B2B Lead Generation Tactics: 3 High ROI Methods Compared
Every B2B business needs to solve the problem of lead generation. Ideally, you want a tactic that produces high quality leads and is both inexpensive and quick to show an ROI. But as they say, “good, fast, cheap: pick two.”
My fifteen years in B2B lead generation have shown me that there are a few strategies that genuinely give a good mix of those 3 famous traits. I’d characterize each of them as “very good, medium fast, and medium cheap.” In this article, I’m going to describe them and list the main pros and cons of each. I hope that you’ll walk away better informed about how to effectively allocate your marketing budget.
B2B Lead Generation Tactic #1: Thought Leadership
Thought leadership is my personal top choice for B2B lead generation. This is the practice of consistently publishing engaging, high-level content that attracts visitors and offers genuinely helpful advice, turning your website into a source of evergreen information for your potential customers. The content can come in many forms—landing pages, blogs, white papers, videos, reports, or presentations. What’s important is that it’s insightful, practical, and respectful of your visitors’ time.
Thought leadership is my #1 choice for multiple reasons. The first is that after an initial investment in producing quality content, it continues to produce returns for years without additional investment. This is because thought leadership naturally pairs with SEO, and once you rank at the top of the search results, you generally stay there for a while. Thought Leadership is also wonderfully well-targeted: by targeting transactional keywords, you can ensure that you reach potential customers who are already in the market for your product.
And although this fact doesn’t get as much airtime, the lead generation benefits of thought leadership go beyond conversion. An excellent article or white paper can be repurposed for e-mail marketing, social media, webinars, a trade show pamphlet, and sales materials. In that way, it combines extremely well with the other two tactics below. Thought leadership also has the benefit of establishing your firm as an industry leader, which attracts speaking opportunities and media interviews.
There are, however, two major downsides to the thought leadership lead gen tactic. One is that it takes time. When you attend an executive event, exhibit at a trade show, or host a webinar, you’ll receive leads fairly quickly afterwards. That isn’t true of thought leadership. Generally, it will take at least 4–6 months before you start seeing results. The other downside is the cost, which is substantive due to the need for publishing at least twice a week in order to receive Google’s “News Website” rankings bonus. To do that, your team needs to include a dedicated writer, an editor, an SEO strategist, and a marketing analytics specialist. That team doesn’t come cheap.
On the bright side, there are ways to mitigate this cost. Sometimes, you can combine roles—for example, your strategist may be able to handle all the data reporting if your campaign is on the smaller side. Or a team member employed in another capacity may be able to step in and help write—as long as it doesn’t distract them from their core duties. Outsourcing is also a good option. The cost involved can be quite reasonable considering the ROI, as long as you choose an SEO agency carefully (here are some cautionary tales in case you’re curious).
B2B Lead Generation Tactic #2: Executive Events
Executive events are another high-ROI method B2B companies use to generate leads. Whether you’re part of a networking group, get invited to speak at a conference, or host your own gathering, they serve as valuable opportunities to reach an audience filled with the decision makers. Executive events are highly effective at generating ROI—75% of companies with budgets of $50-$100 million expect a 5:1 ROI from their events budget, while 48% of all other brands report an ROI between 3:1 and 5:1.1https://www.preludeevents.com/event-roi/
These events can be either in-person or virtual. As you’d imagine, in-person events still beat out virtual ones, but if it’s not possible to be there in person, virtual events are a decent substitute. Like with thought leadership, executive events can help your business beyond just lead generation. 83% of B2B businesses cite sales as their top reason for event participation, but brand favorability is another one of the outcomes, with 74% of attendees saying they developed more positive opinions about the company promoted after engaging at an event. Finally, education is another helpful outcome; events help 65% of consumers have a better understanding of a company’s products and services.
