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Three Proven Ways to Generate Demand in a World Without Trade Shows

You are in the right place if...

  • You need to generate sales demand.
  • Going to the trade shows and conferences was a big part of your strategy to build your pipeline.
  • You need an alternate way to generate leads and demand to fill the sales funnel.

So what we wanted to do today is take some experience that we've gathered over the last dozen years, specifically the last couple of quarters of working with B2B companies. Many of them you've heard of, giant companies like Epson, HP, and GE. We also work with several clients that are emerging enterprise companies that are great companies you just haven't heard of yet. What's common about our clients is that they're complex and have a technical solution, and we always strive to achieve an average of 7X return on investment for them.

We went through the case studies for each of our clients in this category that fit that description. We mined for a few different ideas that we see are working right now, in today's climate, to help build their sales pipeline in a world where their plans have changed, where they planned on investing in trade shows, and they just can't do that anymore. So, why are these case studies important for you now? We've seen turbulence facing business owners with these cancellations, and we know that you're looking for other strategies, you're looking for something new to try to help close the leads gap and the pipeline gap that's been created by this. As I said, we're going to show you three specific case studies and how we're doing that.

The first case study we're going to discuss is a company that has now reached one of the top spots on the Inc 500 fastest growing company list. And they've done that specifically by using digital event marketing. We're going to talk specifically about how they're using digital events to help generate leads and demand to build their pipeline.

The second case study we're going to talk about is a broadly defined case study about how demand generation can be achieved through a sales development program or cold calling, what we've learned with making 2 million cold calls in the last dozen years, and how you can use that data to inform a strategy at your company.

The third case study is about how to generate hyper-targeted B2B leads with Twitter. Twitter is not the first thing that comes to mind when people think about Pay-Per-Click or social media marketing, but Twitter has some really interesting applications. It can be a powerful tool, and we're generating leads for one of our clients using that platform at around $52 each right now, which is incredibly valuable.

About ProSales Connection

We are a B2B sales and marketing agency based here in Houston, Texas. We work exclusively with B2B companies who have complex or technical solutions, and we've been doing that since 2009. Our company has worked with our clients to generate over a billion dollars in pipeline. So this is what we do. We're a little bit unique, actually a lot unique. We're probably one of a handful of agencies in the country today that works explicitly with B2B companies and has an internal sales development team. It makes us extremely unique. What makes us even more unique among that small group is that the sales development team that we built and operate with has 19 years of experience on average. We're not talking entry-level people, low-wage people, recent college grads. We're talking experienced people who spent decades on the phone and talking with customers. So with that comes the next level of sophistication in terms of the processes we're able to employ for our clients. But that's enough about us.

Case study #1

Let's talk about how to use demand generation to offset and generate lower cost leads than what you were doing with the trade shows. Here's the challenge. This first profile is a company that's privately held. They still are the first to market solution. They don't have much competition right now, but they're in a race against the competition. Just because they're first doesn't mean that they'll be the only one for long. So there's a tremendous amount of motivation to try to move quickly and try to dominate the market and become the de facto brand leader in their space.

They offer a behavior management SaaS for K-12 schools, and they were, as I mentioned, looking to accelerate new customer acquisition and grow recurring revenue quickly. Their goal: get from zero to $10 million in revenue in three years, and do it without venture funding. That's a tall order in today's business climate, but that was their goal. And so we're going to talk a little bit about how they've been able to achieve that.

The demand generation process in general, here's how they were approaching trade shows.

  • The first step was to curate a list of targeted contacts. Those targeted contacts might be an attendee list if they're able to acquire that from the show, sometimes those were available. Other times we had to build custom lists based on the geography and the profile of the people that they expected to be at that event. So whether they purchased a list or we curated a list for them, we always start with the list.
  • The second step was making outbound calls and sending digital outreach, custom emails, and social posts to try to drive attendance to the trade show. Our mission in life was to get them to the show or their booth at the show. So, warming up the market.

