Updated October 17, 2023
Choosing the best B2B marketing channels from the many available options is a critical decision for every marketing department. To properly evaluate each channel, our team has gathered data from 150+ B2B marketing projects spanning 30+ industries between 2018 and 2023. Below, we compare the customer acquisition cost (CAC) and return on investment (ROI) of 11 different B2B marketing channels, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The Best B2B Marketing Channels of 2024, Ranked
|Speaking Engagements at Industry Events
|This is the most effective B2B lead generation strategy if you have an influential speaker, especially when done consistently.
|Thought Leadership SEO
|SEO is a high ROI marketing method, but it takes 4-6 months of dedicated labor from a specialized team before you see returns.
|Email campaigns can be effective with the correct language that speaks to the audience’s pain points, but compiling the right lists of recipients takes 1-2 years. Email is far better at lead nurturing than lead generation.
|When done with precision, PPC can yield a solid ROI (though not one that can compare with organic, which substitutes creativity & time for money), but it can also turn into a money pit if utilized inconsistently.
|Account Based Marketing (ABM)
|ABM is beneficial for firms looking to secure a few large contracts per year, but it relies on a solid salesperson to push high value prospects through the sales funnel.
|Webinars are excellent for converting prospects via educational opportunities, but producing a top-notch webinar and finding the right attendees can be challenging.
|LinkedIn allows you to easily reuse material from other thought leadership campaigns, is low effort, and has a reasonably strong return. There’s no reason not to do it.
|LinkedIn advertising, like ABM, allows you to target decision-makers but it can quickly grow expensive and plateau in average CAC and overall ROI.
|Industry Trade Shows
|In-person networking in a setting with many potential clients is powerful, but these gatherings may be costly and competitive.
|PR is expensive but highly effective when paired with other marketing channels, particularly when building awareness or launching a new product.
|Direct mail ROI still works decently well, especially for facilities services businesses, but is challenging to quantify and most decision makers will never see your mailing.
This is represented in the chart below:
We now break down each of these B2B marketing channels in more detail, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each, as well as the role they should play in your marketing program.
Speaking Engagements at Industry Events
Speaking engagements build “expert” credibility for your company and give you the opportunity to address a captive audience that includes key decision makers. These more personable and intimate interactions create a longer-lasting impression than writing a blog post or white paper. However, one disadvantage is that, unlike a white paper or blog post, the experience is fleeting, so you must create a strong impact – thus, the quality of the speaker you send to events is what creates the ROI.
In addition to having a charismatic, accomplished speaker, your team will also need to put in the necessary work to coordinate speaking at conferences and events, which entails investigating which events your target demographic will attend and applying to speak at them. You’ll need to either:
- Offer a compelling argument for the value of your presentation, or
- Pay a fee to speak
There is a tipping point with speaking; after a few years, event organizers will begin reaching out to you regularly to book engagements.
Thought Leadership SEO
Thought leadership SEO is the combination of creating thought leadership content, which establishes your business as an industry leader, with SEO, thereby growing your presence in Google’s search rankings and attracting organic traffic. It can be tailored to target bottom-funnel prospects using search intent analysis, allowing you to pre-qualify them as genuinely interested MQLs. It also creates a body of original content content for lead nurturing, whether on your website or when repurposed for other marketing channels.
To run a successful thought leadership SEO campaign:
- Use search intent to determine which topics your potential customers will be actively searching on Google
- Create original content that offers original research, creative presentation, or distilled expertise.
- Publish at least twice weekly to activate Google’s ‘News Website’ Bonus
Following these best practices will result in your website becoming a steady source of new prospects well into the future. Thought leadership isn’t without its shortcomings, however. It’s not a short-term channel, needing 4-6 months of consistent publishing before results begin to come in. It also requires a team with experience in transactional keyword research, strategic planning, and conversion rate optimization to create excellent content every week.
As a marketing channel, email is most effective when used for lead nurturing rather than lead generation. Most people disregard the bulk of their inbox, so to run a successful email campaign, you must use content and language that speaks directly to your target audience’s concerns and areas of interest at the time they receive your message.
Email marketing, like thought leadership, is best handled by a seasoned team. You’ll need a writer to develop attractive marketing material, a campaign manager to set up the calendar and list-building procedures, and an analyst to review the analytics, monitor the CRM, and recommend enhancements.
A significant disadvantage of email marketing initiatives is list building. Finding an existing and reliable list of target audience members or creating a new one can be challenging. Buying lists implies you’ll be contacting cold leads, whereas establishing a list from scratch can take years. Should you have the list already, however, it’s a very powerful way to reactivate cold leads.
