6 Best Tactics for B2B Lead Generation

Fireworks and Ferris WheelYou need to generate leads, right? If you are a B2B marketer, particularly one focused on making a complex sale in a large enterprise, the answer is almost certainly a resounding yes.

The B2B lead generation landscape has changed tremendously in the last decade. Today, B2B lead generation relies heavily on digital marketing and this list reflects that switch.

To make this list, tactics must be cost effective, measurable and scalable. In addition, they need to offer sufficient targeting for the broader marketing efforts of many mid-sized or large enterprise marketers.

The B2B Lead Generation List

1. Inbound or Content Marketing
Time after time, HubSpot’s research shows that inbound leads are both lower cost and higher quality than those from outbound marketing.

Although inbound has the longest rampup time, it is increasingly the first choice for smaller companies and startups and a quickly growing focus for larger marketers.

2. Search marketing
Paid search delivers both quality and volume for many B2B marketers. If you currently focus primarily on inbound marketing and aren’t using paid search, it should be one of your first additions.

3. Publisher Lead Generation Programs
This category covers a wide range of programs that vary by publisher. Although contacts captured from these programs tend to be lower quality than those captured through search, publisher programs are often more scalable and targetable (based on demographics) than search.

4. Email
Yes, inboxes are overflowing and deliverability is an issue, but email continues to be the lowest cost way to have the granular targeting that a one-to-one list model supports.

When used with content promotions, email continues to be a cost effective channel for marketers that need more granular targeting.

5. Direct Mail
As our email inboxes are getting fuller, our physical inboxes are getting smaller. Adding direct mail, and dimensional direct mail for specific audiences, is one of the best ways to maximize the overall response rate for an audience.

6. Telemarketing
If you are a modern marketer, you might despise telemarketing, but with a targeted list, it continues to be extremely effective. Particularly when targeting a finite known audience, adding telemarketing to your email and direct mail program can significantly increase the total percentage of the audience you connect with.

What Didn’t Make the List

Sometimes it is more interesting to consider what didn’t make a list a why. Here are four that simply don’t make the cut. Some are newer and may be part of a core list in another year or two (or even for you today), but for many marketers, these will not be core lead generation investments.

1. Banners
Online banners may be a good compliment to some of these tactics and with a significant investment could directly left some of the other results. However, for most B2B marketers, banners don’t drive leads cost effectively.

2. Social Media Advertising
Social media advertising isn’t targetable or scalable enough in many B2B markets to make the list above, but with recent updates from Facebook and rumored changes pending from Twitter, that may change.

3. Print Advertising
With registration capture generally happening online, print simply cannot compete compared to reaching someone that is already online and just a click away from your registration form.

4. Events
Many B2B marketers continue to invest heavily in events and many continue to see a good return from a small number of key events. However, many event marketers are cutting back their event schedule and reinvesting their lead generation budgets in the tactics above.

Rather than base this list on published benchmarks, which often don’t reflect the differences in program costs or quality, this list is based on my own personal experience and on conversations with other marketers. Your additions and feedback is welcomed.

Your Turn

What would you add to these lists or what tactic do you feel isn’t represented fairly in the list above? Share your views in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: mugley via Flickr cc

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  • Mark A. Evertz

    Always helpful Eric and agree with your take.I’m finding people in large enterprises with touch and feel tech are super reluctant to cut back on even the most remote in-person events. Similarly, services-based businesses are convinced that F2F meetings are the only thing that works to close a deal. Not sure I agree but getting them to see where the wind is blowing is a huge challenge.

    Any words of wisdom there or data to support that their event-focused business decisions are counter productive?

    I’ll offer up my take on a tactic I’ve seen very limited success using thus far — and it’s killing me! Not seeing the results I was convinced I would by leveraging LInkedIn for B2B Content offer ads tied to a nurture program. Still tinkering because of the target-rich environment but surprised by early returns.

    Cheers and thanks for sharing your insight.

    • Julie_Schwartz


      ITSMA research shows that for “traditional” buyers at large enterprises that purchase complex services and solutions, events are the most preferred marketing vehicle. Not so for the new up and coming “social” buyer. The social buyers have no strong preferences. They want a little bit of everything! See page six of this report for the data: (free/no registration required)http://www.itsma.com/pdfs/research/ITSMA_HBCI2012AbbSummary.pdf

      So events are NOT counterproductive when selling to some buyers, specifically the baby boomers who are purchasing large, complex solutions.



      • Mark A. Evertz

        Julie! Thanks so much for the link to the report. I’ll dig in. I think we agree — and could even get a curmudgeon like Eric to admit — that events do have a very important place in a mix but the cost of them, particularly the big ones, can be so expensive with less than stellar lead quality. Mostly swag bag grabbers, ya know? And I think you’re spot on … it’s all about who your buyers are. My question stems from a large BPO service client who is convinced the only way they sell is through face-to-face interaction and are reluctant to explore other venues and tactics. Eric can attest to this, anytime anyone tells me something can’t be done or it doesn’t work, I ask for data first to prove it and then reveal ways to expand their comfort zones.
        Really appreciate your note!

        • Julie_Schwartz

          It it the smaller events–the ones that really let a company showcase their though leadership and subject matter experts–that work best for complex services and solutions. Think of the events as the equivalent of the product company “free sample.” I agree that the the large, expensive events are not ideal. Many of our members abandoned those events years ago. And Heidi is right about virtual events. Buyers prefer them too.

      • Julie, thanks for jumping in with additional data!

        To be clear, I don’t mean to knock the efficacy of events, my concern is the cost efficiency for many marketers, particularly all of the energy and production that surrounds the bigger events.

