More marketers are trying more ways to find new customers. That's the top-line finding of the Chief Marketer 2012 Prospecting Survey, fielded in November and December 2011 to 833 responding marketing professionals in all verticals of B2B and B2C marketing.
The reason is increased reach. "Prospects don't answer their phones very often," said one B2B respondent. "So you have to hit them from 360 degrees."
The profusion of new channels is a mixed blessing, however. "They make marketing harder, in that the speed and force of information make capture difficult," said another respondent. "But the number and interactivity of new channels makes for more opportunities."
Some broad results from this year's survey—the third one CM has conducted since 2010—track with past findings. As in past years, respondents told us their attention is split fairly evenly between prospecting for new customers for their goods and services (44% this year) and taking care of those with whom they have transacted in the past, but with an eye to building brand awareness that can also draw new business (43%). Only about 9% of respondents overall said they will focus mainly on reactivating former buyers this year.
Those results skew a bit differently when responses are broken out by business type. While consumer marketers preserve that even split between looking for new leads and focusing on past buyers (44% to 40%), B2B marketers showed a greater interest in reaching customers they have not transacted with before (51%) than in homing in on former clients (37%) and hoping for "spillover" benefits with new leads.
That differential extended to budget allocation for lead generation. B2B respondents said they targeted about 51% of their 2011 marketing budget toward finding new prospects and about 37% to retaining or reactivating old accounts, while B2C marketers put 45% of their budget toward new business last year and 39% into retention campaigns.
Hands-on Lead Gen
When it comes to finding names to prospect, marketers continue to look beyond list brokers. Eighty percent of respondents overall said that at least three-quarters of their leads came from non-broker sources in 2011. The distribution of prospecting channels used last year retained the same look as past surveys, with email the clear dominant lead-gen medium (83%) followed by direct mail (57%), and a three-way tie (55%) among web opt-ins, social network sign-ups and trade-show/conference leads.
But when asked which channels they will rely on for prospecting in 2012, the same response group kept email in the lead (87%) but moved lead-gen within social networks firmly into second place (69%). Web registrations came in third as a medium for 2012 (66%), while direct mail dropped to fourth place at 61%. Comparatively speaking, online registrations gathered directly by marketers are increasingly becoming the channels of choice for finding new customers.
B2B marketers in particular said they will step up their lead generation in social networks this year: 48% used it in 2011, but 68% said they will prospect in the social media channel in 2012.
Marketers also showed a growing preference for prospecting through pay-per-click or display ads, either on the web or in social networks; only 37% listed them as a top channel in 2011, but 45% said they will become a prospecting mainstay in 2012. In particular, retargeted web ads, relied on by only 20% of respondents in 2011, should see strong take-up by 31% of marketers this year.
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Again, B2B marketers overindexed on their projected use of these tactics. Thirty-one percent of them said they used pay-per-click and display ads to find customers last year, but 41% will do so in 2012. Ad retargeting in B2B will jump from 11% use in 2011 to 21% this year.
Email, Social Leads
As noted, marketers are showing a distinct preference for amassing their own house files of prospects, and that trend extends to email marketing. Asked to list all the sources for their email lists, almost three quarters of all respondents said they get some of their names by soliciting opt-ins directly over web sites or other online channels—more than double the percentage who buy permissioned names from brokers (29%), and more than double the number who say they use sign-ups from affiliates (21%) or third-party emailers (19%).
For most marketers who use it, email's relatively low cost is its most notable asset as a lead-gen tool (77%), followed somewhat distantly by its trackability (50%) and the chance to customize the marketing message (47%). On the other hand, marketers who don't currently prospect in email say they're dissuaded by spam fears (32%), mailbox clutter (26%) and low open rates (22%). And a sizeable 31% of these non-mailers say they are simply more attracted to other lead-gen options.
Social media prospecting is definitely one of those new attractors for most survey respondents; only 23% said their brands are not currently active in social media. Of the rest, by far the largest proportion sees social media as an indirect route to leads via general brand awareness (47%). Twenty percent say the channel can drive traffic to a web site for further messaging. Only 5% say they're actively collecting contact info in social media through contests, coupons or other incentives.
Chief Marketer asked the whole response group to name social media's biggest drawbacks as a prospecting channel. Interestingly, while a large number cited the relative difficulty of calculating the return on social media lead-gen (37%), those metrical challenges were outweighed by two other deterrents: namely, social's content-hungry nature (45%), making less labor-intensive options more attractive, and users' perception of Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms as non-commercial zones (40%).
Social media prospecting has resulted in new lead-gen opportunities, says one B2B respondent, "but the amount of time required to publish new content, establish and foster relationships and convert them to customers is much slower than traditional sales methods."
"Resources required for social media strain marketing teams," says another. "However, it does create another channel for engagement."
Almost three in 10 of those respondents also agreed that social leads are not sufficiently qualified, posing another obstacle to prospecting in those channels. But at least some of the marketers polled are trying to remedy that: 12% of the response said their company currently has mechanisms in place to score social leads based on likelihood to convert, and 19% of those who don't have such tools say they are now working on building them.