One thing that we would do, and when the trade show world kicks back off, it's a great strategy, is with every outreach, we gave them an opportunity to engage us offline. Even though we wanted them to show up at the event, ultimately, we wanted to do a demo. We try to drive people to the event, but for some people who either weren't going to make the show or had a pressing need, we would give them an opportunity with each of those outreaches to schedule a demo with us. Then we collect and qualify the interested leads before the event, contact, qualify, schedule meetings and demos for before and during the event, so they might be in-booth demos or breakout room demos or offsite demos in the location of the event. And then we do a post-show follow-up where we say, "We saw you at the booth, would you like to schedule a demo?", or "We missed you at the booth, would you like to schedule a demo?". Everything is going towards the demo. That was the general trade show strategy. And that worked pretty well, and it was having some success.

We got this idea that we could have a greater impact if we could move those events and implement the same process or a similar process and transition from on-location events to virtual events. And we were able actually to prove out that hypothesis. And so here are some of the results that we got from that.

  • A cost per qualified demo from a trade show was $1,600 to $2,000.
    You'll see the cost per demo coming from virtual events, or webinar events is about a third of that, $500 to $700.
  • We also were able to dramatically increase the volume of qualified leads that were coming from these events.
    They only had a budget to do on-location events maybe quarterly, maybe four or five of those events a year. The lead flow from those events was 25 to 150 for some of the bigger shows, but oftentimes it's skewed more towards the 25. With virtual events, we're able to collect 50 to 200 leads, and we're able to do that every month with a regular cadence, monthly webinar, monthly lead flow.
    *As a side note, all of those leads would then flow to our sales development team, who would call them and qualify them for meetings. Based on that, we have shifted almost entirely all of the calling that we do for this client from cold calling to just working the lead flow. The lead flow is so powerful right now that we're able to spend all of our time just working people who've raised their hand and said, I'd like to see a demo. It's pretty powerful.


So, what are the five phases of a webinar program? If you're thinking, maybe this will work for me, there are five steps that you need to go through.

