The Forward Observer
Sales and Marketing Insights
for Growth-Focused Manufacturers

A blog where growth-oriented manufacturers find expert advice on marketing and sales.
Our goal is to help you generate better leads and close sales faster.

All Posts

What B2B Marketers Can Learn About Lead Generation From Costco

Are you struggling to generate leads without creating content to attract them? You're doing it the hard way. Take a cue from Costco samples.


Lead generation is popular these days, especially with people whose livelihood depends on selling something in order to keep their job. Like a salesperson. Or a CEO.

Once Upon A Time Salesmen Had The Upper Hand

For generations, leads were something that outbound, interruptive marketing tactics worked beautifully to generate. And once awareness was established, leads would follow from curious buyers who could be guided through the sales funnel.


The link between creating awareness and subsequent top-of-the-funnel sales leads was facilitated by the phenomenon of information asymmetry. According to Wikipedia, “information asymmetry deals with the study of decisions in transactions where one party has more or better information than the other.” That described the long-time relationship between seller and buyer.

When a buyer was researching a purchase they had to go to the seller early in the process to get their information.

The salesperson had the upper hand because of that information. The buyer had it and the seller wanted it. That information asymmetry enabled the seller to guide the buyer along the sales process, all the while exerting influence with the information that the seller needed.

The information the buyer sought included product data, pricing, references, shipping, guarantees, etc.

But the Internet changed all that.

The Salesperson’s Information Leverage Is Now Diminished

Information on the Internet has enabled buyers to do most of their research without even having to talk with a salesperson. According to CEB, B2B buyers are now at least 57% through their research before they first reach out to the seller. Forrester estimates that buyers may be up to 90% through their purchase before they finally contact the seller.


That means that buyers have become like ninjas. Unseen by and unknown to the seller until they are ready to pounce and buy. And at that point what do they most want to talk about? Price.

This has dramatically changed the nature of lead generation. Instead of waiting for early stage (top-of-the-funnel) leads to show up looking for information, sellers are now encountering late stage, fully-informed bottom-of-the-funnel leads.

So how do you generate a lead from a fully-empowered prospect who has access to nearly all the information they need and doesn’t want to speak to a salesperson? How can you connect with them before they are ready to speak with you?

That brings us to Costco.

The Costco Approach

Costco is a membership-only warehouse club selling a wide selection of merchandise. It has nearly 700 stores in 10 countries worldwide. The second-largest retailer in the world, it sells products at low prices, often at very high volume. The products are usually bulk-packaged on pallets in the store.


During peak times at the stores, employees will set up tables at the end of the aisles and offer samples of food products for sale. Why do you suppose Costco offers those samples?

Because it results in sales.

I’ve seen this magic work first-hand. After shopping at Costco, my wife will bring home some new food product that she had no intention of buying when she entered the warehouse. When I ask what prompted the purchase the response is nearly always something like “they were offering samples of it.”

So what does that have to do with lead generation?


Keeping with the food analogy, it brings to mind Barry Feldman’s quote: “Mice aren't attracted to mousetraps. They're attracted to what you put on it. The same goes for websites.”

In the case of prospects, you can still try to interrupt your way into their consciousness with outbound sales tactics. Or, you can offer them something they want while they are shopping – tasty content.

Your Content Is Your Cheese

The most important aspect of modern lead generation is offering prospects helpful information precisely when they want it. Think of your content as Costco food samples. Or cheese on a mousetrap.


As Altimeter Analyst Rebecca Lieb says “Content is the atomic particle of all digital marketing.”

  • Content helps you get found online by prospects looking for information.

  • Premium content behind a landing page helps convert visitors into leads. Subsequent content sent to the prospect is what helps nurture the lead to the point that they are more likely to know, like and trust the seller and be receptive to a sales call.

  • Content is what successful salespeople are increasingly using in order to close sales.

  • Content is what keeps customers engaged with your company so you can develop a deeper relationship and referrals.


Modern lead generation involves lots of moving parts, tactics and tools. It’s easy to get lost in lead generation amidst all the minutiae and forget about the straw that stirs the drink: content. If you are not providing helpful content to generate leads and support the sales process, you’re doing it the hard way.

“Caught!” by Bev Sykes is licensed under CC by 2.0

photo credit: Costco via photopin (license)

photo credit: Swiss Cheese via photopin (license)


Douglas Burdett
Douglas Burdett
The Principal and Founder of Artillery, Douglas Burdett is a former artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man. He also hosts The Marketing Book Podcast, where he interviews authors every week about the latest in modern marketing and sales.

Related Posts

How to Find More Qualified Sales Prospects and Stop Chasing Your Tail

Not all sales prospects are created equal, and the better you’re able to quickly spot the differences, your prospecting and sales efforts will become more efficient and pay greater dividends.

Of the 3 Sales Prospecting Attitudes, 2 Guarantee Failure. Which One Do You Have?

The number one reason for failure in sales is the failure to prospect. And the most important ingredient for success is having the right, realistic, practical attitude about prospecting.

Your Customers Are Calling You. Are You Picking Up?

  In today’s world, there are many easy ways to connect with others -- you can text, email, or video chat someone on your phone all with a click of a button. Even with all of these easy ways to communicate, old habits die hard when people want to reach a company. Believe it or not, people still pick up the phone and call companies ... but not all companies have someone there to answer their calls.