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Events Are the #1 B2B Lead Generation Tool

Digital marketing hype borders on false advertising, from a certain point of view.  As many marketers evangelize, digital marketing is by far the most effective business to business (B2B) marketing toolset, to the exclusion of all other forms of marketing.  Businesses who want to promote their product or service must, apparently, focus their budgets on inbound and outbound marketing, social selling, link building, marketing automation, segmentation, keyword analysis, and content marketing.  Tuning in to today’s marketing thought leadership can sound like digital noise.

If you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  It’s not surprising that so much of the digital marketing buzz derives from purveyors of social media, SEO, paid search, and e-mail marketing tools or services.  To be fair, this sort of focus is mostly harmless.  Social media is a hot topic after all.  But some of the messaging is insidious and misleading by brands many people have come to know and trust.  Check out this video by HubSpot, a leading digital marketing platform.

According to HubSpot, businesses should throw out the old marketing playbook and discard old ways of marketing, like tradeshows and e-mail marketing.  But wait, isn’t e-mail marketing part of digital marketing?  Perhaps since e-mail has been around for decades now HubSpot considers it old school.  Tradeshows, of course, are so old school that our grandparents did it.

A Surprising Comeback

Every other year the LinkedIn B2B Technology Marketing Community group conducts a survey of its members.  About 600 marketing managers are asked to indicate the effectiveness of B2B lead generation tactics.  Marketing managers are where the road meets the rubber, where the tools are selected and implemented to meet strategic objectives.  The consensus that the report shows is based on the practical experiences of day-to-day marketing and the proven tools these managers turn to for results.

LinkedIn B2B Technology Marketing Group Survey Results

Events, tradeshows and conferences are the most effective B2B lead generation tactic according to the 2015 report.  This is surprising in two important ways.  Frist, ever since the dawn of the Web, it seemed that digital would eclipse traditional marketing.  Print advertising is a clear case where new media has replaced old media.  Social networking may still have a few late adopters, yet many traditional marketing tactics are more effective according to the report, including tradeshows, public relations and telemarketing.

A second surprise is the move of the events, tradeshows, and conferences category from the #2 spot to #1.  Since the release of the LinkedIn B2B Technology Marketing Community’s 2013 report, digital marketing has seen numerous advances, new social networks have been born, and the World has had two more years to deprecate old school marketing tactics.  Despite the digital marketing momentum, traditional categories held their ground with face-to-face lead generation dominating.

What should not be surprising is that the most effective way for businesses to engage with potential customers is to shake their hand in person.  With the heavy emphasis some marketers place on digital engagement, it is sometimes easy to overlook the value of physical interaction.  In business to consumer marketing (B2C), meeting each customer in person is clearly not feasible for most product marketing, but this is the ideal in B2B marketing.  In ten minutes on a tradeshow floor, a representative can engage a new client, build trust, and qualify the lead or close the deal.  Consider the cost and time needed to achieve the same with digital marketing.

Tradeshows and conferences represent a $90 Billion industry in the United states alone, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR).  CEIR’s research also indicates that companies can move buyers from awareness to decision faster at a tradeshow compared to digital channels.

Exhibiting at a tradeshow can be expensive, costing as much as $20,000 per event for a 10 x 20 ft. booth in some industries.  The effectiveness of tradeshows and conferences to deliver a return on marketing investment depends on industry, product and service.  And it is not enough to show up to a tradeshow, set out some brochures, and wait for people to come to your booth.  Maximizing tradeshow returns starts with pre-event promotion, good lead acquisition during the event, and a post-event game plan for marketing and sales staff.

Other types of face-to-face marketing fall into the #1 lead generation category.  A well-organized lunch-and-learn event can be just as effective as a tradeshow while costing significantly less.

Contrary to Popular Opinion

It is evident from the B2B Technology Marketing Community’s survey that traditional marketing is still relevant and in some cases thriving in the face of digital alternatives.  It is equally clear that digital forms of marketing have become a staple diet, representing 70% of the top ten lead generation tactics.

The rankings offer an interesting perspective on the continued role of traditional marketing and some contrary guidance for focusing budgets:  consider spending your next website refresh budget on a tradeshow, give telemarketing a shot before Google AdWords, and turn to public relations before social media.