B2B Lead Generation vs B2B Advertising: What You Need to Know

Caution signAmong paid media and advertising tactics, lead generation programs are a key source of leads for B2B marketers, especially in the enterprise technology space. Tell a B2B publisher that you are interested in lead generation and the majority will point to some form of white paper syndication program they offer.

For the sake of this post, lead generation programs refer to publisher programs that promote your content and capture registration. These are contacts or inquiries, not sales leads, but in keeping with the terminology publishers use, we will refer to this as lead generation here.

In enterprise technology, publishers like IDG, Information Week and TechTarget have nearly turned these programs into a science, with guaranteed leads volume and a myriad of filtering and qualification options driven largely by email and newsletter promotions.

Lead Generation vs Advertising: The Strengths

Lead generation programs are cost effective because they are solely focused on promoting your content, not the positioning or messaging that will create demand.

Conversely, advertising puts your message in front of your audience. Capturing a lead requires multiple steps and most advertising includes messaging or positioning, it is not solely focused on promoting content.

Lead Generation vs Advertising: The Numbers

How big is the difference? Assuming the same investment in lead generation or online advertising on a large IT publisher, here is what you could expect:

  • Lead generation will capture 5 to 30 times the number of leads that an advertising program captures.
  • Advertising will reach approximately 150 to 200 times as many people with your message through ad units and 3 to 5 times as many people through your website of the number of people reached through your content in a lead generation program.

These figures are based on typical rates and performance from programs I have been involved in or have had access to over approximately the last year.

Warning: You Cannot Have Both!

Nearly all media programs that accomplish both objectives are fundamentally combining both kinds of tactics. Most publishers have not identified a solution that allows advertising units to drive significant lead generation volume cost effectively.

However, a number of publishers are now promoting content syndication programs with bundled advertising elements and positioning them as if the advertising promotions are driving leads.

Here is an example, paraphrased to protect the identity of the publisher:

A leaderboard banner highlighting multiple assets with guaranteed impressions and leads. A perfect way to promote whitepapers and webcasts.

What this description fails to mention is this is actually a package of content syndication and advertising. Nearly all of the leads will be delivered through lead generation tactics, primarily email promotions of the content. The leaderboard banner will likely drive less than 5% of the leads.

Buyer beware. A packaged program may be a great value for you, but it must be evaluated as a package of lead generation and advertising, not as a new advertising program with a lead generation guarantee.


Before looking at publisher programs for advertising or lead generation, be clear on your objectives. The opportunity to combine lead generation and advertising in a publisher program does not mean you can adopt both objectives. If you do, both will suffer from it.

Your Turn

How do you approach these blended lead generation and advertising programs? Share your perspective in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Do you need a second opinion on publisher programs that combine advertising and lead generation? Let me know below or by email.

Photo Credit: studio tdes

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  • I’m a publisher. Our main site does well with AdSense but I think it could do well with lead generation. I’m not sure how to get there.

    • Hi Warren,

      If your site is doing well with AdWords, chances are its working for lead gen for marketers already. Now you need to figure out how to package up an offering that makes it easier and more cost effective for the marketers that are already working with you.

      You can reach me by email along the sidebar, let me know if you want to connect.

  • Steve Lanning

    Great to see you keep your ranking on lead-gen position in Google, Eric,

    Good post although I was looking more to all forms of lead gen, but I like your approach.

    I, too, am a publisher-to-be for an online version of an area business publication that thrived as a tabloid for over 20 years in our area (my friend retired w/o telling me but we acquired the name–ha!)

    When we launch, we are looking to develop a campaign for sponsored content as part of our lead-gen offering, although my current tech guy isn’t too thrilled with it.

    As a crusty old marketer more than a sales guy since the early 1970s, I aim to feed my vent that lead gen should be honored more than advertising by all businesses–especially B to B. (I cut my teeth on direct mail lead gen in the 1970s, but really haven’t hardly a clue for digital. That’s why I have to share my platforms and income!)

    Do you know of an all-in-one resource for local business lead-gen as to how to to actually selling leads and lead websites?

    Also, I notice you don’t include LinkedIn as a contact. Is there a reason for that? Inquriing minds want to know!

    Best regards,

    • Hi Steve,

      I have links under my bio in the right rail for LinkedIn, I’ll connect as long as you send an intro note so I know we exchanged comments here.

      There are a lot of publishers selling leads today that you could look to as an example. Quinstreet is a good example of a publisher that covers a pretty broad range of markets and offerings.

      As you can tell from the post, I’m a fan of using content programs for lead generation. It also tends to be profitable for publishers because you have a lot more control over how to promote the content, essentially letting you optimize to the best yield for you as the publisher.

      I’d be happy to connect and talk more. I’d also recommend reading my post on lead generation versus demand generation. In response to your statement that B2B marketers should be focused on lead generation, I believe demand generation is actually the more important consideration for most today (and why I believe content should be part of the solution).


      Thanks for the comment, hopefully we can connect!