Five Reasons Lead Generation Is On Its Last Legs

A quick definition. Lead generation, for purposes of this post, is collecting registration information for content, in order to build a marketing database or deliver leads to telemarketing and then on to sales.

Delivering leads for sales drives today’s B2B marketing organization. According to a study from Fusion B2B on 2011 B2B marketing priorities, lead generation is the single top priority of B2B marketers, at 26%. By comparison, awareness only captures 7%, near the end of the list. B2B marketing is all about lead generation.

But lead generation is breaking, and if your marketing relies heavily on lead generation, it will slowly break too. Here are the five things breaking lead generation today.

Contact Information Isn’t Accurate
Bad contact information undermines the entire premise of lead generation. According to research from TechTarget and Google, only 21% of registrants from search provide accurate phone numbers on registration forms. [requires registration, even though they should know it won’t be accurate].

Requiring Registration Disrupts Your Pipeline
According to Sirius Decisions, marketers should consider not gating late stage content. This content should accelerate the pipeline and registration adds friction. Further, according to ITSMA, two-thirds of buyers do their own research rather than wait for sales to contact them. Incorporating lead generation slows the pipeline and limits buyers ability to do their own research.

Lead Generation Misses a Significant Portion of Your Audience
With registration rates ranging from 1% to 10%, most of your audience stops when confronted with a registration form. And since your content delivers a significant portion of your message, requiring registration restricts the distribution of your message and value proposition.

Sales Followup is Alienating Your Audience
If you market to technology buyers, look at this chain on Spiceworks for an unfiltered view on sales calls. Marketing needs to establish and build positive relationships with prospective customers. Instead, it has turned despising you into a badge of honor.

The Exchange Is Based on an Out of Date Concept
Underlying today’s problems with lead generation is an out-of-date corporate mindset. Buyers want good, useful information. Some of the comments on the Spiceworks thread highlight this, despite the negativity towards sales and marketing. Today, buyers expect to be in control. If you require someone to enter a stream of sales and marketing communications, then registration is confirming your determination to control their research process.

Marketing must deliver leads for sales, however I believe today’s lead generation practices are slowly breaking. The cost of capturing contacts is increasing, the value of those contacts is decreasing and the opportunity cost of the audience you are missing or research process you are disrupting is enormous.

How does lead generation need to evolve? Share your comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake), and I will post some of my thoughts on how lead generation needs to evolve next week.

Update: My followup is now posted: What Comes After Lead Generation

20 Responses to Five Reasons Lead Generation Is On Its Last Legs

  1. Eric, Lots of good points here and there’s no denying the marketing landscape has changed a great deal in the past few years due mainly to social media. But I don’t think lead generation is “dying” or going away. As you indicate, marketers have to adapt. Give a ton of valuable content away and make it easily accessible. But you can still to lead gen for your best/premium content – gathering lead info for a webinar or a brand new research study/whitepaper. Then as that content loses its freshness over time, you can add it to your free content pipeline – free as in it’s yours without having to register.

  2. pdxchill says:

    This is a keeper, Eric. I agree with Tom that lead gen won’t go away, but for all the reasons you noted, it will need to evolve. We not only have to be more creative about how we capture and profile leads, but also commit to publishing content that the audience finds valuable enough to “pay for” with their (real) contact info.

  3. Thanks Tom and PDXChill for the comments. I like the idea that we only ask prospects to register for “great” content, but how much great content can companies create, and more importantly, will people really believe it is great? Or have we overmarketed our content to the point where most people don’t believe us when we say it is worthhwhile anymore?

  4. It is great to see someone standing up against the marketing automation steamroller here.

    Badly planned MA is making this problem worse – people are refusing to volunteer details if they know this will lead to a barrage of “nurturing” emails.

    But there is another fundamental problem in B2B. There are multiple decision makers. Your form fill captures only one. Often that isn’t even a decision maker but someone asked to do some research.

    I have covered some of this in When is a Lead really a Lead:

    and in Moving on from Marketing Automation:

    Click to access LeadFormix_move_on_from_MA.pdf

    I’d be interested in your comments.

    • Peter, thanks for the comment. I agree that badly planned MA is part of the problem, I would venture this is in part because companies are focused on the positive (response) outcomes and aren’t able to measure the people that tune out. Thanks for the links, will certainly take a look.

  5. kennymadden says:

    IT buyers chime in on Eric’s post. Lead gen as Eric clearly defined at the top of the post is dying. No question.

    The bottom line is this: Engage the IT buyers on there turf and on their terms. ( NOT my opinion i am merely letting you know what 1.5 Million IT buyers tell me)

    • Kenny, thanks for commenting and starting the thread on Spiceworks as well. Particularly like the comment on Spiceworks about the phone ringing before a white paper can even finish downloading. Wow.

  6. kennymadden says:

    yep. check out the Interview with technology buyers as well. I ask them what they would do if they were CMO of a IT tech company.

