What’s your single biggest marketing headache? If you answered “lead generation,” welcome to the club; the majority of us marketers are here with you.

Online Marketing’s Major Challenges

BtoB and Bizo did a study comparing marketing challenges in 2012 with those in 2013. The number-one problem for both years was “Generating more leads,” given by 61% and 60% of marketers respectively. “Reaching more of our target audience” was the second-most cited challenge for both years, but the 2013 figure was 14.5% higher than 2012. “Customer retention” was the least concerning to all, but grew 37.5% from 2012 to 2013, perhaps an early indication of an incipient trend.

A Deeper Look into Lead Generation

BtoB then did a study (sponsored by Act-On) that drilled down into the nitty-gritty of that problematic lead generation. Two hundred and eighty-two B2B marketers answered detailed questions. A few resulting factoids:

  • Lead generation practices have become mainstream: 81% of marketers are using lead gen practices at least moderately; only 4% do nothing. A full 29% report incorporating lead generation into both sales and marketing initiatives.
  • Integrating offline and online marketing is tough. Only 6% are “fully” integrated, and 12% “very”; 13% have offline and online separated into different departments.
  • The most common lead gen tactic (60%) is content marketing.
  • Over half (52%) believe more/better content is the biggest challenge to their demand gen efforts; 50% say it’s improving their website.
  • Only 50% have a lead nurturing process of some kind in place.
  • The average length of the sales cycle has dropped from eight months to six months. This may reflect the greater self-education that buyers now do.
  • A whopping 44% of marketers say it is “difficult or “significantly difficult” to communicate their company’s value proposition.

When asked about the hurdles to lead generation, 63% cited lack of resources. Depth and accuracy of the database was cited by 44%. The report’s authors speculated that most of the marketing challenges might actually be rooted in cultural problems, such as poor communications among departments and unwillingness to learn new channels.

4 Steps to Better Lead Generation

Using the lead generation research, Ad Age and BtoB created the paper “Lead Generation and Management for SMB Sales and Marketing,” which was written with the needs and capabilities of the small and mid-sized business in mind. From the paper, here are the four essential action steps to improve lead generation:

1. Integration of lead generation techniques. Integration between online and offline marketing efforts is essential. Companies face multiple marketing channels and fragmented media, which makes management tough and data collation difficult. Best-of-breed marketers are using automation and strategic initiatives to make sense of the confusion, consolidate data into contact histories, and gain control of their programs.

2. Sales-marketing cooperation. Three-quarters of companies are not working to improve cooperation between these two essential functions, and many don’t bother even trying. Those companies that encourage mutual cooperation between marketing and sales can gain significant competitive advantages, including better intelligence for sales to leverage on calls.

3. Metrics and assessment. Marketers say it is essential to use analytics, employ closed-loop analysis, calculate and show ROI, and support accountability. Basic to this effort is improving database management and data hygiene – both important elements in the lead gen process. Also key: understanding buyer personas, the buyer’s journey, and the nurturing process; engaging with buyers via multiple touch points; and defining criteria for the hand-off to sales.

4. The necessity of technology. Marketing teams, in particular at small-to-midsized businesses, are generally as slim as their budgets. Here, technology increasingly is viewed as a necessity. Marketers can liaise with their technology vendor partners and IT colleagues to leverage the synergies that exist in technology, branding, and customer interaction.

Read the paper: “Lead Generation and Management for SMB Sales and Marketing,”

For white papers, eBooks, blog posts and more on a wide range of demand and lead generation topics, visit the Act-On Center of Excellence.