In today’s fast-paced business world, generating leads and acquiring customers are the heartbeat of success and growth.
Yet, in practice, lead generation can be easier said than done and, in fact, can often be the biggest challenge faced by many businesses. This challenge is often amplified for B2B businesses, where the quest for quality leads can literally make or break their sustainability and profitability.
Not to mention, there is a myriad of lead generation channels available for B2B businesses, each presenting its own set of benefits and disadvantages. Whether or not the right lead-generation channels are chosen can significantly affect the B2B company’s chances for long-term success.
Yet, effectively navigating these channels and making the right choices would require a comprehensive understanding of each channel’s respective strengths and weaknesses, along with the preferences and behaviors of the company’s unique target audience.
In this guide, we will explore the different B2B lead generation channels and unravel their distinct pros and cons to help you identify the most effective channels for your needs. We will explore both traditional channels that have withstood the test of time and newer revolutionary channels that show promise for the future.
Without further ado, let’s begin this guide by discussing the very foundation: what is B2B lead generation?
What is B2B Lead Generation?
Lead generation refers to the process of identifying, attracting, and cultivating potential customers who have shown interest in a product or service offered by a business. In practice, it is about capturing the contact information (i.e., email address) of those who have shown interest in any way, be it visiting your website, commenting on your social media posts, consuming your content, and soon.
In the realm of B2B (business-to-business) companies, however, the customers are organizations rather than individual consumers. Thus, B2B lead generation is the process of finding businesses and decision makers within these businesses that may be interested in the B2B company’s offers and then capturing their contact information.
Still confusing? To understand the concept of B2B lead generation, let’s break down the process into smaller key steps, as follows:
- Identifying target audience: the first and arguably the most important step in B2B lead generation is identifying the specific companies (or industries) that are likely to be interested in your product or service. This step may involve conducting thorough market research, analyzing industry trends, and identifying pain points/problems that your product or service can provide solutions to.
- Attracting prospects: once you’ve identified the target companies and the decision-makers within these companies, the next step is to attract them to your platform (website, social media profile, app) in one way or another. This is when we utilize the various lead generation channels, be it content marketing, advertising, social media marketing, and others.
- Creating lead magnets: a “lead magnet” is something of value that businesses offer to prospective leads for free in exchange for their contact information. Lead magnets can come in many forms, be it an informative guide, ebook, white paper, invitation to a webinar, free trial download link, discount coupon, and so on. The important thing is that your target audience must find your lead magnet valuable.
- Landing pages and forms: the landing page is a dedicated web page designed to highlight the lead magnet’s benefits and convince visitors to submit their contact information to gain access to the lead magnet. The landing pages typically include a form (or forms) where the visitors can submit their details to access the lead magnet.
- Lead capture and data management: once you’ve captured the contact information of prospects through landing page forms, you’ve converted these prospects into leads. Here you should ensure effective and efficient data management so you can organize and segment leads for effective follow-up and personalized marketing efforts.
- Lead scoring and qualifying leads: not all the capture leads are created equal. Lead scoring is the process of prioritizing leads based on their potential to become paying customers. Scoring and qualifying your leads can help you ensure you are prioritizing your efforts and resources on the most promising leads.
Once you’ve captured and qualified/scored your leads, the lead generation process is basically done, and we can move on to the lead nurturing stage. Lead nurturing is, simply put, the process of nurturing captured leads until they are ready to make their purchase. This involves engaging leads over time through targeted content marketing, email newsletters, and other communication channels.
However, we’ll limit the scope of this guide to only the lead generation process and the different lead generation channels available for B2B businesses.
The Importance of Choosing the Right Lead Generation Channels
Choosing the right lead generation channel is crucial because it directly impacts the B2B business’s growth and success.
Putting your efforts and resources on the wrong channels will waste your time and money, while the right channels will help you generate qualified leads that are the most likely to convert into customers in the most effective manner possible.
The myriad of channels available can differ in terms of target audience reach (i.e., some are more effective in reaching out to a specific type of audience than others), effectiveness, resource requirements, and costs.
