Marketing

One Channel Rules Them All in B2B Lead Generation [Original Research]

We asked marketers which channel they rely on most for B2B lead generation. The margin between the top-voted channel and all of the others was remarkable.

Jessica Greene Jessica Greene on February 11, 2019 (last modified on February 12, 2019) • 13 minute read

If you had to focus your lead generation efforts on a single channel for a full year, which channel would you choose?

If you’re like most of the marketers who responded to our latest survey, you’d probably choose content marketing.

We asked our survey group of B2B marketers to select the channel that they rely on most for lead generation, and content marketing received—by a notable margin—the most votes.

Nearly 60% of our respondents chose content marketing. The runners up—social media, email marketing, and paid social—received far fewer votes, less than 15% each.

So if you haven’t yet prioritized content marketing as part of your B2B lead generation efforts, you should stop everything and refocus all of your efforts on publishing content, right?

Not necessarily.

While our respondents largely agreed that content marketing is a powerful tool in B2B lead generation, there are a lot of caveats.

Content marketing alone may not be enough. It takes time for content to produce results. And just because content marketing works well for a lot of B2B businesses, it doesn’t guarantee that it will produce extraordinary results for yours.

This might explain why 36% of respondents also reported that B2B lead generation has gotten harder over the last few years. (Another 36% reported no change, suggesting that it’s always been a challenge.)

We wanted to take a deep dive into the channels, tactics, and strategies that marketers are using in 2019 to generate leads for their B2B employers and clients. So we asked our respondents to share some of their most effective tips and impressive results.

Here’s what we learned.

Editor’s note: As mentioned by several respondents, a good place to start in terms of identifying your most effective channels is to track where visitors are currently engaging the most. Download this free Google Analytics dashboard to see which sources are driving the most traffic to your website, which pages they’re viewing, and much more.

Content Marketing is the Go-To Channel for B2B Lead Generation

“We dabble in a little bit of everything,” says Grow Hack Scale’s David Oragui, “but content marketing continues to be the biggest driver of leads and sales for us and our customers.”

Why? Oragui explains: “Content marketing is one of—if not the only—channel that pays dividends week after week, month after month. What you create today will continue to generate new business 2-5 years from now.”

Advice Media’s Joe Sloan agrees: “We’ve discovered that providing valuable content that resonates with our target clientele has generated the most qualified leads, and those leads close at a very high rate.”

Sloan provided us with some metrics to illustrate the success Advice Media has had with generating leads and closing deals using different channels and tactics. While referrals had a higher close rate, content marketing generated nearly seven times as many leads:

Cold Calls Content Marketing Trade Shows Referrals
Leads Generated 3,148 662 576 96
Closed Deals 26 80 48 22
Close Rate 0.83% 12.08% 8.33% 22.92%

So obviously, content marketing is an effective channel for B2B lead generation, but what types of content should you produce?

Futurety’s Elise Telford says her company invests in blog writing, email marketing, and a monthly webinar series. “These activities help us attract new prospects and—more importantly—establish a relationship of trust with those prospects.”

Mavens & Moguls’ Paige Arnof-Fenn argues that the best place to start is guest posting.

“Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing. well-trafficked blogs in your industry, or newsletters of like-minded organizations reaching the same target audience as you. Additionally, make sure you include your website URL or contact information so leads can find you and follow up.”

It’s also important to remember that focusing on content marketing doesn’t mean you have to isolate your efforts to a single channel. In fact, one of the reasons why content marketing is so effective is that it’s easily paired with efforts on other channels.

As P5 Marketing’s Robert Donnell says: “For B2B clients that sell a product that is a considered, researched purchase, we recommend content marketing that helps establish the company’s expertise. Then, social media, email marketing, paid social, and event marketing become channels to support and amplify the content marketing effort.”

Content Marketing + SEO

“A mix of content marketing and SEO drive a majority of our inbound leads (with the other chunk coming from referrals),” says demandDrive’s AJ Alonzo.

“Publishing and promoting content is one thing, but having a good keyword strategy is instrumental in making sure that the content you put out there gets read. They can exist by themselves, but they’re really impactful when they run in conjunction with one another.”

Alonzo continues: “The core pathway of getting visitors from our content to a landing page (so they can convert into a lead for the sales team) is propped up by the relationship between content marketing and SEO. The more content you produce, the more pathways you open up, and the better you rank for your target keywords. It gets people to those landing pages faster.”