  • The first step in that process is planning the webinars.
    You need to have a list. So, where are you going to get a list? Are you going to buy that data, or are you going to create that list yourself? Are you going to use your database that you've been building for years, potentially?
    Another point when planning a webinar - don't plan to sell on every webinar. Try to make it about education. Try to add value, as much value as you possibly can. And don't be afraid to introduce quality presenters and recruit other people, even if that means making an investment and getting a keynote speaker to come into your event and do the presentation for you or with you. Someone can really make a difference in talking to the same audience that you want to talk to. If you can get one of those speakers to bring their audience to your event, it can be extremely powerful. It's one of the strategies that we've used with this client. And this client is happy to spend a thousand dollars to get a speaker to come on for an hour because they know that the speaker is going to bring an audience with them. And it's been very powerful.
  • Next, we're going to promote that webinar.
    We need to maximize attendance. The cadence is three emails to the list, to try to promote the webinar and get people to register. We always use story loops. We want to try to start a conversation. We want to tease the audience to hear something, that they just have to finish the story. That might be asking a provocative question that people want to know the answer to, or they want to know your take. Maybe it's taking a strong contrary position, a position that not many people agree with and want to know your justification. They want to know how you came to that conclusion, how you came to take that position, which is so at odds with maybe what the common thoughts are. Next, you're going to notify the subscribers just before the webinar begins.
    Those of you who are on our webinar today, this process is probably looking familiar to you. We're going to capture interest and persona leads before the end event. We're going to be asking questions. We want to give you an opportunity to speak with someone. We're going to have an amazing event. And we're going to send follow-up emails to everyone who registered and everyone who attended. And we might even use digital ads to try to promote the webinar.
  • From a registration standpoint, you need to find a platform that you're comfortable with, that will meet your needs. And then you want to make it as easy as possible for your registrants to get a calendar invite. There's a little bit of a clumsy setup between registering and getting it on your calendar for many platforms out there. So just pay attention in that you don't want to lose someone between "I wanted to go when I registered," and have the reminder set on their calendar to show up. So just pay attention to that process.
    And some of the things that we think need to be included in a platform for a really successful webinar are:
    • The ability to send customized emails or reminders.
    • The ability to not only record but also share the webinar recording.
    • The ability to upload videos, ask polls, survey your audience maybe before, and during the event. In general, to be able to share a number of different types of media on the event itself.
    • The ability to customize your registration page with your brand, your logo. That's going to be really important.
    • The ability to have webhooks or even API that will connect to your CRM application. So if you can get the registration and the customer data that you're collecting in the registration process to flow directly into your CRM for further action by your sales team, that can be extremely powerful.
    • The ability to host live and recorded webinars.
    • And then other things like muting and unmuting attendees and allowing attendees or other presenters to take control of the presentation.
  • The next point, executing the webinar.
    We think that a good solid webinar needs to be 30-45 minutes. People manage their days in one-hour blocks today. Taking someone all the way up to the 59th minute or, even in the worst case, a minute or two over, you're going to lose part of your audience, which isn't what you want. And you might lose audience at a critical point in your presentation where you really want to drive home a specific message, or maybe even a call to action if that's appropriate for the content on your presentation.
    What we found is that middle of the week works really, really well. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, maybe Thursdays, but Tuesdays and Wednesdays are excellent days for webinars. The middle of the day can also be very effective. We're in the central time zone. It's one o'clock, we had a one o'clock launch today. We felt like that was kind of the sweet spot, and, obviously, it's Tuesday. So, this is what we settle on, what we thought was kind of the sweet spot, but every market is a little bit different. Don't be afraid to test that. We're always testing things. So don't be afraid to test - move the day, move the time, and see how that impacts your attendance. Be consistent, ask simple questions, and make your content as straightforward and as clear to understand as possible.
  • And then finally, the last set - follow up with all of your contacts.
    A rigorous, disciplined, thorough follow-up is the key to any outreach program, whether it's a webinar or any other type of outreach or any other type of marketing strategy or campaign that you're running. A rigorous, disciplined, and thorough follow-up is critical to the process. Make sure that all the data goes into your CRM, and make sure that you're capturing information about which events they attended so that you can have contextual conversations. So when your sales guys go to follow up on those leads, and they know what webinar they showed up to, they can speak specifically to the messages that were presented during that webinar. 
    Case Study #2

    The second case study is really about outreach. Outbound demand generation best practices from over 2 million cold calls, what does the data say, and the five strange things that we learned. So the five strange things we've learned, that's another example of an open story loop. We want you to say, "What are the five strange things?" So use those strategies in your messaging.

    Number one, what's the challenge? People have been saying for years, since I started this business 12 years ago, that cold calling just doesn't work. The reality is, it works, and it works beautifully, and it works consistently. We're going to break down some of the data that will hopefully give you some insight into whether or not you think cold calling or a sales development outreach program would work for your business.

    Today's goal is to share with you some relevant benchmarks that you can trust so that you can build out a business case for doing a phone-based outreach for your business. As I mentioned, we've made millions of calls. I think we've driven that point home. Really what you should know is that the objective of making calls for our clients is to set qualified sales meetings for them. And again, we're talking complex and technical solutions, and those types of solutions are usually sold to high-level decision-makers and influencers within these organizations.

    The types of companies that we approach probably fit into these sort of three categories. And we use the word complexity to describe them. It seems to work for at least us to make some sense out of it. We've got low complexity customers, moderately complexity, and then high complexity. So the numbers for each of those distinctions are really, in some cases, very different.
     