        Yes, you and Mark can even get a curmudgeon like me to agree that events have a place in the mix. πŸ™‚

    • Mark, another comment I’ll add to F2F and events: F2F meetings may be key to closing deals, but events aren’t the only way to get a F2F meeting. When events are viewed as an acquisition effort, they often aren’t where the key selling meetings happen. If you simply attend events where your prospects will be, making F2F meetings a little bit easier for everyone, its a completely different level of investment.

  • Dara Schulenberg

    My first reaction – amidst head bobbing – was to underscore the ‘advertising’ portion of the social media reference and to qualify that with today.

    Without debate (I assume), the social signals in search algorithms make a compelling case for social media participation. And, as B2B social media continues to mature and evolve into social business practices I believe the lead gen potential will increase.

    I also endorse Mark’s shared tactic. The LinkedIn advertising sophistication makes it exceptionally powerful in combination with lead nurturing flows.

    • Dara, social ads are definitely a “for today” qualification.

      That said, we haven’t seen banners develop into a strong lead generation option in B2B. Will social ads, which also pull people in with limited context and from a free and light-content environment, have the same registration rate challenges that limit the effectiveness of lead generation banners? Time will tell, I’m not convinced, either way, yet.

      The audience information in LinkedIn is awesome. For online advertising, nothing else can touch it. That said, I hear so few cases of marketers finding scalable success on the LinkedIn CPC platform, and so many that abandoned it because of limited volume or mediocre results. I’ve seen enough success to know its “possible” but not enough to convince me it is something most marketers should quickly embrace specifically for lead generation. A more interesting application may be pairing LI with retargeting in order to get people back with a second offer.

      As always, love your feedback!

  • Heidi Bullock

    Nice list. With events, I like to make the distinction between physical and virtual. Virtual events can be really cost effective!!

    • Great point Heidi. Even though interaction tends to be pretty low, the virtual events run by publishers or traditional event companies in particular tend to be a cost effective way to get new contacts. Thanks for flagging!

  • Daniel Braddock

    We’re doing everything on the list, except email marketing. Low cost if you’re doing it in bulk, but you can’t tailor an approach. A blanket email looks like a blanket email and there’s no way to break this. It’s also too time consuming to tailor an email to each of the people you are reaching out to.

    Social media is the unsung hero in this list. I’ve picked up 2 leads in the last 2 weeks thanks to our monitoring tactics. I guess this list is talking more about paid advertising through SM, which can be ineffective if not done correctly. It’s good to go already. there’s no need to wat for the changes if you use it properly.

    I suppose that ulimately, it depends what market you operate in, who you’re targeting, and which way the wind’s blowing πŸ˜‰

    • Hi Daniel,

      There are a lot of very effective but smaller tactics, social listening is definitely one for some businesses. One of the things I was looking for here was scalability for larger companies, that moved the focus to “bigger” activities.

      It sounds like you haven’t found a happy medium between bulk email and personalized email, there are an increasing number of options. No, the email may not seem like a handwritten letter specific to the recipient, but there is a wealth of data available for segmentation. Done well, segmentation will ensure you can deliver emails that are targeted and relevant, even if they aren’t 1-1.

      And yes, you are right. It varies tremendously by market, audience, competitive landscape, … the list goes on.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Phil Smith

    Very informative as usual. I completely agree with your list of 6 effective tactics and we use them all. Personally I have found targetted direct mail to be increasingly effective over the past 9 months and (suprisingly) targetted telemarketing with a very specific message is also delivering results. I gave up on telemarketing as a complete waste of time around 2 years ago but decided to give it another try recently and was suprised when it delivered results.
    On social media I agree with Dara – Social media may be a waste of space when considering lead generation but it could be (I am yet to be 100% convinced) a useful SEO tactic.

    • Thanks Phil. I definitely consider some elements of search and social to be part of inbound marketing and I don’t mean to belittle the impact of word of mouth in social. However, it is going to be driven by something to talk about, generally in B2B that’s your content (unfortunately, not your solution).

      Glad to hear the more traditional DM and telemarketing are working well for you!

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  • Charlie Lass

    Very useful, thanks. I’m a big fan of content driven social marketing and how well we can now measure it’s effectiveness HOWEVER, I have a soft spot for very specific, highly personal letters. Nothing breaks the ice at the start of a follow-up phone call like “did you get my letter”. It takes a LONG time, but a well researched, genuinely individual letter has an extremely high uptake rate. The caveat being, you have to be able to justify the cost of sale.
    Thanks again,

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  • There are plenty of ways to generate leads. I like the list that you have included. No matter what others say about telemarketing, it is still one of the most effective means to generate leads.

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  • George

    I guess this article was written before Linkedin taking off as a reliable source of B2B leads

    • Yes, it was. About a month later I wrote about LinkedIn’s sponsored updates program, right around the time it was released: http://b2bdigital.net/2013/07/01/linkedin-sponsored-updates-the-best-b2b-social-advertising-option-yet/

      Other LinkedIn options (groups, 1-1 outreach) still aren’t scalable and targeted enough to become a key initiative for mid-sized to large marketers. They can be very cost-effective, but they can’t become a key volume driver yet. Although smaller marketers, particularly using a solution like oktopost, can grow it into a sizable portion of their volume.

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  • Mary Boyd

    One tactic I am using is sending individual emails, postcards or thank you card.. People remember you.

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  • Sarah Shelby

    I chose to use LeadFerret.com and my go-to lead gen source for all my b2b leads! I recommend anyone looking for new leads to do the same.

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