How to use your business-to-business marketing dollars more effectively in a down economy

How to reach, influence and generate leads and more sales for your company from fewer buyers and with a smaller budget.

Yes, these are difficult times. Your company’s sales are down. Competition is tougher than ever.


However, if sales are down even 50 percent in your industry, that means that 5 out of 10 people who would normally buy are still buying. And you – as your company’s marketer – can still find ways to reach, influence and generate leads and more sales for your company from these fewer buyers, even with a smaller budget. Here’s how:

Eliminate marginal investments

First, cut out all the marketing communications projects you might never get around to anyway. These “wish list” projects can be added back to the marketing to-do list when the economy turns around and you have the money and resources needed to do them right.

Next, determine which B2B marketing communications programs will have the biggest impact on generating inquiries, qualified leads and short-term sales. Make sure these stay at the top of the list for funding and implementation.

Your company’s image and the market’s awareness of your products or services are important. But if your budget is tight, don’t try to reach the entire market with general messages. Instead, focus your B2B marketing communications efforts on explaining the benefits, features and applications of your products and services to a well-targeted group of prospects. Avoid spending your limited marketing dollars on an expensive image-advertising campaign that won’t affect short-term results. Instead, let the quality of your response materials and Website do the job of enhancing your company’s image.

As you evaluate which marketing tactics to use, take a hard look at what worked in the past – and what didn’t. Swallow hard, and eliminate those B2B marketing programs that didn’t show a positive return on investment, as measured by leads or sales. Concentrate your current investments in the communications tactics that have made measurable contributions to your B2B marketing return on investment.

Interview your salespeople to identify which tools have been most instrumental in successfully selling your company’s products or services. Ask each salesperson to tell you, with regard to each of his or her customers, which sales tools (for example, brochures, data sheets, white papers, comparison guides, PowerPoint presentations) played the biggest role in snaring recent sales. Keep track of which tools they mention most frequently, and allocate your marketing budget accordingly.

Consider the following money-saving tactics in the areas of direct mail, public relations, trade publication advertising, tradeshow marketing, Websites, seminars and workshops, marketing partnerships, marketing collateral, referral programs and sponsorships.

Direct mail

In these difficult times, think about increasing your use of direct mail. E-mail and postal mail are cost-effective ways to deliver targeted offers to the most desirable prospects.

Rather than doing less-effective “shotgun” mailings to rented lists, consider repeat mailings targeted at known prospects (such as past inquirers). To cut costs, use business letters and e-mail rather than expensive full-color mailers. Then save more money by sending expensive literature or materials only to those who request them – not to every prospect in your database.

If you don’t have your own e-mail lists to market to, consider renting e-mail lists from publishers or placing ads in other targeted e-newsletters or e-zines. These can be very economical ways to reach your market and generate a quick response.

Get published

You will get more bang for your marketing communications buck by taking advantage of inexpensive public relations opportunities. Send press releases about your products or services to the appropriate editors at the publications and Websites serving your industry. Edit your releases with the magazine’s editorial focus, style and readers in mind and you’ll increase the chance the publication or Website will publish your information. To have your news found when prospective customers (and editors) are searching on the Internet, consider using an online press release distribution service like

Offer to write articles for these same industry publications and Websites. Your contributed articles may include customer success stories that feature testimonials from satisfied clients, as well as bylined “expert” articles that highlight your company’s expertise. Be sure to also offer to be a resource for editors to contact when they are writing about your kinds of products or services.

Newsletters are another great way to provide value to your customers and keep your company’s name on their minds without spending a fortune. And controlling the circulation of the newsletter can help you identify and qualify prospects: you can make it a requirement that people who want the newsletter must fill out a brief survey. The survey asks questions about their level of interest in your products, buying authority and purchasing horizon. This information then goes into your database for immediate or future follow-up, as appropriate, by marketing or sales.