The main downside of using executive events for lead generation is that the decision makers you get face time with aren’t likely to be as open to your product or service as they would be at an actual sales meeting. Most people attend executive events for learning and networking and are put off by people who are too sales-oriented. While they’re open to sales opportunities, they’re not seeking them.
The best way to participate in an executive event is to speak at it. Doing so generates leads in one of the most classic thought leaderly ways: people are impressed by your insights and want to see how they can partner with the person or company behind that thinking. Speaking can be pay-to-play or organically earned, and the latter takes time as you build up a reputation as a desirable speaker.
A final note on executive events as a lead generation tactic: make sure to find out who is attending, speaking, and interacting with the event online so you get a sense of whether the audience is right for your product. An event which might otherwise seem like a good fit may turn out to be attended primarily by executives from companies that can’t afford your product, or will be a very hard sell because they are already working with your competitors. Also consider what’s happening in your business at that point in the year so you can assess whether your time is better spent elsewhere.
B2B Lead Generation Tactic #3: Trade Show Exhibitions
Industry trade shows have the potential to attract attention and get your products in front of a ton of people all at once, and have the side benefit of helping you keep abreast of the newest developments in your field. Unlike executive events, which could focus on one or just a handful of key presenters, a trade show can host dozens, if not hundreds, of potential clients in your industry. Consider these statistics: 82% of attendees possess the power to buy, 46% of attendees are in upper-level management, 56% of attendees travel over 400 miles to the event, and the average executive spends nine hours on the trade show floor.2http://www.excaliburexhibits.com/blog/7-trade-show-statistics-mean/ In other words: your audience is qualified, primed, and pretty far down the sales funnel when they arrive. All you need to do is find a way to stand out from your competitors and make a good impression.
In-person contact also tends to resonate deeply with potential clients, while the forum provides an excellent opportunity to have all questions answered by a knowledgeable representative. Engagement is key—74% of trade show attendees say branded event marketing experiences make them more likely to buy from a company that engaged them.3 http://info.hillpartners.com/blog/trade-show-attendance-statistics Whether you include interactive in-booth experiences, VR and AR demos, or forgo technology to create a cozy human-centric lounge, there are countless ways to make your space more experiential.
You can also use free, branded merchandise to remain in the minds of the people you meet long after they’ve gone home. Some will inevitably go straight to the trash, but research shows most recipients keep promotional products for an average of 8 months.4https://lightspandigital.com/blog/best-conference-swag-ideas-b2b/ Shirts and hats have been among some of the most memorable items, with 83% of prospects remembering the company who gave it to them.5https://blog.bizzabo.com/b2b-event-marketing-ideas And if you’re running a thought leadership campaign, this is a great way to help those prospects remember to visit your website, where they’ll find high quality content that will convince them of the value of listening to you.
Here’s the downside: trade shows are expensive. You can expect to spend anywhere between $10,000 and $250,000 on one, depending on your access level, and/or exhibit space. (Travel costs are also a factor—unless you’re in a trade show hub like Silicon Valley or San Francisco.) You’ll also be directly competing for attention amongst many similar companies. It can be frustrating when your booth is the only one with ailing traffic due to less-than-ideal placement. In retrospect, you may even realize that you chose to participate in the wrong event; another trade show at a later date may have been more valuable. Seeing results from trade shows requires considerable research and planning, all of which will drive up your costs.
Choosing a Lead Generation Tactic
At the end of the day, each of these three tactics deserves a shot at being in your marketing budget. All of them are proven, high-ROI strategies. If your goal is to scale up over time and establish your website as an automated lead generation system, choose thought leadership. If you’re targeting high level executives and also like listening to speakers and learning, then start attending executive events. And if what you need is a lot of leads and exposure at a fairly high time and financial cost, start exhibiting at trade shows. And no matter which you choose, it’ll be most effective when used in concert with the others.
If this article has helped you and you’d like to learn more about our approach to lead generation, contact us. We specialize in B2B lead generation for industries ranging from B2B SaaS to Manufacturing and Distribution.