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each channel can help you make informed decisions that maximize your B2B marketing budget and efforts in a plethora of different ways:
- Resource optimization. Most likely, your B2B business has limited resources in one way or another, be it budget, time, manpower, or all of them. Choosing the right lead generation channels allows you to focus these limited resources on strategies and campaigns that are most likely to yield effective results. Instead of spreading your resources thin across too many channels, you can concentrate on the ones that will contribute more to achieving your business goals.
- Reaching the target audience effectively. Different channels will be more effective in reaching one type of target audience than others. Carefully choosing the right channels will allow you to reach your specific target companies or individuals more effectively. For example, if your target audience is active on social media like LinkedIn, then investing in LinkedIn advertising can be a beneficial strategy.
- Cost-effectiveness. Lead generation channels come in varying costs, some can be very affordable or even free (like email marketing,) but some can be very expensive (i.e., advertising.) Understanding the cost implications of different channels can help B2B businesses make budget-conscious decisions that align with their current financial capabilities.
- Adaptability to industry and product. Certain products or services have unique characteristics that may require specific lead generation strategies. Choosing channels that align with your industry and product/service can help you personalize your marketing messages to reach your target audience more effectively.
- Establishing a strong brand presence. Choosing the right lead generation channels would also contribute to establishing a strong brand presence for your B2B business. By interacting and engaging potential customers on the platforms they frequent, your business can stay top of mind as a thought leader or authority in your niche.
Now that we’ve understood the importance and benefits of choosing the right lead generation channels, in the next sections, we will explore the most prominent channels available and their respective pros and cons.
I. Traditional/Offline Lead Generation Channels
While in this social media and AI age, we will naturally put more focus on digital marketing channels, traditional or offline channels can still be very effective when used correctly.
These time-tested methods, in fact, can provide significant benefits over the digital channels in some scenarios, for example, in reaching out to specific target markets.
In this section, we will explore three classic yet effective B2B lead generation channels most of us should be familiar with: cold calling, direct mail, and offline events.
1. Cold calling
Cold calling is, as the name suggests, the practice of calling potential customers who have not expressed any interest in your product or service but fit your ideal customer profile.
Cold calling can be a very effective way to generate leads, allowing real-time feedback and lead qualification. However, it can be time-consuming and labor-intensive to execute.
Pros of cold calling for B2B lead generation
- Personalized interaction: cold calling enables direct and personalized communications with each target prospect, allowing you to address specific needs and pain points to maximize conversion.
- Real-time feedback: cold calling allows immediate and real-time feedback during the calls, so sales representatives easily adjust and optimize your sales pitch in real time.
- Fast lead qualification: during the sales calls, sales representatives can quickly judge the recipient’s level of interest and how likely they are to convert into purchasing customers.
- Easier to address objections: cold calling offers an opportunity to provide solutions and address objections raised by the prospects.
- More effective for high-value products or services: products or services that are more expensive and/or require longer-term commitment can benefit from personalized sales calls.
Cons of cold calling for B2B lead generation
- Time consuming: cold calling can be labor-intensive and time consuming compared to other lead generation channels.
- Potential rejection: rejection is relatively common in cold calling. Not all prospects will be receptive to unsolicited calls, and this is why the conversion rate of cold calling is relatively lower. Establishing rapport within the first few seconds of a cold call is crucial, but can be challenging in practice.
- Compliance and regulations: at the moment, cold calling is subject to various compliance regulations like the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in the US or GDPR in the European Union, among others. When using cold calling, make sure to maintain adherence to legal requirements.
2. Direct Mail
Direct mail refers to sending physical mail (i.e., catalogues, brochures, postcards, etc) to potential clients.
While this practice may seem like a relic of the past, the tangible nature of direct mail as a lead generation channel offers unique advantages, especially in today’s highly saturated digital environment.
Pros of direct mail in B2B lead generation
- Tangible: direct mail provides a tangible physical presence, so it can leave a more memorable, lasting impression on the recipients.
- Personalization and targeting opportunities: direct mail can be highly personalized for each target recipient, which can significantly improve the relevance and potential impact. You can also strategically target the direct mail to specific segments, demographics, or even specific individuals.
- Less competition: fewer businesses are using direct mail nowadays, so there’s an opportunity to stand out in the saturated space.
