Why Lead Generation is Irrelevant

According to a 2011 study by MarketingSherpa, 74% of B2B marketers stated that their biggest challenge was generating high quality leads.  The next biggest challenge was a distant second: 49% cited “generating a high volume of leads”.

One of the reasons that generating high quality leads continues to present itself as the top challenge (it took #1 honors in 2010 as well) is that marketers are focusing on the wrong thing – lead generation.  However, lead generation is irrelevant in today’s b2b marketing climate.

For years, the traditional B2B marketing approach has been to fill the top of the funnel with responses.  These responses, or as some call them “leads”, are nothing more than contact names.  If these responses happen to have extra information included, they’re called “quality leads”.  The problem is that much of the information included in a response is just not true.  After all, we know that B2B buyers will lie.  This approach has traditionally been called “lead generation”.  Perhaps instead it should be called “response” generation.

Historically, this “lead generation” approach has been one of the main culprits in contributing to the alignment gap between marketing and sales.  Marketing claims victory because they have generated quality leads.  Meanwhile, sales is spending way too much time weeding through a sea of responses in hopes of finding just one quality lead to which they can sell.  When the sales team has to then listen to marketing report on all the success they are achieving with their lead generation programs, the resentment sets in.  Note:  If marketing is being successful, sales success should follow.

By now, we should all know that the B2B buyer has changed (read points #2 and #4 on this blog post).  That being the case, marketers can no longer think in terms of of “lead generation”.  They must think about “demand generation” and “lead management”.  This means shifting from thinking about top of the funnel activity to addressing the entire funnel from a buyer engagement perspective as well as an operational process perspective. If marketers want to overcome the challenge of delivering high quality leads to sales, the focus must be on engagement at every stage of the buying process, from top to bottom.  This means developing relevant content that allows the buyer to engage and consume the necessary information they need to make an informed buying decision.  This is accomplished through an effective demand generation strategy which also includes lead nurturing.  It also means developing a lead management process whereby these potential leads do not “leak” out of the funnel.   The two components must work hand-in-hand in order to be successful.

The days of B2B lead generation are over.  The new focus is on demand generation and lead management.  These the two disciplines, working together, are the keys to success.