  7. Eric – your post has sparked a spirited dialogue! To you earlier reply about “how much great content can companies create,” I work with an number of clients who produce/publish webinars and whitepapers that provide high value data, counsel and insights. Webinars are still extremely popular and those who register often turn out to be strong leads.

  8. dave smith says:

    Great conversation, but I’ll disagree on the last legs part. We see lead generation programs executed carefully and managed properly is actually growing in the Fortune 500 IT service providers and SMB markets we are working in. Eric raises an excellent point in that positive relationships are critical to the buyer/seller lifecycle. How the initial dialogue unfolds is the secret sauce to any lead generation program. Utilizing world class platforms and top notch content can help organizations grow their customer base efficiently and respectfully (and according to Aberdeen Research @ 47% higher average order value). Lead gen programs thrown out willy-nilly results in the user experience and perceptions most are sharing here in Eric’s post. All of our businesses rely on strong relationships and the need to make financial decisions based on the best possible knowledge we can acquire. How quickly and relevant those conversations can begin is the “leg up” we’re all looking for in good partners.

    • Dave, thanks for commenting and providing a publisher perspective on this thread. Lead generation has been a big growth area over the last couple years for many of the publishers I work with, I think it will be interesting to see how those programs evolve, to put more control of the relationship in the audiences’ hands (who are the other half of your customer base) and distribute your marketers perspectives even more broadly.

      Thanks for the perspective!

  9. Chris Koch says:

    Hi Eric,

    Fascinating discussion here. I think the discussion on Spiceworks gets to the heart of the matter: phone calls. There are two kinds of phone calls, warm and cold, but most companies ignore the difference and pick up the phone before the ice has melted. We did a lead generation survey at ITSMA awhile back ( that found that warm phone calls and live speaking engagements were the best lead generation tactics. Companies know how to behave at speaking engagements, but they lack the patience to warm buyers up before calling. I wrote a post some time ago about how marketers need to think about creating a pricing model for content that will give them insight into the warmth of the prospect ( But beyond creating a value system for content, I think the calls need to be part of that chain, not a reaction to it. In other words, sales people should call to offer an invitation to more content or a live meeting that is not available elsewhere rather than calling “to gauge your interest in x.” I think it’s no accident that live speaking engagements are at the top of the list of lead generation tactics: It shows commitment from both buyers and sellers and buyers know that live events tend to be non-selling environments. Yet it’s precisely from this type of interaction that a real sales discussion can begin. Bottom line is most companies lack the high-value content to build warmth into the relationship and compensate by alienating buyers with premature or irrelevant phone calls. I actually put the blame for this at marketing’s door, not sales. Salespeople are just doing what they do. It’s marketing that needs to build the content engine and make the case for a more gradual engagement process.

    • Chris, thanks for the comment and links. Yes, the tendency to enrage instead of engage the audience seems to be the worstin followup calls. Emails, if unwelcome, are easily ignored.

      That said, more than just the followup needs to change. As buyers assume control of the research process, and content, not sales, becomes the way a company influences through that process, losing the majority of content distribution by gating has an increasing opportunity cost.

  10. There is another key point.

    It is time to recognise the value that sales brings to the early part of the buying process. They put customers into play… The early discussion used to help buyers to define their problem or opportunity. They would see that others in their field had similar issues and had chosen certain solutions.

    More importantly they also closed the doors which clients could escape through near the end of the process. What really attracts you about this product? Are you the sole decision maker? What will make you choose it/us? What would prove the value of this project to you/company? Who do you have to persuade?

    Lead Generation answers none of these up-front questions. Indeed it doesn’t even ask most of them.
    So it is not surprising that so many apparently hot leads fall over in the later stages.

  11. Thanks for all of the great comments. My followup post What Comes After Lead Generation? is up and I would love to hear your perspective on what new lead generation activities will emerge.

  12. Pingback: About Leads

  13. Jeff Gordon says:

    Hi Eric —

    Very interesting take on this. Working for a lead generation company, I posted some of our thoughts related to this on our blog: Wonder if some of our points change your perspective at all.

    Anyways, good stuff.

    • Jeff, thanks for taking the time to step through the points, good to see your perspective.

      At the heart of my concerns with lead generation is what I call the contact for content exchange, and for a portion of BuyerZone’s business, this isn’t the model. If I want a proposal, I WILL provide accurate information so I can get your proposal. This model, providing contact information for the express purpose of being contacted, I believe will become more important.

      Jeff, thanks again for sharing your perspective, I appreciate it.

  14. Pingback: Media 101: Lower Lead Costs with Publisher Programs | Babcock & Jenkins

  15. Lead generation is not “dying”. I think lead generation is just developing into a more focused art. With so much out there, a good salesperson needs to qualify where leads are coming from as he or she generates them, instead of generating them from the general population. Lead generation is not going anywhere. It will however be under a magnifying glass when it comes to performance and conversion.

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