Cons of direct mail in B2B lead generation
- Production and postage costs: due to its physical nature, direct mail requires investment in design, printing/production, and delivery, which can be significant. This will also result in a longer lead time compared to digital channels.
- Measurement and tracking: it can be difficult to track the effectiveness of direct mail campaigns compared to digital channels.
- Environmental concerns: direct mail contributes to waste (i.e., paper waste), so it could contribute to damaging the environment.
- Limited reach: the strength of your direct mail campaign is limited to your database of potential customers’ physical addresses.
3. Offline Events
Hosting, participating, or even attending offline events like trade shows is an excellent way for businesses to engage and build relationships with potential customers. Events can help B2B businesses in fostering authentic connections, which can be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in digital lead generation channels.
Pros of offline events in B2B lead generation
- High-quality leads: events will attract attendees that are actively interested in the niche/industry the event is focused on.
- Networking opportunities: offline events facilitate valuable networking not only with potential leads but also with industry professionals and potential partners, which may strengthen your lead-generation capabilities.
- High visibility: hosting or participating in events like trade shows enhances your brand’s visibility and credibility to potential customers.
- Product demonstrations: offline events provide a platform to physically showcase your products or services in action, which can be effective for increasing conversion.
- Immediate feedback: the face-to-face interactions in offline events provide real-time feedback on your lead generation and marketing strategies, as well as your product/service quality.
Cons of offline events in B2B lead generation
- Resource intensive: participating and, even more, hosting events can be resource-intensive. When participating in trade shows, for example, you’ll need to invest in booth design, equipment rental, materials, staffing, and others. Hosting your own event will be even more challenging and resource intensive.
- Time-consuming: participating in and hosting trade shows and events can be time-consuming.
- Competition: in trade shows and events, you are competing for potential leads’ attention, which can be very challenging in practice.
Despite the popularity and obvious effectiveness of digital channels, these more “traditional” B2B lead generation channels can still offer valuable opportunities to engage with potential leads and establish meaningful relationships.
The idea is to integrate these classic strategies with more modern digital approaches to amplify your overall lead generation results.
II. Digital B2B Lead Generation Channels
As briefly mentioned, digital marketing and lead generation channels are the most popular ones in today’s digitally connected world, and B2B businesses should naturally leverage these channels.
With the wide array of digital lead generation channels available at the moment, B2B businesses can leverage the power of the internet to reach and engage with their target audience and convert them into qualified leads in innovative and highly personalized ways.
In this section, we will explore four of the most popular and effective digital lead generation available: email marketing, content marketing, SEO, and social media marketing.
1. Email Marketing
While email marketing is more widely used as a lead nurturing channel, it can still be very effective as a lead generation channel.
Email is a very versatile channel, and you can use it to generate leads in various ways: driving them to other lead generation channels (i.e., promoting your content), running contests or giveaways, offering free content on the email as a lead magnet, and so on.
Email marketing is also very cost-effective, with a high potential ROI, thanks to its ability to deliver personalized and highly targeted messages to the target audience.
Pros of email marketing for B2B lead generation
- Highly targeted: you can target your emails to specific recipients based on demographics, interests, behaviors, or other factors. Then, you can personalize your messages based on individual preferences to maximize results.
- Measurable results: you can easily track the results of your email marketing campaigns, how many leads you are generating, and other metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and so on. These valuable data and insights can help you improve your lead generation efforts.
- Automation capabilities: with various email marketing tools available, you can easily create automated email workflows to deliver the most relevant content to the right audience at the right time to maximize lead conversion rate.
- Cost-effectiveness: compared to many other marketing channels, email marketing is very cost-effective with a high ROI.
- Scalable: you can easily scale your email marketing efforts as your business and number of leads grow.
Cons of email marketing for B2B lead generation
- Data privacy and compliance: various regulations like GDPR in the EU now require businesses to make sure their email campaigns comply with these relevant data privacy laws, which can complicate the execution and lower the overall effectiveness of the campaign.
- Deliverability: if your email is not well-crafted, your emails may get blocked by these filters and end up in spam folders.
- Competition: it can be difficult to win your recipient’s attention and maintain engagement. Your email content must immediately attract the target audience’s attention, remain relevant, and provide value to its recipient.
