The lifeline of any B2B business is a healthy pipeline. Regularly generating leads is a must for a healthy pipeline. When it comes to generating leads the big question is which is best: Pull or Push? Pull marketing is something that makes prospects contacting marketers for certain needs or reasons they have for the services or products. Push marketing requires marketers to reach out and touch prospects proactively – using direct mailers, advertisements, email campaigns or telemarketing.
The question of which marketing, pull or push, generates the best leads can't really be answered just like that. If we say the winner is "pull," does that mean every type of pull communication produces better leads than every type of push communication? That is not the case. A better way to approach the question is to examine each pull and push marketing channel and evaluate the quality of leads produced by each campaign.
There is a crude way of comparing results. Draw a table with the list of major marketing campaigns and indicate which in your opinion is pull vs. push, and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = low, 5 = high) for quality of leads and ROI. Quality of leads measures whether the campaign attracts prospects you desire or prospects have a need for your product or service, and are predisposed to buy from you instead of from your competitors. ROI measures whether the leads turn into orders, generating revenues far greater than the resources spent to obtain them. Mainly you should consider the following: Organic lead generation, social networking, direct mail, email, and PR.
The biggest issue in lead generation today is traffic coming from organic search. Many experts wrongly claim that organic search leads are the best leads. According to them potential customers would not search your keyword unless they were researching product purchases. So according to them, organic search brings you hot leads. The quality of organic search leads depends, however, on the keywords being searched. Searches performed on broad keyword terms (e.g., "seminars") attract visitors who are in the early stages of product research and therefore not hot leads. When a search is performed on highly specific keywords (e.g., "employee retention seminars in Mumbai"), the prospect is most likely further along in the research process and closer to making a buying decision. Conversely, the best leads for service businesses originate from word of mouth mostly and normally via calls and emails – in my experience.
As regards the social networking, you may want to give a rating of 4 for lead quality. Networking always has produced good leads, and social networks are basically networking moved online. Most B-to-B marketers have failed in measuring the social media ROI. What experts say is that the ROI from social media has to be rated at 5 as the networking is virtually free of cost. What they do not understand is that there is a cost on time invested and people deployed. In fact, experienced social media users spend three to five hours per day using it, which means an investment of up to half their work time.
The third marketing route, the direct mail, has long been considered the "workhorse" of lead-generating B-to-B marketing. In the past you would have given it a rating of 4 or 5 for lead quality for its ability to reach out directly to your desired prospects. However, it lost its sheen for a few years because of too many junk mails as people discarded them without even opening. That is slated to change in current times where snail mail has almost become extinct. So I would say the current rating should be 4 or 5 given that you get more junk in emails now. Prospects who have urgent needs will respond quickly to email or phone calls. If the need is not urgent, they will take their own time to write back or fill the coupons sent in the direct mailer. ROI of direct mail-generated leads is a 4, because the leads you do close often make significant purchases over the medium term. As a thumb rule, conversion rate of direct mail leads is about 35% to the next level of buying cycle. This could be about meeting up your representative or about asking for prices. Direct mail that works usually generates a positive and significant ROI, producing revenues many times greater than the campaign cost.
The next mode, e-mail, will get probably a score of 2 for lead quality given the proliferation of emails across multiple accounts of a prospect. With emails, one can target the right customer profile just like direct mail but the element of distrust for emails and the chance for junking mails are high. So a single e-mail isn't going to move prospects forward in the buying cycle. However, the ROI from e-mail can be rated a high at 5. That is because e-mail marketing is so cheap, even a few orders can bring in a high ROI. Even if you buy an email list, your costs are not high to reach out to potential customers.
Finally, what a company like Infosys depended on completely for building its business: Public Relations. It is recommended to give public relations an ROI rating of 5 because the cost is so minimal that any business generated usually pays for the PR campaign many times over. Lead quality of PR is a 3, because people have stopped believing editorial content today in mainstream media.
As you see now, the route to lead generation is subjective in terms of results. There is no easy answer. In the debate of pull vs. push marketing, you simply cannot make a ruling as to which is better. While evaluating the lead quality and ROI of each marketing channel, note that it varies from industry to industry and company to company. What is important is to have a healthy mix of both, and keeping track of what worked and what did not so you can improve the mix.