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These four lead generation funnels have the potential to bring in customers and boost sales, but the ones you choose to use depend on your business's unique characteristics. — Getty Images/Maxxa_Satori

Lead generation is the process of identifying, gathering and cultivating potential customers who are likely to purchase a product or service from a business.

In the past, the primary method of generating leads was outbound marketing. This method involves pushing a sales message out to a large number of people through traditional marketing channels like radio ads, TV commercials, print ads and cold calls.

Today, lead generation has shifted to include inbound marketing, which is the process of delivering value to your target audience to create a positive brand reputation, which in turn might entice them to purchase a product or service.

There are many different avenues, or funnels, for generating leads. Below, we evaluate some of the most common lead generation funnels and which one is best for B2B companies.

[Read: Lead Process vs. Sales Process: Understanding the Difference]

Common lead generation funnels

Here are four lead generation funnels most commonly used by B2B businesses:

Email marketing

Email marketing is one of the last remnants of the early days of digital marketing and, despite its age, it is still one of the best B2B lead generation funnels for many businesses. The current trend with email marketing is to add personalization through automated tasks.

Digital marketing expert Kimberly Afonso said people expect more than generic messages.

“Personalization helps your brand stand out and leads to higher open rates and sales. And it can be easily done using most email marketing and automation software,” said Afonso.

Content marketing

One of the most popular lead generation funnels is content marketing, which can take the shape of creating microsites, blogging, infographics, research reports, videos and more. The key to a strong content marketing strategy that generates leads is to provide value to your target audience.

Today, incorporating elements of voice search, augmented reality and utilizing a multitude of formats are the top content marketing trends to attract leads and make a sale.

Search marketing

Search engine optimization (SEO), or search marketing, is another B2B lead funnel that most large businesses invest in. Optimizing your website to align with Google’s algorithm and, more importantly, attracting the right visitors to your site is often the first step to turn a lead into a prospect.

Obtaining the top spot in Google search results is much more difficult today than it was a few years ago, but a solid SEO strategy remains one of the best long-term lead generation funnels for all types of businesses, including B2B companies.

Social media marketing

One of the newest and most controversial entries to lead generation, social media marketing has seen mixed results in the B2B community. The key to generating leads on social media is to outline your goals, track the right metrics, select only the most promising platforms and to engage with your users. Many B2B marketers succeed in delivering content on social media, but few use it as a listening tool and a channel to communicate directly with their audience.

Ultimately, the best lead generation funnel practice for B2B businesses is to use a combination of each option and test different strategies to find what works.

Which lead generation funnel is best for your B2B business?

Every business owner, marketer and salesperson is looking for a simple answer to this question, and marketing experts all have different opinions on this topic.

According to Hubspot, the best lead generation source for B2B companies is SEO, followed closely by email marketing and social media. Chief Marketer, on the other hand, found email marketing to be the best lead generation funnel, followed by content marketing and SEO. Finally, Placestar states that outbound marketing, such as inside sales and telemarketing, is the most effective lead source.

In reality, though, the answer depends on your specific business, what products or services you offer, the level of competition in your industry and your brand penetration.

Ultimately, the best lead generation funnel practice for B2B businesses is to use a combination of each option and test different strategies to find what works. Experimenting with different funnels to discover what works and what doesn’t work is the only way to attract new business.

[Read: 6 Tips for Generating Sales Leads]

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