The biggest challenge in B2B lead generation is that lead generation campaigns don’t work in isolation. Or if they do it’s not for long.
An email, PPC or webinar campaign that performs amazingly on the first try, for example, is likely to have diminishing returns and higher costs in subsequent efforts. That’s my take on some of the data from the 2018 Chief Marketer B2B lead gen report.
After reviewing the study, I offer these six takes on the data:
1. The biggest challenges in B2B lead generation
According to the survey, the biggest challenges B2B lead generation are:
- 59% say engaging targeted prospects
- 51% say finding leads that convert
- 33% say finding qualified names
- 31% say finite number of qualified prospects
- 25% say cost of new leads
The report noted in observation:
“Fifty-eight percent of respondents cited engagement as a big challenge, compared to 35 percent in our 2017 survey. Conversion concerns are also on the rise – 51 percent noted it was significant, compared to 36 percent last year.” [I’d posit the 1% discrepancy is a rounding error].
Take: B2B marketing must develop its market. While lead generation specialists don’t like to spend money they can’t attribute to sales – investments in content marketing, education, awareness, and branding are inherently linked to finding prospects and cost of conversion. You need to build mechanisms into this motion to move a market from aware to subscriber to prospect to customer. You can layer campaigns into a content marketing program, but it doesn’t work the other way around.
2. Half say B2B sales cycles are 3 or more months long
According to the survey the length of B2B sales cycles are as follows:
- 16% say less than a month to convert
- 34% say 1 to 3 months
- 24% say 3-6 months
- 19% say six months to a year
- 7% say more than a year
Take. The report found several barriers to sales facilitation:
“Survey respondents cited a number of hurdles to conversion, including a lack of follow-up by sales, creating the right content to educate prospects about a complicated product or service and keeping [the] momentum up during a lengthy sales cycle.”
In a separate, but related conversation, my friend Rich Young made an observation that seems appropriate here:
“For all the valuable intel shared among marketing pros on marketing tech stacks, content marketing strategies, inbound tactics, customer personas, and the buyer’s journey – let’s not forget the power of quick response.”
The standard to beat seems to be low. A different study that Chief Marketer covered previously found B2B organizations are slow to follow up with leads. For example, for all the money spent at an event, “they take four days or longer to follow up with leads obtained at events.”
3. These are the metrics B2B lead gen measure
Here are the lead generation metrics the survey says B2B marketers are measuring:
- 52% say cost of conversion
- 50% say time to convert
- 27% say first click
- 25% say channel
- 22% say last click
- 6% say other
Take. In the book Killing Marketing, which I am currently reviewing, Robert Rose makes the case that an overreliance on metrics like these can cause marketing to underperform. This is because metrics can be gamed.
In an oversimplified example for illustration purposes, he says if it costs $250 to produce $250 in revenue, then marketing will refrain from spending money to keep the up the percentage. No marketer worried about their job will take a gamble on a new initiative that might ruin the dashboard.
He tells a tale of two companies at polar opposites. One company has effective marketing metrics in place, produces good marketing ROI, but is experiencing stagnant overall growth.
By contrast, another company that struggles to show a return on individual marketing campaigns has experienced year-over-year revenue growth of 650% percent.
The latter, though they try, cannot narrow down and isolate the success to one specific factor. In fact, all of their lead gen programs were failures in the context of the formula (ROI = Net Profit / Total Investment x 100).
As I say in the introduction above, marketing doesn’t work in isolation. A PPC campaign might get you an email address but it takes a whole bunch of touches before, in-between and after – blogs, emails, webinars, white papers, PR, sales calls – to support a deal.
To be clear, I’m not saying metrics are not important because they do have a useful purpose. However, looking too closely at the metrics is akin to not seeing the forest for the trees.
Don’t miss these related posts:
How B2B Marketing Can Get More out of Trade Shows
How to Generate Media Referenceable B2B Customers with a Blog
What Does It Take to Implement Content Marketing Effectively in B2B?
4) The channels that produce B2B leads
According to the study, the top B2B sources of leads by channel are as follows:
- 53% say email
- 44% say content marketing
- 44% say search optimization
- 40% say live events
- 20% social media
- 16% PPC + display
- 12% print
- 10% retargeting
Take. Notably, live events dropped by 20% when compared to the same survey last year. I have a theory as to why is happening based on my observations across several vertical markets: event organizers are getting greedy.
Some are attempting to charge both attendees and speakers. It won’t take long before attendees and sponsors alike realize such events are asymmetrical concoctions. The only value is to the event organizer because speakers are selected based on the size of their checkbook rather than the quality of their ideas.
5) Here’s how B2B says it nurtures leads
According to the survey, the most valuable techniques for nurturing leads are:
- 65% say in-person meetings
- 62% say email marketing
- 58% say content marketing
- 43% say calls from salespeople
- 28% say webinars
- 23% say social media
Take. It is refreshing to see in-person techniques top the chart in this automated world. The potential of technology may be unlimited, but the human condition is finite. I’ll often say in jest, “Just have your bots get in touch with my bots.”
In-person meetings are a big opportunity for marketers too. If the sales team is conducting these meetings, you should go along for the ride a regular basis. Doing so will provide context and depth that makes you a better marketer. There’s a similar opportunity in participating in win-loss calls as well, which product marketing may conduct in the pragmatic organizational model.
6) Content moves prospects through the sales funnel
The Chief Marketer report found the content most effective at moving prospects through the B2B sales funnel is as follows:
- 49% articles and blogs
- 37% white papers
- 36% video
- 33% research reports
- 29% webinars
- 25% product or service comparisons
- 22% social media posts
- 21% content created with partners
- 18% images
Take. Articles and blogs are the top of the chart – and that falls squarely into a PR and content marketing profession. In my observation, B2B marketing shops don’t do enough with this content. For example, when you earn media coverage – the sort that cannot be purchased – you should make an effort to ensure as many people as possible see it:
- Add a link to the online newsroom
- Share it on social media
- Pay to boost the content on social media
- Use it for retargeting in social ads
- Put it in the newsletter
- Blog about it
- Bring reprints to your next tradeshow
- Print it out and mail it out to your ABM targets
- Email a link to your industry analysts
- Use a link as validation in future PR pitches
These are very tactical considerations and campaign style thinking. There’s much more value in thinking bigger – in creating content marketing systems and processes for building an audience first. Once you have those systems and processes in place, you can layer in campaigns easily – and they’ll be naturally integrated.
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The study was sponsored by Informa Engage and conducted by Chief Marketer in July 2017. It solicited responses from B2B marketers across the U.S. The survey received 205 responses from a diversity of vertical markets.
The full report is concise, well written, and includes interview and anecdotes that place the data into an important context. It can be downloaded with registration here.
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