    • An example of a low-complexity customer might be a technology reseller, a solutions integrator, or maybe even a simple SaaS solution, something that's really sort of niche-y and specific. The conversation rate is where we start with our metrics. The conversation rate is defined by the percentage of the dials that we make that end in a conversation with the person we were targeting. So that doesn't include receptionists or gatekeepers or anyone else that might answer the phone. These are conversations with the people we were specifically targeting. For low complexity customers or low complexity solutions oftentimes, the target market is a little more reachable. So we'll see a 3% to 5% conversation rate. The conversion rates upon those conversations are usually between 15 to 17%. It's a little bit higher conversion on a conversation. When we speak to the person we're targeting, what percentage of the time do we get a positive outcome? For us, and most of our clients, that's generally a qualified, scheduled sales meeting, Outlook meeting invitation on their calendar with an acceptance and a confirmation, a real meeting. The calls that it takes to generate those meetings is usually between 120 and 150 calls. And the average cost per meeting for companies in this range is generally between $500 and $750.
      So that's was a low complexity customer. And those are some benchmarks that you can use if you fit into that category. And you can think about those numbers and do the math based on your own cost of sale and decide whether or not you think that would work for you.
    • Moderate complexity are usually software or hardware solution companies that are sold to either the mid or large size companies, or it's a simpler solution that's sold at the department level at an enterprise company. For example, accounting software for the accounting team, even though it's a giant company, it's a department level decision. So when we're targeting companies like that, for our clients in that space, we'll see a conversion rate that's slightly lower than the low complexity. So it kind of skews down a little bit about 2.5% to 4% conversation rate. The conversion rate on those meetings also goes down a little bit because it's a little bit more sophisticated sale, 12% to 15% conversion on those conversations turn into positive outcomes. It takes some more calls to get to that positive outcome, and that's 200 to 300 phone calls to achieve that sales meeting, qualified sales meeting. Because more effort is required, the cost is generally higher for those types of meetings, where you're talking $750 to $1000 per meeting.
    • When we move into the high complexity, these are enterprise solutions sold at the highest levels of companies, executive level solution. So large enterprise technology C-suite. We have a conversation right here, similar to the modern complexity, about 2.5% to 4%, depending on the market, and conversion rates, very similar, believe it or not, 12% to 15%, it just takes more calls usually to get to those numbers.
      So the call volume might have to increase in order to get the results that we're looking for. The calls per meeting might be 300 to 500. The average cost for a meeting, because of that increase in the effort, is going to be a little bit higher. It might be a thousand dollars for some customers. It's even much more than that when you're selling six and seven-figure solutions.

The opportunity here is to look at your business and say, okay, where would I fit? And then look at those metrics and do some math and ask yourself, if those were the numbers that we got with our team, could this be a positive ROI for us? Could we get a positive ROI from employing this type of outreach program for our customers?

So what are some of the lessons that we learned from these cold calls?

