Many blog posts claim the list of potential B2B digital marketing channels is vast and confusing; the reality is that most companies drive growth on a select few digital channels that are well-known and established.
However, finding the perfect harmony between audience, message, product and channel can present a significant challenge. With countless variables, bootstrapped budgets and the urgency to grab market share from competitors, it's essential to focus on the channels that yield a sustainable return.
At Kurve, we specialize in building correct marketing channels, and, more precisely, choosing, testing and validating the marketing mix.
In this guide, I’ll share how to choose the right B2B channels, validate their performance, and create an effective B2B marketing strategy that drives growth for your business.
What are B2B lead generation channels?
B2B lead generation refers to identifying and attracting potential business customers and converting them into leads. This process can involve various marketing channels and tactics, such as email marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, advertising and search engine optimization (SEO).
While B2C lead generation is focused on reaching individual consumers and converting them into customers, B2B lead generation is focused on targeting other businesses and converting them into leads. This means that the messaging and tactics used in B2B lead generation require a more personalized, professional approach that takes into account the complex buying processes involved in B2B transactions.
Setting Up Your Strategic Framework For B2B Growth Experiments
Before I dive into choosing and validating the right B2B marketing channels, it's important to have a strategic framework in place for achieving growth. This framework can be broken down into four main components:
- Overall strategy: This includes your vision, offer and brand.
- Landscape: This involves analyzing your competitors, conducting research and benchmarking.
- Implementation: This phase focuses on tactical execution and experimenting with various marketing channels.
- Evaluation: Finally, measuring your performance and tracking your growth is crucial.
Assuming you've established your vision, offer and brand strategy and conducted competitor research and benchmarking, you're ready to shift your focus to the implementation phase. Here, you'll begin testing different B2B marketing channels and driving growth for your business.
By organizing the content this way, I create a more cohesive and logical flow of ideas while still including all of the original components of the framework.
How to Set Up the Implementation Phase to Test B2B Marketing Channels
Within the implementation phase, I use a step-by-step process:
First, understand who you're targeting in your B2B marketing efforts. This involves identifying the firmographics of your target account or business and the persona of your target individual's job role, demographics and psychographics.
Once you have defined your target audience, it's time to map out their customer journey. This involves planning your channels, mapping your funnel and creating messaging frameworks. But let's focus on channel planning later in this article.
Creating a messaging framework is crucial to your customer journey mapping. First, you need to be able to identify what messages to communicate to each persona at every stage of their journey. This requires a tactical approach with a strategic mindset, allowing you to empathize with their feelings and needs.
Mapping out your funnel is equally important. This involves defining the process from each channel to the next stage. The funnel can vary greatly depending on the channels and objectives. For example, taking someone from a Facebook post to a mobile app download is a very different funnel experience than taking someone from a Google Search Ad to a callback form or chatbot. To create an optimal customer journey, it's essential to have the right technology stack in place. For instance, if you're directing users to a mobile app download, you need to be able to deliver push notifications within the app and track mobile app attribution.
Finally, as the testing process is cyclical, it's crucial to measure results effectively and gain insights that can be utilized in future experiments. This allows you to continue learning about your audience, journey, messaging, and technology and refining your approach over time.
Key Takeaways: How to Get Ready for Marketing Channel Experiments
When choosing the right channels for your B2B marketing, clearly understanding your audience, funnel, and messaging is crucial. Without these elements in place, making informed decisions about channel deployment is impossible. Additionally, having the right technology stack and measurement tools is essential to running effective tests and gauging which channels drive growth.
Keep in mind that once you start allocating resources, creatives, and technology toward channel deployment, you've shifted from pure strategy to a new execution phase. However, businesses often encounter issues when they haven't laid the proper foundation in their strategy and begin to burn cash on channels prematurely.
To avoid these mistakes, prioritize developing a solid strategy that incorporates your audience, funnel and messaging. This will ensure you make informed decisions regarding channel deployment and avoid wasting resources on ineffective tactics.
Channel Planning: Choosing, Testing, and Validating B2B Marketing Channels
How to Choose the Right B2B Marketing Channels to Test
There's no one-size-fits-all solution when determining the most effective B2B marketing channels. The best channels for your business depend heavily on factors such as industry, offer and audience.
To decide which channels to test, you should rely on two things:
- The individual experience of the specialist(s) leading growth
- Insights from the wider marketing community
However, trusting search results and industry studies can be challenging since channel categories often overlap, and the data may not always be useful. For instance, when a survey suggests that social media is the most effective channel for B2B marketers, which of the dozen major platforms is the best? And what about the question of paid influencer marketing versus organic social? It's not always easy to obtain this information.
