leads to CRM system for sales or marketing follow-up

To stay on top of prospects, Boylan set up the system to deliver a daily report of new leads. “You’ve got to get to people quickly. They can forget that they downloaded your white paper when they might be researching BI on five vendors’ sites.”

- New leads were delivered in a spreadsheet via email.
- A marketing staffer would cross-check those names against the existing customer and prospect database. If it was a new name, they created a new record for the prospect. If it was an existing name, they updated their profile to note the white paper download.
- Leads who answered “no” to the question about a specific project and budget were added to the marketing database for further nurturing.
- Leads who indicated a project and a budget were passed along to the appropriate regional sales or marketing team for follow-up.
The social network audience proved very receptive to white paper offers relevant to their online activities. The campaign exceeded its goal for total leads by 42.4%.

Deals closed from those leads have delivered a 750% return on investment, with more leads still in the pipeline. “This is right up there with our best performers in online B-to-B marketing,” Boylan says.

The white paper campaign also validated Boylan’s assessment that B-to-B social network members aren’t just developers looking for technical information. In fact, the company’s thought-leadership white papers delivered the most leads.

Here’s the breakdown:
- Establishing a Culture of Measurement - A Practical Guide to Business Intelligence - 38%
- Controlling Excel Chaos with Business Intelligence - 23%
- Best Practices in Operational Business Intelligence - 19%
- The Foundation of High-Value Business Intelligence: A Modular, Scalable Architecture - 7%
- Delivering Next Generation User Interfaces for Business Intelligence Using AJAX - 7%
- Data Visualization: Gaining Perspective - 5%

Boylan expects their marketing to continue paying dividends down the road. “With these high-level pieces, we’re being seen as a thought leader. So, when people come to the point of identifying a short list of vendors for their own BI implementations, they’ll hopefully look at us as the ones who helped them come up with their whole project plan.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Information Builders' social networking campaign:

ITtoolbox, the B-to-B social networking site that Information Builders used for its white paper campaign:

Information Builders:

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