January 28, 2010

How to use Social Media and Email for Prospecting: 8 Essentials

SUMMARY: A case of the flu kept Pam O'Neal, VP Marketing, BreakingPoint Systems, from delivering her talk on lead generation through email and social media at last week’s Email Marketing Summit. So we caught up with her this week to learn how her team combined the two channels to create a powerful engine for inbound leads.

Read the eight essential tactics that have helped BreakingPoint triple its revenues in each of the last two years. Includes advice on:
o Coordinating a strategy with the sales team
o Establishing a social media presence
o Creating and distributing content
o Nurturing leads with drip email campaigns
When Pam O’Neal, VP Marketing, joined BreakingPoint Systems in 2008, the startup network testing-equipment vendor didn’t have a strong brand or established customer base. As a result, she didn’t expect strong results immediately from email marketing or other lead generation tactics.

"You can hardly do email marketing well if you don’t have a recognized and trusted brand name and targeted, relevant content," says O’Neal. "You have to create your content assets, get that content out there and build awareness and trust. With that, you can ultimately be more successful with email marketing."

Following that strategy, O’Neal and her team combined careful use of traditional marketing tactics, such as trade shows and targeted email marketing, with a strong push into social media. They established accounts in multiple channels to distribute thought-leadership content, and engaged in conversations with their prospect base through a company blog, LinkedIn Group, Twitter feed, and other means. (See slide deck in Useful Links below)

Through continued experimentation, they’ve managed to turn those activities into a flood of inbound Web leads -- this January, more than half of their meeting requests came from inbound Web leads. And last year, revenues tripled despite facing the same challenges as most B2B marketers: longer sales cycles, bigger buying committees, smaller prospect budgets.

We asked O’Neal to share the key elements of her team’s marketing strategy, and the lessons they’ve learned as the company grew. Here are her eight essentials for successful email/social prospecting:

Essential #1. Sales and marketing alignment

Marketing and sales must work together to define a methodology for conducting email and social media prospecting, and to prioritize the most qualified leads that come through those channels.

Here are O’Neal’s tips for achieving sales and marketing alignment:

- Think like sales

Consider what sales people need to do their job better, and what they’re looking for in a lead. Understand the process that takes a prospect all the way through the funnel to close.

However, never act like a sales person when participating in social networks. Don’t even let your sales team act like sales people on social networks. The goal in these channels is to forge relationships, provide education and answer questions -- not sell.

- Establish goals and develop plan

You need to coordinate all your marketing across traditional channels, such as trade shows, and newer outlets, such as social media. Set goals for many leads you expect to generate through specific efforts.

- Secure sales buy-in

O’Neal garnered buy-in for the social prospecting strategy by showing her sales team the activity taking place on social networks, and the opportunities to connect with prospects through these channels.

"We walked away from one meeting where I think 80% of the sales force had registered for a Twitter account," she says. "They didn’t quite know how to use it yet, but they saw the value."

- Get on same page and stay on the same page

Set standards for how marketing and sales personnel interact online and in social media. Then, stay in close touch with the sales team to check on the progress of leads, answer questions, offer ideas, or even highlight opportunities the sales team might be missing.

Essential #2. A social monitoring system

To begin prospecting in the social sphere, you have to know where your prospects are congregating and what they’re talking about. This requires a monitoring system that can feed you daily updates on relevant conversations taking place around the Web and in social networks.

O’Neal’s team assembled a monitoring system of primarily free tools, such as:
o Google Alerts
o RSS feeds

They established a set of keywords to pinpoint industry news, blog posts, online conversations and activity that fit in two important buckets:
o Who’s talking about something we want to talk about?
o Who’s got a problem we want to solve?

On top of the free tools, the team also uses a paid monitoring tool called BuzzStream, which acts as a social CRM system. When they identify a person writing or talking about a topic related to their services, they can add that person to a database and begin assembling a profile around their demographic information and online activity, such as blog comments or tweets.

The system helps them keep track of:
o Social influencers, who can help spread the word about the company
o Prospects, who they can target for more direct interaction

Essential #3. Prospecting tools

Although the team planned to rely heavily on social media activity to generate inbound Web leads, they also needed basic prospecting tools to help identify and qualify prospects.

Tools they use include:
o Salesforce
o Act-On, a marketing automation platform
o Jigsaw
o LinkedIn

The information in these tools helps identify targets for cold prospecting at large, target accounts. Or, they use the tools to augment information around inbound leads, to help prioritize prospects for follow-up.

Essential #4. A content engine

B2B buyers are seeking educational content specific to their jobs and industries. Creating content and sharing it online, in social networks and via email is how you can connect with these buyers and begin a conversation that moves them through the marketing funnel.