So, while seeking insights from the wider marketing community can be helpful, your individual experience and expertise are also valuable. Ultimately, the key is to test various channels and track the results to determine the most effective for your specific business and audience.
The most effective B2B channels for lead generation
Below, I’ve narrowed down some of the B2B marketing categories in a way that makes sense:
- Traditional and digital PR: Use trends and current affairs to generate publicity.
- Unconventional PR: Use publicity stunts and viral marketing campaigns to generate interest.
- Paid Search Engine Marketing: Use Google Ads and Bing Ads to reach potential customers who are actively searching for solutions.
- Social and Display Ads: Use paid social media advertising and display networks to reach potential customers on social media platforms and other websites.
- Offline Ads: Use TV, billboards, and newspaper/magazine ads (AtL) to reach a broad audience.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimize your website to improve organic keyword rankings and attract more traffic from search engines.
- Content Marketing: Create valuable content such as blogs, webinars, eBooks, industry reports, and interviews to attract potential leads.
- Email Marketing: Build or buy a list to reach potential customers through email campaigns.
- Building Communities: Create and participate in Slack groups, subreddits, and other forums to engage with your target audience.
- Affiliate Marketing: Use affiliate programs/networks to promote B2B products and generate leads.
- Engineering as Marketing: Build tools or widgets for your audience to generate interest and leads.
- Business Development: Create partnerships, outbound, and commercial relationships to generate leads.
- Offline Events: Participate in trade shows, workshops, and speaking engagements to connect with potential customers in person.
- LinkedIn Marketing: Use LinkedIn to generate leads and optimize your profile and content for maximum impact.
- Social Media: Use social media platforms to generate leads and engage with potential customers.
- Video Marketing (like webinars): Use video marketing to educate and engage potential customers and generate leads.
- Podcasts: Use podcasts to reach potential customers and share valuable insights about your industry and products.
- Retargeting Display Ads: Use retargeting ads to re-engage potential customers who have already shown interest in your products.
Naturally, within these categories, there are various other marketing channels. For example, in social advertising: Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Instagram Ads, Quora Ads, YouTube Ads, Twitter Ads, etc.
Remember: there’s a direct link between the channels you use to drive growth and the type of customers that you’ll acquire. For example, LinkedIn’s platform may have more active users from large enterprise organizations than Facebook or Instagram. So even if you solve the same pain point for an SME owner, this difference means the average lifetime value of an acquisition via LinkedIn could be superior.
Boiled down to its most simple form, our process for choosing which B2B marketing channels to test is as follows:
- Here is the full list of potential channels
- Next, let’s narrow it down to 5-6 based on:
- Our experience
- What other marketers are saying
- Now, let’s run experiments to see which channels perform best
Caveat: The marketing funnel might impact your channel mix prioritization. See the next section.
I’ll talk in more detail about how to handle the testing process later in this article, but generally, you should iteratively work your way through the channel shortlist by testing two at a time rather than overburdening your people and technology with too many variables and channel experiments.
How the Marketing Funnel Influences Your Channel Prioritization
Rather than trying to nurture everyone from the top of the funnel, start by targeting your tightest ideal customer profile (ICP) – the people who definitely have the problem you're trying to solve and experience it right now.
This approach impacts your channel mix since you should focus on testing the channels where people are actively seeking solutions. This could include channels like Google & Bing Ads (or SEO), forums, dark social, affiliates, or events. By starting with the channels with the lowest-hanging fruit, you can gradually move up the funnel and educate colder audiences. This allows you to expand your reach and introduce your solutions to a broader audience.
This prioritization of channels based on where people are actively seeking solutions can help you focus your efforts on the areas where you're most likely to find success and attract clients. It will also build momentum and gradually push you to work your way up the funnel, ultimately reaching a broader audience and driving growth for your business.
Which B2B Marketing Channels Are Growing?
As I’ve already mentioned, research can be taken with a pinch of salt – but one study by Salesforce does indicate which B2B marketing channels seem to be growing in popularity. Again, beware of the overlaps and categorization issues, but here are the findings from Salesforce’s survey of 7,000 respondents:
Let’s dig into three of the most notable growth trends from this report:
- Search Engine Marketing:
The largest growth rate is in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – with +40% between 2018-2020. In this context, SEM includes paid and organic search channels. The key benefit of SEM as a B2B channel is that search has intent built into it. By targeting keywords, you can ensure that budget is being spent on prospects and potential clients who are in a need state – whether at the awareness, consideration or buying stage. This reduces ambiguity and means that attribution and evaluation is easier than with many other channels.
- Customer Communities:
Close behind is customer communities, with a growth rate of +35%. With trust at an all-time low, people want to reduce bias and risk by leaning on referrals and recommendations more than ever. We live in a review culture, which affects B2B as much as B2C. This is why B2B marketers are leaning more heavily on online communities, forums, and messaging groups: to build credibility and trust with prospective customers.
