Lead generation, also commonly referred to as lead gen, continues to be one of B2B marketers’ top goals. It’s so important that if you distilled an average B2B marketer’s job description down to two words, they might well be “get leads”.
That’s harder than it sounds. Most marketers struggle to land enough leads, and enough quality leads. But we do have one advantage. Because lead generation is so important, there’s quite a bit of research that’s been done about it. Many of our peers have participated in surveys and case studies and other analyses. As a result, there’s quite a lot of information available about what works and what doesn’t.
This post will walk you through the highlights of that research. It will also offer suggestions on how to apply what the research shows to your day-to-day marketing efforts. By the time you finish reading, I hope you’ll have several actionable ideas to apply to your current lead gen efforts. Who knows – maybe we might even be able to nudge some of you into the lucky 16% of marketers who say their lead generation efforts are sufficient.
Instead of going report by report, I’ve identified three noteworthy trends across several reports. So we’ll walk through this according to those trends.
We’ll also focus on results that are consistent across multiple studies and surveys. Why? Because it’s interesting to see something in just one study, but when you start seeing it independently verified across several studies, the data is more trustworthy. Hopefully, it’s valid enough to help you make impactful business decisions.
Sound good? Then let’s go:
1. Most marketers’ lead generation efforts are not generating the results they want.
Struggling with your lead generation efforts? You’re definitely not alone. Witness how marketers answered the question, “Are your current lead generation strategies sufficient to reach your goals?” for LinkedInSelling’s The State of Small Business Growth in 2016:
That’s not an unusual answer, either. Marketers gave similar feedback in the CMO Council’s “Lead Flow That Helps You Grow” report.
So lead generation efforts, as a whole, are a bit disappointing. Or “somewhat effective,” as some would say. Here’s a few ideas for what to do about that:
- Test wherever you can – and give your testing efforts enough time to deliver. Even a 1% improvement every week racks up massive gains by the end of a year. (Does 1% sound measly? It works out to a 67% annual gain when compounded, so it’s actually dynamite.)
- Use calls to action early and often. Every blog post should close with a call to action. So should every white paper, every webinar, and every other content format.
- Be relentless about creating first-class content. If you didn’t work for your company, would you hand over your email address for the last piece of gated content you published?
- You can never know your audience too well. Create content and calls to action centered around what your audience cares about – what their fears and aspirations and motivations are. Skip the content and calls to action that are centered on what you care about. In other words, get old school: Think benefits rather than features.
- Read Act-On’s eBooks, How to Improve a Lead Generation Campaign and Turn Your Website into a Lead Generation Machine.
2. Lead quality has become more important than lead quantity.
DemandGen’s 2016 Demand Generation Benchmark Report documents this trend.
So does Formstack’s The State of Lead Capture in 2016.
And so does Technology Marketing’s B2B Lead Generation Trends Report. That same report also named finding quality leads as the #1 challenge.
This trend toward quality over quantity is actually good news. It shows an evolution of B2B marketing. We may still not be thrilled with our lead generation efforts, but when you come to the point that you don’t just want more leads, but better leads, it suggests things are getting better.
Here are a few ways to cultivate those higher quality leads:
- Longer forms. Generally, longer forms mean lower conversions. Not always, but most of the time. But with a drive for higher quality leads, you’re going to want to add a few more fields to those forms. The extra information will help your sales team winnow out the weaker leads. And it’s the lead who’s more motivated to solve a problem that will make the investment in that longer form.
- Progressive profiling becomes more important. Progressive profiling is an advanced technique originally used to keep opt-in forms short, but it does have other uses.
Here’s how it works: When someone downloads whitepaper #1, they give you their name, email, and company name. Then when they download whitepaper #2, your marketing automation system asks them for their phone number, company size, and title. It doesn’t ask them for the same information all over again. This is a great way to keep forms short and still get the information you need to tell who’s the better prospect.
- Lead scoring gets more important. Many B2B marketers are already using scoring. It needs to be carefully calibrated, but done properly, lead scoring can definitely send your sales team better leads.
MarketingSherpa published an interesting case study recently about how one SAAS company boosted its leads by 101% with lead scoring.
- Segmentation and personalization become more important. Buyers – and particularly B2B prospects – know we’ve got their information. They expect us to use it, and to their benefit. (Or else.) This means much more tailored content. And that means more useful content.
3. Certain content formats almost always rank high as effective B2B lead generation tactics.
One caveat before I dive in here: I’m not sure these are really tactics. They’re actually content formats, not tactics. Tactics are made up of a series of actions. Formats are the different containers we put content into. And yet, all these reports are calling these formats “tactics”. So I’ll just play along.
Whitepaper and webinars win in DemandWave’s 2016 State of B2B Digital Marketing Report.
White papers also do well in the CMO Council’s “Lead Flow That Helps You Grow” report.
White papers and webinars again do well in Demand Gen’s 2016 Demand Generation Benchmark Report. Also note how events come in first place. In most of the studies that include events as a B2B lead generation “tactic”, events come in at first place or near it.
We also see this in the Lead Generation Trend Report:
Unfortunately, many of these tactics comparisons leave out email marketing. This is disappointing. Email tends to get extremely high marks when it is included. This chart from Ascend2’s Lead Generation Trends Survey is just one example:
So it’s time to invest more in events, white papers, webinars and email marketing. Here are some ideas for how to go about that, particularly with an eye to improving your lead generation:
- Events tend to be most successful for lead generation if you attend as a speaker.
- White papers are ideal for the middle to the end of the buying cycle. So choose your topics according to what buyers at those phases of the buying cycle tend to want to know. Also consider interactive white papers, like this one from Ion Interactive.
- Webinars are particularly effective for lead gen if you partner with another company or with an influencer. Why? Because you’re basically doubling the size of the audience you’re promoting the webinar to. That can mean double the leads. Of course, if you’re working with another company or an influencer who has a larger audience than your company does, you might even triple or quadruple your audience.
- Take your email marketing beyond “batch and blast”. Email can do so much more, and the tools to take it to the next level are available from almost any email service provider. Segmentation, personalization, and automated messages are all ideal starting points. Or… to say it another way – aim to actually use all the data you collect from those long forms. Using marketing automation (versus an email service provider) can make this a much simpler process with more powerful results.
- Bonus: Consider quizzes, tests, and other interactive content. These content formats may be the next big thing for lead generation. New tools like, Ion Interactive, Visme and SnapApp can help you create your own interactive content.
Here are the key takeaways:
- About 80% of B2B marketers are not satisfied with their lead generation results.
- Lead quality has become a higher priority for them than lead quantity.
- Webinars, events, whitepapers and email tend to make the shortlist of most effective B2B marketing tactics.
What do you think?
Research is great, but what really matters is how your particular B2B lead generation is working. Your buyers might be more conservative – or bolder, depending on your industry. Do these trends line up with what you’re seeing? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Now that you have more information on how to get more leads, you need to know how to efficiently manage them. Download, The Ultimate Lead Management Playbook, to learn the building blocks of a winning lead management strategy that will turn leads into revenue.