O’Neal’s model for a content engine has two parts:

- Content distribution

The team shares their press releases, articles, whitepapers, videos, and other content in as many channels as possible, such as:
o Email
o Twitter
o Flickr
o YouTube
o MarketWire
o Pitchengine

- Content aggregation

Once the content is out there, the team relies on content aggregators, such as search engines and social bookmarking sites, to put the information in front of a broader audience. Aggregators include:
o Reddit
o StumbleUpon
o Digg
o LinkedIn

"Our whole goal with everything we do is to get found -- we have sharable buttons everywhere."

To feed that content engine, O’Neal’s small marketing team (three people) relies on the company’s in-house subject matter experts. They work with technical and research teams to develop new types of content, such as:
o Blog posts
o Whitepapers
o Video interviews
o How-to guides

They also repurpose content in multiple formats. A blog post can be repackaged into a press release for distribution over the newswires. Then, they might film an interview with the blog author to post on YouTube.

Essential #5. A destination site

All content you distribute, and interactions you have with prospects on social networks should link back to a central hub or destination site.

O’Neal’s team uses their company blog as the destination site for email and social prospecting.

"Our blog is core to the company, strategic for the company, and the face of company," she says. "The rock stars are our CTO and security researcher -- they are the folks our buyers want to hear from."

The blog also offers other advantages as a destination site:
o SEO through long-tail keywords
o Continually updated, relevant information
o Navigation options and tagging to serve visitors relevant content

Rather than use an off-the-shelf blogging system, O’Neal’s team developed their own blog platform to ensure the site could meet their content categorization and navigation needs. For example, if a visitor to the blog searches for information related to a certain topic, such as firewalls, the blog also will serve relevant offers around that topic such as upcoming events, how-to guides, whitepapers, etc.

Essential #6. Company social network presence

If the blog is the hub, then the company’s accounts on host of social networks are the spokes. O’Neal’s team established a presence on sites such as:
o LinkedIn
o Twitter
o Facebook
o YouTube
o FriendFeed

"Go where your audience is," says O’Neal. "You don’t necessarily have to have them on your website to have it be a meaningful conversation."

Her tips for creating and managing a company social presence:
o Reserve all brand names now, before someone else does
o Create pages or accounts for your company and your major products
o Provide templates for employees to create their own pages
o Create and administer customer or peer groups within networks
o Start a group around an industry event (if the hosts haven’t already)
o Actively participate by answering questions, starting discussions, sharing relevant educational content -- no self-promoting
o Bolster online relationships with face-to-face meetings, such as Tweetups, or scheduling lunches with local members of your social networks

Essential #7. A ready, willing and enabled sales team

Handing off a lead that has been nurtured through social media will go more smoothly if the sales rep is versed in the same social prospecting tactics.

O’Neal’s group helps the company’s sales team establish their own profiles in social networks, and gives them the content and tools they need to spread the company’s message.

"They are the face of company, they ought to be armed for battle."

For example, they created a LinkedIn template (sample in slides, below) that BreakingPoint sales personnel can use, which features:
o Essential company messages to include in their profile information
o Sales-enablement content, such as customer use-case presentations
o Monthly webcast promotions to add to their activity listings (LinkedIn is one of the top three sources of registrations for those events)

Additionally, the team provides a "Sales Playbook" to outline the rules of engagement on social media, such as:
o No selling allowed in the LinkedIn group
o No badmouthing competitors

Essential #8. Email drip marketing

The goal of the team’s wide-net social prospecting is to attract visitors to their blog and website and then capture an email address -- through online registration -- to begin targeted, drip marketing campaigns.

"The email connection gives you that semi-permanent link -- or at least far more permanent than a Twitter connection," she says. "It’s way to get in front of that person and keep yourself relevant."

The team’s automated drip marketing campaigns are targeted to a prospect’s interest area, based on their online behavior and activity. Here’s an example of how it works:

- A company thought-leader is interviewed in an industry publication. The end of the interview includes a link to connect with that person through LinkedIn.

- A prospect reads the article, and requests a connection with company thought-leader on LinkedIn.

- The connection is accepted and the team sends an automated email inviting them to join their LinkedIn Group.

- Once in the group, the team can send daily or weekly email communication with that prospect, depending on their preference.

Other drip marketing campaigns customize information based on different data, such as:
o Search keyword(s) that brought the prospect to the website
o Topic of whitepaper or other piece of content downloaded from the site

As the team delivers these email messages, they use marketing automation software to monitor which actions they take, and where they go on the company website, to further customize communications.

"Our follow-on communications are far more targeted, offering resources that are right in their cross hairs to educate and continue to build the relationship."

Useful links related to this article

Pam O’Neal’s slide deck

Act-On Software: the team’s marketing automation platform

BuzzStream: A paid component of the team’s social monitoring platform

Salesforce: The team’s CRM platform

BreakingPoint Labs blog

BreakingPoint Systems

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