2. Content Marketing
Content marketing refers to creating and distributing valuable and relevant content to attract a target audience.
When we discuss content marketing, we mainly focus on textual content like blog posts or ebooks, but today it may also refer to other forms and mediums like videos, podcasts, and social media content.
Content marketing is a long-term lead generation tactic that can help you establish trust and credibility with your target audience, which is highly critical in the B2B context.
Pros of content marketing in B2B lead generation
- Attract more qualified leads: content marketing invites those who are already looking for information related to your niche and what your business offers, so they are more likely to convert as qualified leads.
- Establishing thought leadership: well-crafted content can help you showcase your business’s expertise and thought leadership in your niche or industry. This allows you to build credibility and trust with your target audience and generate more leads
- Multichannel distribution: you can repurpose and redistribute your content across various digital channels in different forms, amplifying its reach and maximizing its cost-effectiveness.
- Lead magnet: in B2B lead generation, content marketing has a very important role in being used as lead magnets together with other channels. For example, you can offer ebooks or white papers as gated content to capture contact information from potential leads.
Cons of content marketing in B2B lead generation
- Resource intensive: consistently creating and publishing high-quality content requires resources, time, and effort.
- Requires commitment: content marketing is a long-term strategy. It can take months before you can generate a significant amount of leads from a single piece of content. A commitment of time and resources is necessary, which can be challenging for many B2B businesses.
- Competition: many businesses invest in content marketing, leading to saturated competition. Creativity is critical so you can differentiate your content to stand out.
- Measuring performance: determining the exact ROI and keeping track of your content campaign’s performance can be challenging
3. Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing refers to any social media activities to connect with potential customers and generate leads. This includes organic activities (posting your content and gaining followers), paid activities (using paid advertising options), and working with influencers within the social media platform.
In today’s digital age, social media is a crucial channel for B2B lead generation that can help you reach a large audience and build relationships with prospective leads.
Pros of social media marketing for B2B lead generation
- Audience reach and targeting: social media platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram allow you to reach a vast audience of potential customers. Most of the major social platforms also offer advanced targeting options to help you narrow down to specific demographics, interests, and behavior in your lead generation campaigns.
- Engagement: social media is a unique channel where you can have two-way direct interactions with potential leads. This can effectively facilitate engagement, relationship building, and ultimately lead generation.
- Brand awareness: in today’s social media age, many people equate social media presence with brand visibility. An active social media presence can help you foster brand awareness among potential leads.
- Versatile: you can use social media in various ways to generate leads, like running contests/giveaways, partnering with influencers, or via paid advertising options offered by the social media platforms.
- Conversion tracking: due to the complex and organic nature of social media platforms, attributing lead conversions to social media activities can be difficult. Investments in comprehensive tracking and analytics solutions may be required.
4. Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the practice of optimizing the website and its content so it can rank higher in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs).
The idea behind SEO as a lead generation strategy is fairly simple: by ranking higher in Google and other search engines’ result pages, you can attract more visitors to your website, and the hope is that some of them will convert into leads.
Pros of SEO in B2B lead generation
- Long-lasting and sustainable results: SEO can yield long-lasting results and maintain your website visibility. Once your website gets ranked high on the SERP, it can continuously drive traffic to your website for years, even after you’ve stopped spending on SEO.
- Scalable: SEO can be easily scaled as your business grows. You can add more content to your website, and its existing SEO performance will continue to drive traffic. As you improve your website’s overall SEO over time, you’ll start to see even more traffic
- Establish credibility and trust: websites with strong SEO performance and high SERP ranking are perceived as more credible and trustworthy by potential clients.
- Targeted: SEO is very versatile in terms of targeting and can allow you to use specific keywords and phrases relevant to what your business offers and what your target audience is searching for. This also means that you are only investing in traffic who are more likely to be interested in your product or service.
Cons of SEO in B2B lead generation
- Time-consuming: as a long-term strategy, it can take a long time before your site climbs the SERP ranking and gain significant organic traffic from SEO. You’ll need to regularly update the website content and continuously optimize the website, which can be challenging in practice.
- Algorithm updates: Google and the other search engines frequently update their algorithms, so you’ll need to continuously update and optimize your optimizations according to the changing algorithms.