For newsletters and contributed-article programs, consider not only the traditional print format but also the web. If you already have a Website, it is cheaper and faster to post customer success stories and newsletters to the site rather than printing and distributing them.

Provide speakers

Another economical marketing tactic is to promote your company’s executives as potential speakers at key meetings and conferences. Speaking at prominent events positions those executives as experts. You can also use these events to generate leads by promising to send audience members a copy of the presentation, a free white paper or some other valuable information if they give you a business card.

Trade publication advertising

In these difficult times, you will likely be better off with a high-frequency or high-impact presence in one or two key publications than with an occasional presence in several. Be sure to study BPA statements to clearly understand what percentage of the magazine’s readership is really part of your target market. Ask your media reps to give you statistics on what percentage of their subscribers also read competitive magazines, and consider this information when calculating your true cost per thousand.


Tradeshows can be expensive, so consider eliminating those that haven’t shown a favorable return on investment. However, if your tradeshow exhibits have proven effective in generating inquiries, qualified leads and sales, you can still find ways to reduce your tradeshow costs and boost your return.

For example, consider a smaller booth. Have dealers, distributors or resellers help you staff the booth. Eliminate expensive cocktail parties. Send preshow mailings to increase the number of visitors to your booth. Send postshow mailings and use telemarketing follow-up to convert casual inquiries into qualified leads.


A few cost-effective changes can dramatically improve your corporate Website’s marketing return on investment. To increase inquiries from your Website’s visitors, Make offers or calls-to-action on every page. Work with other organizations to link your site to their sites, increasing the number of visitors to yours. Register your Website with search engines, selecting keywords carefully so your site will appear in the search results for your intended audience. Post articles and case studies on your site, then register those individual web pages with the search engines.

Seminars and workshops

You can cut some of the cost of your seminars and workshops by holding them as web events, teleconferences or videoconferences. “Webinars” and other virtual meetings eliminate the need for presenters and support staff to travel to distant cities. And virtual events sometimes enjoy better attendance than live events because attendees don’t need to leave their offices to attend. You still need to promote virtual events, but you can save a bundle on travel, meeting rooms and refreshments.

Marketing collateral

To save money, consider distributing smaller quantities of printed materials to your prospects, customers, salespeople, reps, dealers and distributors.

My research shows that 3 in 10 requesters will want printed materials to share with their bosses, colleagues or clients. But that means 7 in 10 will be happy to save you money and get instant gratification by downloading PDF files or printing H™L pages from your Website.

Partner with a good literature fulfillment company to create a Website for just-in-time orders of printed literature supplies. The fulfillment company’s services will usually more than pay for themselves through reduced literature and shipping costs.

Find a marketing partner

Another way to stretch your marketing dollars is to team up with a company whose products or services complement yours. By pooling your resources, you and your partner can get far more mileage from your respective investments than either of you could alone.

An example would be a jointly sponsored mailing to promote products and services of both partners to their mutual universe of prospects. The investment would be minimal if you split the costs, but the access to additional prospects and the number of leads you generate could be substantial.

Create a referral program

A low-cost way to leverage the power of your existing customers is to create a referral program that rewards customers for sending prospects to your company. Depending on the relationship with the customer, an incentive may not even be required. Getting a referral from a happy long-term customer or major supplier may be as easy as asking for it. And consider adding “P.S. Referrals are always appreciated!” to the end of all your e-mails to customers and suppliers.

Sit back and think about it

I’m sure if you sit back and think awhile, you will find additional ways to cut the fat in your marketing programs and better focus your marketing efforts during these difficult economic times. Doing so will net you a better ROI on your marketing programs and help enhance your reputation with senior management as a valuable contributor to the corporate mission.

Contact Mac for a Free Decision Maker Kit

M. H. "Mac" McIntosh is described by many as one of America's leading business-to-business sales and marketing consultants and marketing speakers. He is president of Mac McIntosh Incorporated, a marketing consulting firm specializing in helping companies get more high-quality sales leads and turn them into sales. More about Mac...

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