Jennifer Noto of Carolinas IT agrees that content marketing and SEO are a perfect pair. “Google is the most effective channel for lead generation for our business. We don’t do any paid search; it’s all organic.”

“By using SEO keywords in content throughout our website and in our social media posts, we’ve been able to increase our rankings significantly. We rank in the number one spot in Google search results for more than 55 of our target keywords.”

“When a visitor completes a contact form on our website, they’re asked to select how they found us. Over 66% of our leads come from Google searches and social media posts.”

But SEO is important for more than just lead generation. SEO research also helps you determine what to write about. It helps you identify what types of questions your target customers are asking—and where they are in the buyer’s journey when asking those questions.

As Referral Rock’s Jay Kang says: “Our primary goal is to constantly find new question queries, identify where those questions belong in the sales funnel, and write the best content possible.”

The bottom line is that people turn to search engines when they’re looking for answers, and providing the answers they need is an effective way to generate leads and drive sales.

As Colibri Digital Marketing’s Andrew McLoughlin explains: “Companies reach out to us regularly because we rank for the digital marketing services they’re looking for.”

Content Marketing + Social Media Marketing

Another channel that pairs well with content marketing is social media. Obviously, you can use social media to promote the content you publish on your website. But you can also take it a step further and create content that’s designed solely to be published on a specific social media site.

For example, Cass Polzin explains how Accelity Marketing uses videos on LinkedIn to generate leads:

“It started with our CEO, Jackie Hermes, working with Urban Misfits to create videos on LinkedIn discussing business and personal life lessons. She quickly grew her audience and, through that, gave a human quality to our marketing—something that is often lacking in B2B industries.”

“Now,” Polzin says, “our whole team is creating videos on LinkedIn. It’s doing wonders for growing an audience for our brand, and it’s actually leading to sales for us, too.”

But before you decide whether to promote your website’s content on social or create content specifically for one social media site, you have to decide which site to focus on. Our respondents offered several suggestions:

  • Instagram – “It might come as a surprise,” says Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray, “but Instagram is actually an awesome channel for B2B lead generation. Instagram can be very effective when done well. First, publish quality content regularly. Then, engage with your target audience and followers through commenting and direct messages.”
  • LinkedIn – “LinkedIn audiences are naturally more business-focused than other social platforms,” says Lightbulb Media’s Lewis Kemp, “so the content has to be focused on addressing the core issues faced by that company. We find that video campaigns are a fantastic way to help customers imagine their businesses using the product or service.
  • Facebook – “Facebook is particularly effective for B2B lead generation,” says Jackie Kossoff, “because business owners and decision makers are on Facebook regularly. Moreover, these business leaders tend to use Facebook for business, whether to connect with colleagues or check on their own social campaigns.”
  • YouTube – “Funny enough, the best channel for us is YouTube,” says Andrew Maff of Seller’s Choice. “We started to create how-to videos daily, transcribe them, add them to our blog, and link the video to the blog post. This actually has started to drive a ton of traffic to our website. It’s one of our top lead generators right now.”

And the best part of combining content and social media marketing is that it can be a relatively low-cost strategy. As Maff explains about his effective YouTube approach: “All it cost me was one VA overseas.”

Content Marketing + Email Marketing

“The most effective channel we use for B2B lead generation is email marketing,” says Fisher Unitech’s Jackie Tihanyi.

“More specifically, we create nurture campaigns that include different pieces of content that aid buyers in each step of the sales funnel.”

Michael Bibla of Atomic Reach agrees that email marketing is most effective and offers another tip: “By using unorthodox CTAs—such as ‘Get a Content Audit’ rather than ‘Book a Demo’—we’ve been able to generate 14% more clicks on average.”

The Best Channel ≠ The Fastest Results

Our survey results and respondents’ comments make it clear that content marketing is a powerful channel for B2B lead generation. But while content marketing works, it doesn’t necessarily work quickly.

“What many companies need to understand is that content marketing and SEO probably take the longest to produce results—especially if you’re just starting out and don’t have an organic search strategy in place,” says David Oragui of Grow Hack Scale.

Lola’s Jeanne Hopkins agrees: “When you’re beginning any marketing program to generate leads for B2B sales teams, the demand generation team is often challenged by a lack of an email database, social media followers, and brand awareness at events.”

