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My favorite guerilla lead gen program aimed at CEOs July 15, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Integrated Marketing, Lead Gen.
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One of my most favorite lead gen programs I worked on was about 10 years ago when I was VP of marketing for a knowledge management start-up.  This was during the early days of online search.  Using today’s terms, we offered a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product/service that allowed users to get immediate answers to their questions. What was unique at the time was that our engine was very advanced and would offer up correct and relevant answers as opposed to a laundry list of links.

Since we were a start-up, our marketing budget was non-existent.  Our objective was to seed our sales pipeline quickly with a dozen well-qualified, brand name customers that we could eventually use as public references. Our only choice was to approach this project as a guerilla (see Jay Levinson’s many books on Guerilla Marketing).  So, we got creative.

  • We built our own list of target companies. We carefully matched our product strategy with a prioritized set of target segments.  Rather than blanketing all potential audiences, we produced a list 500 target companies. We needed wins quickly, and we felt we had a good story to tell.  So, with a laser-focused ambition, we set our sites and did not waiver from them.

  • We researched each company to confirm the name of their CEO and to obtain his/her email address and an issue they were facing that was relevant to our product. How did we do this?  We were blessed to have one of the most savvy executive admins around.  She called into each company and navigated to her counterpart – the CEO’s executive admin.  Calling on behalf of our CEO, she explained that we wanted to share some information that her CEO would find interesting, based on an issue his/her company was wresting with, as noted in the news, their website, etc.  She asked for his direct email address so she could send our information on behalf of our CEO.  (This approached worked exceptionally well for several reasons: this was not a telemarketing call — it was exec admin to exec admin; we were not selling anything; we were honest, forthright, and polite.  To our delight, we captured and verified 80% of the CEO email addresses this way.)
  • We created a standard email for this program, then tailored it for each CEO. Our email (ghost written for our CEO) was one paragraph in length and included a mocked-up screen shot of how our product would look on the target’s website, under their brand.  So, while the data in the screen shot was bogus, their company logo, homepage design was obvious.  Several energetic souls in our support team built these screen shots for us.
  • The call to action was personalized by our CEO. It may seem ironic, but our goal was not to sell our product.  At least not at first.  Instead, the text of the email illustrated our idea/value proposition.  We showed the mocked-up screenshot to show how our product/service might look on their home page.  Using regular language (not jargon or energized marketing-speak), we asked them if they thought this was a crazy idea.  In closing, we asked them to contact our CEO to provide us with some feedback.  The telephone number we provided was to a new line that that marketing team would answer as if we were the CEO’s office.
  • We created a separate email mailbox for our CEO and distributed these emails from that account. Twenty emails were developed and dropped each week.  (Remember, we had no budget to outsource any of this work.)  It took time to tailor each email, but we didn’t want to wait for all 500 to be ready.  Also, by staggering the drop, we could learn how effective we were being by watching our response rates.

We successfully ran the program for 6 weeks before we claimed victory.  We received a 12% response rate and won audiences with a number of brand-name customers.  My personal favorite was an email response we received from Michael Eisner (then the head of Disney) who directed us to follow-up with his VPs of marketing and support.  Everyone was copied on his response; the skids had been greased; we were in business!

Have a creative lead gen story to share?  I’d love to hear it!

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