  • The first lesson will be that cold calling is absolutely an underutilized strategy that goes to opportunities for you to build demand using calling. It's not 1995, we understand that, and we know that the world has changed, but what's interesting is, in the last 12 years we've been tracking those numbers, the numbers I just shared with you, those numbers have not moved. Conversation rates are the same, conversion rates are the same. If I was to ask you, do you think people answered the phone less and are receptive to cold calls less than they were 12 years ago?, you'd probably say, of course, they are. I can tell you the data says that they're just as receptive today as 10, 12 years ago, using that strategy.
  • Second lesson, if you shied away from it because you think the role has changed, I just implore you to consider it and test it in your environment. See what happens. Calling works well, and it works well enough to build your company around it. I want you to not run from this strategy, but I will give you one caveat, and that is, this works best if the average order value is generally greater than $15,000. So if you're joining us today and you're thinking sales development, cold calling, a phone-based outreach program might be right for you, but your average customer transaction is $500, $600, $700, I would tell you, you're going to really, really struggle to make this particular channel in this particular strategy have a positive ROI for you. But if you're sitting here today and your solution is $50,000, $80,000, $150,000, it's an enterprise-based solution, you should absolutely be considering this. And if you're not using this type of strategy, you really need to consider it.
  • The third point on that is, if you're an early-stage company, maybe you're just past through the concept, you're in the MVP stage, a minimum viable product, and you think you're ready-if you are not extremely confident that you have a nailed down, locked-down process to turn a sales meeting, a first sales meeting with a qualified prospect into a customer, if you're not entirely confident that you know how to do that and can do that consistently and your team can do it consistently, then I would suggest that, before you rush off into this strategy here that I'm sharing with you, you make sure that you've got that part locked down, work on nailing down your sales process because you're going to be investing a significant amount of money in getting those meetings. And if you can't turn those meetings into revenue, it's probably a little early for the strategy. You've got a little bit more what I like to call a hand to hand combat left, so a little bit more time to really work out the kinks and nail down that process.
  • Number four, how long does it take to see the results of an outbound calling program? Look, you can see results on day one, we'd run programs for clients where on the first cold call, the guy answered the phone and said I'm ready to go. I mean, that's certainly happens. But most often, what is going to happen is there is a ramp-up, and generally that takes 60 to 90 days. So we always suggest when people are looking at implementing sales development, that they give it a minimum of 90 days to establish their own unique baseline. I can tell you that when you implement a strategy, your calls in month two will be much more productive than your calls in month one. And your calls in month three will generally be more productive than your calls in month two. But usually, by the time we get to the third month, you started to establish a real baseline. You started to see a consistent pattern, a consistent return, and you're starting to understand that if you put an X level of effort into this program, you're going to get X times the result out of it. And once you can really nail down what that return is, then it's just a matter of how fast you want to go. Once you've tested that and nail down those numbers, then the math just becomes easy. If I put more in, I get more out, but you should plan to take 60 to 90 days to really understand what that baseline is. It's a really important point, and the reason for that is a couple of things. Number one, people don't answer the phone generally in the first call, but when we're running enterprise-level programs, we might be reaching out to contact seven to 12 times because they're difficult to reach. You got to make multiple attempts. So just the math would say that the further you get into that list, the more opportunities you've had to reach that targeted prospect. That's probably a big driver for why that curve happens.
  • And then last point, make sure it's optimized on a continual basis. When things are going the way in which you want them to go, you need to really take a step back and look at what are the things that are within your control to change. And how do I optimize this campaign to get the results that I'm looking for? And that really comes down to what I like to call the four levers. I won't go deep into that concept today because we can spend an hour talking about that. But those four levels are really, who my audience is, what is my message, what is the level of activity that I'm putting into this, and what is the delivery of that message. How do my people sound? Are they confident? Do they understand how to deliver the message?
    So when we're doing analysis and we're looking at those types of programs, we're asking ourselves real critical questions in each one of those categories-is there a way I can improve the data, a way I can improve the list, do we need to change the message? How compelling is the offer? How prepared are we to handle objections? So what is our message? What is the level of activity? If you employ your sales development team or your inside sales team or your sales team to make these calls on your behalf, and they make three calls a day or 12 calls or 50 calls a week, they're not putting enough activity into it to really give you the data that you need to drive this type of strategy. This is a high paced, high volume, super-efficient process, and it has to be efficient because the cost is so high.
    So if you're working inefficiently and trying to do this type of program, you're going to struggle. This is about efficiency and pace.
    Case Study #3

    How to generate hyper-targeted B2B leads for Twitter, reverse engineering the campaign that captures qualified and interested leads every day for less than $52. Can we create a digital advertising program that will generate leads and book meetings? The answer we found was absolutely yes.

    The client that we work with is a 20-year-old privately held company that has an e-learning type solution, that's sold into the oil and gas sector, but they also found that they were able to take that content that they created and put together an education program for the state of Texas specifically. It's authorized by the state, and it's now available for high school students to take these courses. But this curriculum needed to be purchased, and they needed to have a really good plan for how to reach that particular target market. They were really geared towards reaching oil and gas companies. So approaching the education market was a little bit unique for them. They engaged us to help them with this.