“Short-term, paying for lead acquisition through paid webinars with persona-focused content, leveraging paid social ads to generate interest, and publishing syndicated content may be the only play—at least initially.”

“But while you’re taking advantage of these short-term solutions,” Hopkins says, “you should also be publishing content to your blog, optimizing your website for search, and using other gated content (podcasts, webinars, ebooks) to build your email database. That’s the only way to bring down the average cost per lead and invest for the future.”

“Paid acquisition allows you to test the content so that you don’t make long-term mistakes. Relevant, high-value content that supports product sales is the long-term play,” she says.

Additional Channels and Tactics to Consider

If content marketing doesn’t seem right for your business—or if you haven’t had much success with content marketing—don’t despair. Our respondents suggested several other channels that have been effective for their B2B businesses that you can consider adopting.

Third-Party Review Sites

“Consumer review sites are a strong provider of high-quality leads because leads that come from these sites have consumed a lot of data and information,” says Best Company’s Chad Zollinger. “They are essentially well-informed leads. They already know pricing differences and have determined that the end company is the one they want to go with.”

However, Zollinger recommends focusing your efforts on the right consumer review sites: “Make sure to work with ethical and authoritative review sites. Some large, well-known review sites smother negative reviews or don’t allow higher rankings for companies that don’t pay them.”

“Review sites like G2Crowd and BestCompany.com are ethical and focus primarily on informing the researching consumer and then sending them to the most qualified company.”

SparkReaction’s Jesse Frye says analyst reports can be another powerful lead generator for certain B2B businesses. “For technology products or services, the best leads are generated from events and content like analyst reports (Gartner, IDC, Forrester, etc.).”

Referrals

For other types of businesses—agencies in particular—Frye recommends referrals: “For our specific business, the most effective channel for B2B leads comes from our website and through referrals.”

Brand chemistry’s Christabelle Tani agrees: “The best channel depends on the type of business in question. For us as an agency, our biggest channel is referrals from past customers and partners.”

Paid Social

Prami Growth Agency’s Hanna Prami recommends paid social for B2B lead generation: “We’ve had good results with audience expansion using lookalike audiences, providing, of course, the content and context match.”

TSL Marketing’s Ryan Nicholson agrees—but recommends focusing on LinkedIn:

“We favor LinkedIn advertising to get in front of our potential buyers. It allows us to be very precise in our B2B audience targeting, and to split our targeting into persona segments. This helps us better understand the value of the segments. We see click, conversion, and lead rates out of individual segments.”

“Deployed correctly, it is one of the most effective ways to get in front of a B2B audience.”

Albacross

Oksana Chyketa of Albacross recommends her company’s own lead generation platform.

“One of the most effective tactics we use for lead generation is actually our own service, Albacross—a B2B lead generation platform. The most significant advantage of this tool is that it enables you to get qualified leads in a matter of minutes, allowing you to skip the prospecting process and get straight to work.”

So Which Channel Will Work Best for Your Business? It Depends.

“We’ve seen various clients, big and small, achieve success and failure with the same—and different—channels,” says William Chou of WebMechanix. “B2B companies in different industries often experience different successes.”

“We’ve seen real-world results where a wizard and Facebook ad kills it for one client but bombs for the other—even though the same techniques were used.”

Big Sea Co.’s Autumn Sullivan agrees: “B2B is too broad a term to narrow down to one channel. I have SaaS clients who successfully reach leads through social media sites like Reddit, and I have B2B financial clients who reach their best leads through email marketing.”

Instead of chasing what someone else says is the best channel, Sullivan recommends “identifying where your leads are already engaging, and then building strategies to maximize the use of that channel.”

For some B2B businesses, a single-channel approach might be highly effective. Others get the best results by targeting multiple channels. “Our best success in B2B,” d3’s Susan Sigel Goldsmith reports, “has been with out-of-the-box multichannel efforts where we integrate email, direct mail, and targeted social outreach.”

And sometimes, the channel isn’t important at all. As AcademicBrits’ Adelina Benson says: “How you use a lead generation channel is far more important than what lead channel you choose.”

About the author
Jessica Greene
Jessica Greene writes about marketing, business, and technology for B2B SaaS companies. A former writing instructor and corporate marketer, she uses her subject-matter expertise and desire to educate others as motivation for developing actionable, in-depth, user-focused content.
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