- Complexity: implementing SEO practices (content optimization, technical optimizations, link building, etc.) can be complex and requires expertise. Not only that, but due to the long-term nature of the channel, maintaining consistency can be even more of a challenge.
5. Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is a relatively new lead generation channel, offering fresh opportunities for businesses—including B2B businesses— to connect with potential leads.
Collaborating with relevant influential figures in your niche or industry allows your B2B business to tap into their established credibility and trust to promote your products or services, as well as your content, for thought leadership purposes.
Pros of influencer marketing in B2B lead generation
- Authenticity and trust: recommendations and endorsements from influencers can be more authentic and persuasive to your potential B2B clients.
- Highly targeted: influencers tend to cater to specific niches, so you can leverage this and reach a highly targeted audience that is aligned with your offerings.
- Credibility association: partnering with reputable and relevant influencers can elevate your B2B business’s brand perception, helping you establish your position as the thought leader in your industry.
Cons of influencer marketing in B2B lead generation
- Selection: finding the right influencers who align with the B2B business’s target audience, values, and industry expertise is critical but can be easier said than done in practice.
- Cost: influencer marketing can be expensive, especially if you’re planning to partner with famous influencers and celebrities.
- Measurement and ROI: keeping track of the direct impact and ROI of influencer marketing can be difficult. You may need advanced analytics and tracking to measure the effectiveness of the campaigns.
6. Webinar and Virtual Events
Another relatively new lead generation channel that has gained traction in recent years is virtual events, including webinars.
Hosting virtual events and informative webinars can be useful for B2B businesses to directly meet potential leads, showcase expertise, and address potential clients’ pain points in real time.
Pros of virtual events in B2B lead generation
- Engagement and interaction: virtual events and webinars facilitate immediate and real-time engagement. For example, you can allow attendees to ask questions, participate in live pools, interact with presenters and other attendees, and so on.
- Immediate qualification: webinars and virtual events attract attendees who are already interested in the topic, so you’ll naturally get pre-qualified leads from the channel.
- Brand authority: hosting virtual events establishes your B2B business as an authority in your niche or industry, enhancing your brand’s reputation.
Paid Advertising for B2B Lead Generation
Paid advertising in various forms and channels can be a great way to generate leads for B2B businesses.
Paid advertising virtually guarantees quick results as long as you have the money to spend. So, they complement channels like content marketing or SEO, which typically require significant time investment before you can generate enough leads.
The challenge in using paid advertising is how to manage your cost, so you won’t end up losing money even after you’ve generated more leads.
Let’s explore some common types of paid advertising channels and their respective benefits and disadvantages.
1. Search Engine Advertising (Pay-Per-Click/PPC)
A type of online advertising displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs). When someone searches for a query related to your product or service, your ad will be displayed above the organic results.
Also often called search engine marketing (SEM) ads, typically, you’ll only need to pay for these ads when users click on their ads, hence, “pay-per-click” or PPC.
Pros of PPC ads for B2B lead generation
- Targeting: PPC or SEM ads allow B2B businesses to precisely target potential clients by targeting keywords or search queries.
- Immediate visibility: PPC ads appear instantly and are immediately visible to potential leads that are actively searching for queries related to your offer.
- Cost control: you only pay for ads clicked by potential clients. You can set bid amounts and budgets to control ad spending and improve cost efficiency.
- Measurable: PPC platforms like Google Ads offer comprehensive real-time analytics to track performance so you can measure conversions and optimize ad campaigns.
Cons of PPF ads for B2B lead generation
- Competition and cost: displaying your ads on popular keywords can be expensive due to the competition. Smaller B2B businesses with limited budgets may struggle to compete.
- Ad blindness: many search engine users now ignore ads, reducing the click-through rates and overall effectiveness of SEM ads. Continued exposure to the same ads can also lead to ad fatigue, causing users to become disengaged with the ad and its content.
2. Social Media Advertising
Social media advertising involves using the paid advertising options offered by social platforms (Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.)
Advertising on social platforms your target audience frequents will allow you to leverage these platforms’ massive user base to display highly targeted ads based on demographics, interests, behaviors, or other factors.