For many B2B companies, PPC campaigns are the go-to approach for lead generation because of how quickly they produce results. Moreover, Google provides users with a clear picture of what is and isn’t working. It’s beneficial for testing an unexplored market for your items because of the quick turnaround time.
However, because you pay for every lead you generate, your cost will rise in lockstep with your success. This results in higher CACs (and therefore, lower ROI) than organic channels. In addition, Google increases pricing for keywords that exceed expectations, resulting in a year-over-year decrease in ROI.
Altogether, this makes for a marketing channel that is powerful but should be applied in narrow scopes, whether as a stopgap while setting up slower, higher ROI marketing channels, or as a way to test out new keywords before investing in an SEO campaign.
Account Based Marketing (ABM)
ABM is a high-touch but potentially high-return channel that is used only for potentially large sales. The classic example is researching a prospect’s favorite sports team and sending them tickets to a game. Creating this type of highly personalized campaign can be effective, but it is dependent on three factors:
- Obtaining all pertinent contact information about your top-level targets
- Conducting an in-depth study on your prospects
- Identifying and hiring skilled salespeople who can close high value sales.
These processes take a lot of time and work, and quickly become expensive. These factors are why traditional ABM works best in industries where a small number of high-value accounts are more important than generating many low-value leads.
Hosting webinars is an excellent approach to driving potential clients along the conversion funnel because business owners seek educational opportunities for themselves and their employees. The goal is to generate fascinating and educational content rather than a transparent sales pitch because a straightforward sales pitch would quickly fall flat.
However, two main challenges arise:
- Attracting the right attendees
- Producing a high-quality webinar
Effective webinars include original ideas and require a high production level and the ability to convey information concisely enough to keep your target audience’s attention.
The only social media network that genuinely caters to B2B marketing is LinkedIn because its subscribers actively use the platform to conduct business. It is also user-friendly, and you can easily modify content from other thought leadership campaigns for posting on LinkedIn, assuming you’ve tailored that content for the new channel. As a result, you’ll require minimal resources to begin posting, and the platform should serve as a supplemental marketing channel.
However, reworking content for LinkedIn is only a simple value-add if your company is currently doing content marketing. If you don’t already have content to repurpose, the difficulty and cost growth will increase significantly.
LinkedIn advertising shares many of its benefits and drawbacks with LinkedIn organic, with one key difference: it allows you to make use of LinkedIn’s powerful targeting options, filtering your audience by job title, company, industry, and many other parameters.
However, it comes at a significantly higher cost than using the platform organically, resulting in higher CACs. Its best use, as with many sponsored channels, is in short-term campaigns to gauge the desirability of your product in previously unexplored markets.
Industry Trade Shows
Trade shows and conferences are sometimes the only places where all industry participants can meet. They are valuable for networking and building face-to-face connections with clients worldwide, especially if you’re in an industry like SaaS that does not have many opportunities to meet offline. People attend these exhibits to learn about innovative technologies and solutions, and they can be an excellent source if you employ effective salespeople.
However, there are two drawbacks as follows:
- Attendance can be costly. When you consider renting exhibition space, developing marketing materials, scheduling travel, and wasting time, a single event may easily cost your firm anywhere between $10,000 to $250,000.
- Competition can be fierce. These events naturally bring the entire industry together, and your competitors will also attend and compete with you for every prospect’s attention. These events are jam-packed with demonstrations, speeches, and seminars, so you’ll need to make every effort to impress to create an impact.
Getting others to say positive things about your company is what PR agencies specialize in. Few things are more compelling than hearing from a reputable news source that a firm is worth considering as a business partner. Those same news sources have a considerably wider reach than all but the largest B2B companies, so your message will reach far more people than if you published it yourself.
Also, good press is about more than just generating new leads – it can be a great morale booster. It provides your employees a reason to be proud of their work and supports your current clients’ decision to work with you.
However, a significant disadvantage of PR is the cost, which typically is more than other channels discussed in this article. Working with a professional public relations firm might cost anywhere between $10k to $50k per month.
Simply put, we don’t recommend direct mail for most industries (with the exception of in-person services companies such as HVAC or janitorial services providers). It’s expensive, mailing lists are often almost worthless, and the ROI is low. Decision makers will often have their mail screened for them, and will rarely see your mailings at all. While direct mail might be effective in some industries, your time and budget is almost always better spent elsewhere.
Choosing the Best B2B Marketing Channels
B2B companies are tasked with choosing a strategic combination of marketing channels to invest in, both organic and paid. Many companies choose to work with a skilled agency partner to make the best use of their marketing budget and continue their own learning.
Our firm specializes in developing and implementing digital marketing campaigns for B2B businesses. We’ve executed successful campaigns with 100+ B2B companies including Salesforce, Verisign, and Cadence. If you’re interested in discussing a relationship, you can connect with us here.