- Mobile Apps:
The +34% growth in popularity of mobile apps as a B2B channel is down to the increased prevalence of high-powered mobile devices (and mobile connectivity) in our society. This impacts the channel approach for B2B marketers because mobile app ads aren’t cookie-based – they’re device ID-based. And the programmatic advertising setup is unique in this field. The exchanges, media buying and software are different – and there are many interactive and passive ad formats to choose from.
Key takeaways: How to Choose B2B Marketing Channels
There are many channels to choose from, but selecting which ones to test comes down to good old-fashioned domain knowledge. This knowledge, combined with the right foundational strategy (audience, funnel, messaging), means that you can test hypotheses in a way that doesn’t burn budget unsustainably – and in a way that gives you the maximum insights to use for optimization.
If you need our help to choose and test B2B marketing channels for your business, get in touch with Kurve today. You’ll benefit from our experience, knowledge, and strategic frameworks – and you’ll access new levels of sustainable growth through digital channels.
How to Test and Validate B2B Marketing Channels
Whichever B2B marketing channels you choose to try out, you should apply a standardized process for gaining insights, understanding channel performance, and iteratively improving your results (optimizing).
To do this, I use our own version of a growth experimentation framework, which you can see below:
If you can structure your channel experiments with this step-by-step method, you’ll have far more clarity about what works and what doesn’t, and you’ll also be able to report more easily to other stakeholders.
For each channel, you’ll need to understand:
- Who exactly is going to be executing the work?
- How much are you willing to spend on the channel test?
- What technology do you need for implementation and evaluation?
- What content and creatives will you need for the channel?
What makes things more complex is that each channel will have a different mix of the above factors.
As mentioned earlier, you should test iteratively. Even large businesses can get lost in the forest of information overload by testing too many channels – or too many subtle creative variations – at any one time. So, after you’ve narrowed your channels to a shortlist, test two. If one performs significantly better, drop the other and introduce the next. Double down on what works best as you go through the shortlist.
Validating B2B Marketing Channel Tests: What Does Success Look Like?
There are three things that B2B marketers might look for in a successful marketing channel experiment:
- People saw the ad: This is the old-school view of marketing, focusing on eyeballs and volume.
- We got good ROI: For every £1 we spent, we got £2 in revenue, which equates to a 100% return.
- We acquired users cost-effectively: Often used in the B2B SaaS world, businesses lose money on the acquisition to scale quickly and monetize users in the future.
So, to know what success looks like on a channel level, you need to understand what success means for the business. One of these objectives should always be in mind. Let’s ignore #1 for now because, as the famous Ogilvy quote goes, “don’t count the people that you reach; reach the people that count.” Instead, let’s look at #2 and #3 – with the example of Facebook Ads.
With Facebook Ads, you only have four main levers to experiment with:
- Who are you targeting?
- What are you saying to them?
- What is the journey and funnel?
- How is the campaign structurally set up?
When testing Facebook Ads as a B2B marketing channel, you can try different audiences, offers and journeys to determine which variation gives you the best return on investment (#2) or the cheapest cost-per-acquisition (#3). So, your channel validation depends on these specific factors.
Note: It’s important to remember that if you’re experiencing a lack of performance, this is sometimes not down to simply choosing ‘the wrong channel’. As mentioned in the introduction, marketers need to find harmony between audience, message, product, and channel. Common mistakes here include:
- Targeting the wrong people
- Targeting the right people with the wrong message
- Targeting the right people with the right message on the wrong channel
- Targeting the right people with the right message on the right channel with the wrong product
So, as you can see, the channel is just one piece of the puzzle.
Finding the Perfect Mix of B2B Marketing Channels
It’s unlikely that there’s a mystery B2B marketing channel that you haven’t heard about, but that doesn’t make it much easier to efficiently and sustainably drive growth with multiple marketing channels. But there are five key steps to take that will get you closer to finding the right marketing channel mix for your B2B company:
- Getting the strategy right: Brand, audience, customer journey, tech stack, etc.
- Leveraging expertise and experience: Shortlisting the most promising channels
- Using an experiment framework: Standardized process for running channel tests
- Learning, improving and evaluating channels: Measuring experiment success
- Optimizing and doubling down: Getting the most out of your proven channels
The fourth and fifth steps are vital; over time, they will become more important than testing new channels. The earlier you are in your growth journey, the more diversified your tests will be.
As you learn, you will shift towards optimizing proven channels rather than distributing your marketing budget across many different channels. These approaches aren’t contradictory: you’ll see a totally natural progression.