    Here's what the goal was. We wanted to notify all of the Career and Technical Education directors in the state about the offer, schedule demos, and try to create as much interest we could in that solution on a very modest budget of $2,000 per month. That's not a lot of budget to try and make something happen for this client. But we were up for the challenge.
    The demand generation process that we employed here, it always starts with the list. We built a targeted prospect list and started to create a database of contact information. But then, COVID happens. Our plan was to do mostly email outreach, but that really wasn't working the way that we wanted them to. So we were looking at it, kind of started scratching our head and coming back to the table to think creatively, and we were lucky this particular company was open to any idea, they were ready to experiment and test some ideas. And so during that brainstorming process, we decided to try Twitter because we know that educators are extremely active on that particular platform. So if that's where they are, the first lesson in marketing is to go where the customer is. We know that our targeted contacts for this particular program are on Twitter, so we went to Twitter.
    What we found with cold email is that with a budget of $450 a month, we were qualifying leads at around $390 each. So you can do that math. That was about one a month. 30% of the leads generated were turning into meetings, and we were getting one demo a month. That amounted to a cost of around $1,500 per meeting, which was way out of the scope of what was really going to work for this particular client. And it just wasn't giving them the volume that they needed.

    So we tried Twitter, and here's what we learned. We can take a $300 ad budget on Twitter, and we were able to generate a qualified lead per day at $52 each. 30% meeting rate on those qualified leads. Even though the lead cost went down dramatically, literally one-eighth of the cost before, the lead quality didn't change, the leads were just as good. We were able to get the same percentage of those leads to turn into qualified meetings. And that amounted to four new demos each month for a cost of $390 each, pretty dramatic turnaround here by employing Twitter. So if you haven't used it, if you haven't looked at Twitter or hadn't considered Twitter before as a potential platform for you to reach your targeted customers, it might be worth considering. It certainly works for this client.

    So what's some of our takeaways from this, the lessons that we learned.

    • Always be testing. Don't be satisfied if a strategy isn't working the way that you think it should. Even if you think it's working well, take some of your budget, move it around, try other tactics, diversify the tactics that you're employing.
    • Whether it's working or not, it helps to know why. So when things aren't working, start asking the questions. If you can ask customers why they behave the way that they behave, that is the best form of input that you can get to improve your campaign. Why did you meet with us today? What about what we said caused you to want to take action? People who have maybe seen your ads, that you had an opportunity to talk to, ask them why it didn't work? Focus group it, ask people why they don't respond to this.
    • Adapt your outreach strategy to overcome and even accelerate your progress.
    • And then finally, it's been said that never waste a crisis, right? Turbulence can be an opportunity to make a tremendous breakthrough and to sharpen your competitiveness. Take advantage of the situation, use it as an opportunity to think creatively, pull your team together to ask questions, ask really tough questions about what is it going to take to meet your objectives this year in the light of the current circumstances. Call a vendor, ask agencies, ask partners, ask some of the people you do business with what's working for them, get input from as many sources as you can, and then test those ideas against your target market.
    That was a lot of information. I hope you guys got a ton of information out of this, I hope you got something to take away. Try in your own environment. I'd love to know how we did, and were we able to give you new or creative ideas to build demand in a world without trade shows.
    If you liked what you heard today and you thought it sparked some new ideas or some new things that you wanted to learn more about, or maybe had questions about, I'll meet with anyone at any time for 15 minutes. I love having quick short conversations with you, not a huge investment on your part or mine. Schedule a 15-minute call with me or the team here and be prepared to have some specific questions. I'll give you my best answer, and I will share with you everything I possibly can.

    P.S. I told you I would offer you the template that we use to create our call plans here at ProSales Connection. If you're interested in taking a look at that template, just send me an email, mike@prosalesconnection.com, and just put Template in the subject line.
    Thank you so much for your attention!

Mike Faherty

Mike Faherty is Founder & CEO of ProSales Connection, LLC a Sales and Marketing firm based in Houston, Texas. ProSales Connection specializes in helping B2B and technology companies grow through sales appointment setting and outsourced inside sales programs.

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