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Optimizing B2B Marketing Lead Gen – What’s Hot & What’s Not

Driving sales through quality leads is a top priority for a majority of B2B digital marketers in 2016, with almost two-thirds saying that lead generation is their primary objective for the year. That’s the headline from a recent report that also reveals that while the drive to increase the numbers and quality of leads continues, lead generation goals are often ill defined, and the accurate measurement of ROI elusive.

The 5th annual State of Digital Marketing Report from DemandWave, sought insights from almost 300 marketing professionals on their marketing priorities, as well as what they felt the toughest challenges for 2016 were going to be. The results give a fascinating snapshot of what’s hot—and what’s not—for the coming year and beyond.

Investment in Quality

Respondents to the survey suggest that spending on digital marketing is set to increase this year, with almost two-thirds (64 percent) saying budgets would increase. In fact, just one in ten expected digital marketing budgets to decrease. As to priorities for where the budget will be spent, this graphic from the report illustrates that while volume is important, quality takes top spot; and that’s a trend to be welcomed.

Worryingly though, delivering, measuring, and—critically for CMO’s—justifying the increased spend remain difficult. When asked for their biggest digital marketing challenges “measuring and proving ROI” and “delivering quality leads” were both way ahead of all other considerations.

Indeed the struggle with return on investment would appear to becoming ever more difficult, with the equivalent percentages for the last two years standing at 16 percent in 2014 and 24 percent last year.

Metrics Methodology

This lack of confidence in measuring and proving returns might inform the rather surprising result that just 12 percent of marketing professionals surveyed favor ROI as a way to evaluate performance. As this graphic from the study illustrates, conversion rates, lead volume, end even website traffic are rated more highly.

Worryingly a massive four in ten respondents (if you include the ones that weren’t sure) don’t have any attribution model to aid their metric evaluation. Just over a quarter adopt a multichannel attribution model. The value of having such a model, and being able to track a sale through the funnel from first contact to close, is amply illustrated by this graphic, which shows revenue comparisons between multi-channel and other strategies.

I liked this quote in the study from Celia Fleischaker, senior vice president, global marketing at Epicor, as a great example of the kind of balanced, multi-faceted approach that can pay dividends.

“Conversion rate to sales-qualified lead is probably our top metric. We look at spend relative to the sales-qualified lead and the cost per sales-qualified lead — that’s really important to us. We look at the funnel all the way to close and when it closes, but definitely sales-qualified leads stand out as the key metric for us.”

What Type of Content is Hot?

Email and social media continue to be the most used digital marketing channels, with over 90 percent of marketing professionals employing them. And while organic search is quickly coming up from behind, display advertising is showing a decline year-on-year. When it comes to which channels are driving revenue though, social media is coming well down the list, just ahead of display.

The channel with the second-lowest perceived impact on revenue—social media—ties organic search for the second largest budget increase. Meanwhile email, with the largest returns in leads and revenues, lags behind in terms of increased budget. That’s a worrying trend when you take into account the revelation that a majority of marketers were unable to say which social media channel was generating revenue. That could be a case of throwing good money after bad unless the ROI issue with social is addressed.

When it comes to the content that’s distributed on these channels, the study revealed some interesting trends.

  • Video is the most produced content but came well down the list in terms of results in both leads and revenues.
  • Unsurprisingly LinkedIn is the most successful social media channel for B2B marketers.
  • White papers were produced more than webinars, resulted in more leads, and yet trailed webinars in terms of revenue.

White papers may bring in more leads than a webinar, but my experience shows that webinar leads are more actively engaged and move through the funnel quicker. When you think about it, a webinar lead is evidence of a bigger commitment. Consider that prospects are sitting through a 45 to 60-minute webinar listening to you, or one of your SME’s, talk about a topic. Even if they don’t attend the webinar and just register so they can view it later, that’s still a larger time commitment. When it comes to a white paper, these are great top of the funnel leads and great for the education phase, but that commitment many times is just a few minutes of quickly scanning or reading through the content.

The Right Content in the Right Place at the Right Time

Speaking of content, this study throws up some interesting indicators of what is working for digital marketers, and what isn’t. But in many ways it also poses more questions than answers. Is the effectiveness of video on the decline? Are marketers throwing ever-bigger budgets at strategies that they can’t measure effectively? Is there enough focus on online marketing as opposed to offline? (Almost four out of every 10 respondents said that they allocate less than 25 percent to digital—and that’s a lot less than I might have thought).

The bottom line is that whatever channel and strategy they use, many marketers are failing to optimize their content mix so that their lead generation results, when they can measure them, are falling short. Not choosing the right content can hurt, as Krystal Overmyer explains over at Content Standard.

“In content marketing, more content isn’t necessarily better. To boost effectiveness, marketers need to shift their B2B marketing strategies toward the most effective types of content. More content doesn’t always equal more results—what matters is how the content connects with the target audience.”

There is a lot more to find in the full report, which can be downloaded (registration required) at the 2016 State of Digital Marketing Report. I hope you will take a couple of moments to let me know what you think of the results, and of your own digital marketing experiences. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Additional Resources on this Topic:
12 Things Not To Do When Using Digital Marketing In 2016
Is Digital B2B Advertising Effective?
Why Digital Marketing Trends May Require You To Hire A Digital Marketing Agency

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Eric Vidal

CEO at The Marketing Scope
Eric Vidal, an industry expert with over 25 years of marketing and technology experience is passionate about providing insight and education on the latest martech trends and techniques. Eric speaks and writes for various publications like The Marketing Scope and Future Of Work to name a couple. Eric has been a marketing leader for companies of all sizes. He has extensive experience working to achieve measurable business results for organizations like IBM, Cisco, WebEx, Canon USA, West Corp., Dynamic Signal, SAP and more. Connect with Eric on LinkedIn.
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