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For B2B marketers, the pressure to bring in new leads is palpable. 

According to a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute (pdf), 85 percent of B2B marketers rank lead generation as their top goal for the next year — but it’s easier said than done. A separate study of B2B marketers found that less than one-third feel their demand generation process effectively meets their organizations’ needs.

As technology dominates the marketing space, successful lead generation becomes as much of a science as an art. Here are six lessons to help B2B marketing leaders master it from both perspectives:

1. Always Be Testing

As a B2B marketing executive, you should always test to identify your optimal messaging, creative direction and marketing spend. However, it's the results of the tests you wind up implementing that matter the most. 

Too many marketing professionals test everything then lose themselves in minutia, never understanding which precise test (and variable) made the most positive impact on the business.

2. Crawl, Walk, Run

Most marketing automation technology adoption fails because the appetite for everything you can do is so much greater than the reality of what you can implement.

Marketing automation tools are plentiful, and make big promises. Trying to deploy multiple systems at once is the quickest route to chaos. 

Start with one or two smaller implementations in order to see immediate results. Once you’re comfortable with the outcome, it’s time to pursue the next project. With a phased approach, you can mitigate the risk of investing in expensive tools only to use a fraction of its features, or finding that you lack the internal resources required to maximize performance.

3. Identify the Right Metrics

Too much data creates analysis paralysis and gets in the way of gleaning meaningful results. Make sure you have an in-depth understanding of what metrics you need to make informed decisions. Often, the more diverse data a marketer has at their disposal, the less they know how to interpret or act upon it. 

Maintain a condensed, centralized dashboard with your organization’s key metrics and use it weekly for ongoing consistency. Keeping your metrics (and how they’re visualized) simple and action-oriented makes it more digestible for you, and the stakeholders you share them with.

4. Take Risks, and Learn From Failure

The internet has become a marketing lab for B2B and B2C companies alike. Unless you push yourself to experiment with new and uncharted campaigns, you’re not going to move the needle as far as you’d like. 

Try new things and get comfortable with the fact that not all tests will work out. The key is to make sure that you have clear metrics in place before you experiment so you have an objective, pre-determined view of whether or not something was a true success. When you do fail, conduct a thorough post-mortem to understand how to avoid the same outcome in the future.

5. Unclutter Your Toolkit

Almost 200 marketing automation and lead management programs are available today on the market. B2B marketers have more options than ever when it comes to demand generation apps, but this crowded landscape makes it difficult to separate tools that create value from those that add to the noise. 

When I joined OneLogin, for example, we used a lead scoring tool to help better target customer segments. After digging into the tool, I found out we weren’t using the data it generated for decision-making purposes at all, they were simply static numbers in a spreadsheet.

6. Avoid Benchmark Bias

Almost everyone in B2B marketing uses a variation of marketing-qualified leads, sales-qualified leads and opportunities to shape their sales and marketing funnel. As a result, many marketers believe that once they’ve seen the numbers in one company, they’ve seen the benchmark for everyone else. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

Every company I’ve worked for constructs their sales and marketing funnel differently: Do you include all customer segments or do you only start at a certain company size? Do you include all opportunity values or do you use the probability percentage to adjust your numbers? 

When someone asks for your marketing qualified lead to sales qualified lead conversion rate, you can’t just say 12 percent — it’s all relative to the specifics of your funnel. I’ve seen everything from 6 to 20 percent be considered “best in class.” 

Keep in mind that, when communicating with executives and board members who have worked for (or advised) several companies, they may believe that the highest number they hear is the benchmark. It’s critical that you, as the marketing leader, educate your audience on precisely what your numbers are based upon. Unless you provide this context, the effectiveness of your efforts becomes an apples to oranges comparison.

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