Pros of social media advertising in B2B lead generation
- Massive reach: social media platforms have very large user bases, allowing B2B businesses access to this vast audience.
- Advanced targeting options: platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube, and others offer precise audience targeting in their paid advertising offerings, so you can be sure your ads are shown only to the most relevant prospects.
- Encourage engagement: due to the nature of social platforms, social media ads can encourage immediate user engagement through comments, likes, shares, etc., which may help boost lead conversions.
Cons of social media advertising in B2B lead generation
- Choosing the right platform: choosing the right social media platform or platforms is crucial, but at the same time can be easier said than done. Managing ads on multiple platforms can also be challenging and time-consuming.
- Ad blockers: many internet users now employ ad blockers, which significantly affect the visibility of social media ads.
- Saturation: the prevalence of social media ads may cause users to ignore or overlook these ads, leading to lower CTR and overall effectiveness.
3. Display/Banner Advertising
Display advertising is a type of online paid advertising where you display your ads on websites and in apps. Display ads can come in various forms like text, images, or videos, but most commonly in the form of image “banners.”
Placing display advertising on relevant websites (via advertising networks like Google Ads) is a good way to reach a massive audience. However, it’s not as targeted as search or social media advertising.
Pros of display advertising in B2B lead generation
- Visual aesthetic: display ads can come in the form of images or videos, which are visually appealing and can be more effective in capturing potential clients’ attention.
- Decent targeting: although not as good as search ads or social media adds, you can target display ads to specific demographics, behaviors, and interests.
- Remarketing: some platforms like Google Ads allow you to publish your ads as remarketing/retargeting ads, which is to display the ad only to those who have visited your website or shown interest. This can improve click-through rate and overall effectiveness.
- Flexible format: display ads come in various formats, including text, images (banners), videos, and interactive formats. You have the versatility to choose the right format that best suits your B2B business and your target audience’s preferences.
Cons of display advertising in B2B lead generation
- Expensive: display advertising is not as targeted as other forms of digital paid advertising, so it can be more expensive since you are displaying your ads to a larger audience, a lot of those that might not be interested in your offers.
- Disruptive: display ads are naturally disruptive to the user experience, especially when they are poorly placed or designed. This may result in a lower conversion rate.
- Tracking and measurement: it can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of display ads since people may not click on your ads the first time they see them.
4. Native Advertising
Native advertising is a type of paid digital ads that are designed to blend in and match the form and function of the platform they appear to and the surrounding content. For example:
- Sponsored content: a type of native advertising that is written to look like the standard editorial content of the publication/blog/website in which it appears.
- In-feed ads: for example, an Instagram ad that is designed to look similar to a standard post (but with “sponsored” at the bottom) that appears in the users’ feeds.
- Product placement: placing your product or brand in a movie, TV show, Youtube video, live stream, and so on.
- Widgets: interactive ads that appear on websites or in apps.
Pros of native advertising in B2B lead generation
- Seamless integration: since native ads are designed to blend with their surroundings, they are less likely to be intrusive and disruptive to the user experience. This may lead to a higher conversion rate.
- Higher engagement: due to their non-intrusive nature, native ads often receive higher engagement and click-through rates compared to traditional display ads and pop-ups.
Cons of native advertising in B2B lead generation
- Creative challenges: native advertising needs to seamlessly match the platform’s or website’s style and format, which can be difficult to create. Careful planning and execution are required.
- Cost: native advertising is typically more expensive to produce and publish than traditional paid ads.
- Limited opportunity: native ad placements tend to be more limited on most platforms, restricting your options.
There is a vast array of B2B lead generation channels available, and in the ever-evolving landscape of the B2B industry, there’s simply no good-for-all channel that is the best in every situation.
It’s crucial for B2B businesses to maintain a diverse and comprehensive lead generation strategy while utilizing different lead generation channels, so they can effectively connect with the target audience and drive qualified leads.
Throughout this article, we have discussed both traditional and digital lead generation channels available for B2B businesses, how to use them, and especially, their pros and cons. With this information, you have a solid foundation on how to plan your own lead generation strategy and achieve success.
By staying up-to-date with the latest trends in B2B marketing and lead generation, you can make sure your B2B business is using the most effective lead generation channels and maximize its growth.