Email: The Prime Lead-Gen Tactic for SMBs

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While email marketing may be fairly easy to execute, creating content remains a challenge.

Email has proven to be a dependable marketing channel time and time again—one that can be leveraged by organizations both big and small. In fact, a new study from Ascend2 and Allegra suggests that email is a particularly useful lead generation tool for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

According to the companies' “Small and Medium-Sized (SMB) Lead Generation Benchmark Report,” half of the 226 marketing, sales, and business professionals surveyed say email marketing is the most effective online tactic for lead generation, followed by websites or landing pages (49%) and content marketing (46%).

“The most important part of email marketing for SMBs is that it allows a continual dialogue with prospects,” says Todd Lebo, partner and CMO of Ascend2. “It's very effective in that nurturing process for lead generation—so taking leads that are in various stages and allowing SMBs to provide those prospects with very custom content, regardless of what stage they're in.”

Email marketing is a fairly easy lead-generation tactic for SMBs to execute—only 20% of respondents consider it the most difficult. The content aspect, however, is where professionals say they struggle. According to the report, 44% of respondents consider content marketing the hardest online tactic to execute for lead generation. In addition, limited content creation capabilities is an obstacle for about one third (34%) of study participants.

Failing to produce high-quality content can prevent businesses from standing out in the marketplace. “If you're putting out low-quality content, that can dramatically hurt your brand,” Lebo says. That's why the Ascend2 CMO advises SMBs to be strategic with their content—such as by repurposing it. For instance, if a marketer produces a whitepaper, he may be able to create a video, infographic, or email campaign based on its findings.

“As much as you can repurpose, the better,” Lebo says.

Besides re-leveraging content, Lebo recommends homing in on a niche audience and ensuring that content is more “customer-focused” as opposed to “company-focused.”

Content creation, however, isn't the only challenge SMB professionals face. Lack of effective strategy and inadequate marketing budgets are also lead-generation obstacles for 42% and 37% of professionals, respectively. Lebo says SMBs can overcome these hurdles by taking an integrated approach to their marketing channels, such as by looking at how content marketing, email, and social work in harmony.

"[It's] looking beyond the tactic and looking at how these things work together,” he says.

Despite these challenges, SMBs are seeing quite a bit of lead-generation success. In fact, 74% of respondents say that their lead generation effectiveness is improving moderately or significantly. Although Ascend2 and Allegra didn't survey participants as to why this might be, Lebo assumes that most of the credit can be attributed to more access to marketing automation technology.

Granted, SMB professionals measure success in different ways. For instance 48% of respondents base lead-generation performance on sales-qualified leads generation. Plus, 40% look at return on investment and 39% analyze cost-per-lead.

However they measure success, it's important for SMBs not to rest on their laurels. Indeed, Lebo says that it's dangerous for professionals to be complacent in the lead-generation funnel by simply sending everyone the same message or by throwing money at what's worked in the past. Instead, he says professionals need to continuously test and optimize to determine what's working and what's not.

“Things are changing very rapidly, and things that were working very well for you two years ago probably [are] not working as well now," he says. "Just to keep it on autopilot can be very dangerous.”

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