B2B marketing is challenging, and even more so when you are in a crowded market space filled with tough competitors. There are certainly ways to stand out from the crowd, such as having a strong and differentiated product and precise targeting of the potential audience.
One of the most neglected weapons in the B2B marketing arsenal is an offer that gains attention and drives response. In fact, this may be the most important action you can take to boost performance.
In simple terms, an offer is what you propose to give to the prospect, and what you require in return. The offer is the “What’s in it for me?” part of the marketing equation.
The offer wraps the product or service with the delivery method, terms and pricing. It may be a one-step offer, where the purpose is to directly sell the product or service; a two-step process, where the purpose is to connect the prospect with a sales rep; or a 3+ step process, where the purpose is to put the prospect on a drip marketing list for later conversion.
Offers can range from “soft” to “hard.” A soft B2B offer requires little from the prospect—for example, a free information download requiring only an email address. By contrast, a hard B2B offer requires much more from the prospect, for example, a credit card payment for a direct sale or filling out a multi-question web form for a two-step lead generation campaign. Typically, soft offers will produce many more responses, but the average lead quality will be lower than with a hard offer.
Weak vs. Strong Offers
Let’s first look at some fairly weak offers:
- Straight sale with no special inducement.
- Contact me – great for those deep in the buying cycle, but otherwise not effective.
- Product-centric – better to have something focused on the solution or pain points.
- Brochures and fact sheets.
How are strong offers different? These are the criteria of an effective B2B offer:
- Drives action. Regardless of what you are asking the prospect to do, the offer fails if it does not achieve the intended results.
- Reinforces your brand promise. Offers that are incompatible with the company’s values and positioning can sometimes generate short-term results, but are counterproductive in the long term.
- Interesting enough to cut through the marketplace clutter. You can do this by making a strong statement or by provoking curiosity.
- Attracts the right audience. The point of the offer is to drive quality, not just quantity. Downstream conversion metrics can tell you whether your offer is targeted correctly.
- Timed correctly in the sales cycle. For example, information offers are used for prospects that are in the data-gathering stage, and pricing/discount offers are used when prospects are in the purchasing phase.
- Powerful enough to compel immediate attention. If possible, the offer should be tied to a strong call to action that shouts, “Take advantage right now!”
Following is an example of an offer that includes several of these attributes.
Here are some B2B offer categories that consistently produce results.
Special Pricing – This offer works well with later-stage prospects who already know about your product or service. The special pricing offer could be a discount for prompt action or an urge to “buy now before the price goes up.”
Introductory Offer – An introductory offer is used to introduce new prospects to your company. It will have the greatest effect when the discount is significant.
Multiple Product – With this offer, buyers get the second or subsequent products at no charge, or at a large discount.
Premium – Something extra is given away to spur the prospect to purchase now. Premiums range from advertising specialties such as desk calendars and pens, to expensive items such as trips and electronic equipment.
Free Information – Similar to the premium offer, but you give away information instead of a product. This is especially effective with a business audience, since people are always interested in ways to save money and perform their jobs better.
Trade-in or Trade-up – The prospect trades in an old item and gets a discount on the new item. For example, a computer manufacturer can give businesses that trade in a competitor’s equipment a $500 credit toward the purchase of a new computer.
Free Trial – If you have confidence in your product, let potential customers try it out in their office for 15 to 30 days. This has been a strong offer for software companies, equipment manufacturers, and publishers.
Satisfaction Guarantee – While a guarantee should be part of every offer, an extra-strong guarantee can serve as its own offer. An example would be “Double your money back if not completely satisfied.”
Cash Discount – A special price can be given to help force the purchase decision. This offer works well in combination with free trial offers.
Special Terms – This can work as well as a cash discount. For instance, “Receive the item now and take up to six months to pay with no interest.” In some cases, purchasers will be more interested in the monthly payment terms than the total cash amount.
Demo/Trial – A smaller, trial version of the product is sent (sometimes for a fee, sometimes for free). If the prospect likes the demo, he orders the full product. This offer works well for computer software products and publications.
Free Samples – Free samples are an effective way to highlight your product. For instance, an office product manufacturer can offer day planners or desk lamps as a bonus for purchasing a desk set.
Performance Guarantee – The customer gets to use the product for a period of time. If it does not live up to the specified criteria, she can return it for a full refund.
Special Inducement – Something extra is given to the prospect for immediate action. The inducement could be extra product, better terms, free training, or extended maintenance.
The type of B2B offer you use should be based on the objectives of your program. If you are selling a high-ticket or complex product, or if you need to make a personal sales call to finalize a transaction, you should choose a marketing offer geared to generating leads. Conversely, if you are promoting a low-ticket, non-complex item via online, phone, or mail, you should use a different type of offer.