SCORE: Generate the best business-to-business leads

Mike Staff

The days of business-to-business (B2B) lead generation via sales letters and cold calls are long gone. Today, savvy B2B marketers use online marketing to attract qualified leads. But which digital marketing tactics work the best for this purpose?

Here’s what a recent survey of B2B marketers in the “2017 State of B2B Digital Marketing” report from WPromote/The Challenger Agency has to say: Social media, email and search are the most popular lead generation tactics and are almost universally used. For example, 95 percent of B2B marketers surveyed use social media to generate leads, 93 percent use email marketing and 91 percent use organic search.

But that doesn’t mean they’re the most effective techniques. Despite ranking tops in popularity as a lead generation tool, social media falls far lower on the scale in terms of effectiveness. Fifty-five percent of B2B marketers say social media generates leads for their companies — far below the 73 percent who say email generates leads, and the 70 percent who say organic search does. Paid search generates leads for 54 percent of survey respondents, while display advertising works for 37 percent. The latter two tactics are often harder for small businesses to execute, which may account for their relatively poor showing.

LinkedIn leads the pack in B2B lead generation

Digging down further into social networks, the survey reports that 89 percent of companies use LinkedIn, and 86 percent use Twitter. But LinkedIn is by far the top social network for generating leads, cited by 62 percent of respondents, compared to just 37 percent who say Facebook is effective. Meanwhile, Twitter’s effectiveness does not even come close to its popularity: Just 34 percent say Twitter drives leads, while 17 percent say YouTube generates leads.

White papers work

What type of content works best for B2B marketers at generating leads? About 82 percent of marketers in the survey publish blog posts, making this the single most common type of content used, but blogs aren’t the most effective way to drive leads. Good old-fashioned white papers perform best in lead generation effectiveness, cited by 53 percent of respondents. Half of respondents say webinars generate leads, 44 percent say case studies generate leads, 35 percent say videos generate leads, and 31 percent say infographics do.

Lessons for B2B marketers

What lessons can you take away from these survey results? As your mother used to say, just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean you should do it, too. Some of the most common digital marketing tactics mentioned in the survey get fair-to-middling results. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them; it just means you should assess their effectiveness for your particular product or service and target market instead of blindly following the crowd.

B2B buyers are looking for meaty content. How else to explain the success of white papers, webinars and case studies in generating leads? White papers and webinars are typically “gated” content too, so prospects have to give up their contact information to get the content. While white papers, webinars and case studies are all fairly complex pieces of content to generate, their effectiveness suggests it’s worth putting some extra time (and more of your marketing budget) into them.

Social media drives awareness — but not necessarily leads. Interacting with customers and prospects on social media or sharing your expert opinions in a blog post can attract attention to your business and raise awareness of your brand. While these activities may not directly generate leads, they are still valuable in putting your business in front of prospective customers for consideration.

To hear more lead generation tips — for both B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) — attend the free SCORE workshop “Lead Generation for Small Business Owners.” It will be held Tuesday, Dec. 12, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Woodmere branch of the Traverse Area District Library. Seating is limited, so please pre-register at

Mike Staff is founder and CEO of Mike Staff Productions, a wedding services company specializing in DJs, Photography and Videography. Mike has been a SCORE mentor since 2015.

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