2021 State of Demand Gen

Lead Quality Is Marketing’s 2021 Mandate

In addition to lead quality, ABM, an effective mix of channels, and optimized content formats are keys to 2021 success. Reports on the state of demand generation often assign labels indi- cating we’re in the year of ABM, or the year of lead quality, or some other oversimplified con- cept that doesn’t add significant context to what’s actually happening in B2B marketing.

In this report, we’ll strive to shed light on what B2B marketers’ customers and prospects need in order to advance in their buying process, what those same marketers are prioritizing in order to meet customer needs, and how marketers can drive results as we inch closer to post-pandemic normalcy.

The B2B marketing priorities of 2021 do, in fact, include both Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and lead quality.

They also include several other items:

  • leverage and refine multichannel strategies to engage customers on their terms
  • extract maximum value from email, the stalwart that is more valuable than ever in driving conversions up and down the funnel
  • invest in content that capitalizes on today’s optimal mix of formats and delivery approaches

All Roads Lead to Quality

It may come as a surprise that we’re kicking off this report with an emphasis on lead quality even before delving into ABM, which so often dominates B2B marketing analyses.

Over 10+ years of driving programs for B2B clients, we’ve always considered account-based targeting a useful approach to delivering high-quality leads.

In this view, lead quality is the top-level objective and ABM is a solid tactic in meeting that objective.

*respondents were asked to choose 3 metrics. Source: Copper and Outfunnel

Abroad sampling of industry reports — with which our experience dovetails nicely — indicate that lead quality is either replacing, or has already replaced, lead quantity as a top priority for B2B firms spanning industries, company sizes, and more.

When marketers were asked the most important metrics for demand-gen performance, lead quality was number 1, cited by 58% of respondents. That figure, notably, was double the 29% who cited number of leads in the study by Copper and Outfunnel. Emphasizing the key point, quality is twice as important as quantity.

The second most important metric is “outbound marketing success,” cited by 39% of respondents.

For many marketers, as well as partners they hire to generate leads, lead quality encompasses:

  • accurate, verified contact information
  • behavioral, intent or related data that makes clear where those prospects or customers are in the buying process
  • data that augments information submitted by the prospect, such as purchase history, technology usage, and social media profiles

With the quality bar set so high, brands are placing emphasis on rigorous qualification at the time of capture, but they’re also taking measures to further qualify leads post-capture. This includes telequalification, used by 39% of marketers, and appending data to records, used by 16%, according to Activate Marketing Services.

In HIPB2B customer engagements, we increasingly find customers are looking for multiple touches as a requirement in their programs. Think of that as a mini-nurture and another indicator of the lead-quality focus.

These trends, of course, are being driven by the need to stay in lockstep with their sales organizations on lead quality.

ABM Delivers High ROI, Boosts Revenue

If there’s such a thing as a dominant tactic in demand gen in 2021, ABM would certainly be a lead player in the conversation.

Numerous studies of demand gen marketing support the large-scale move to ABM, due to its ability to deliver targeted leads of high quality. A couple of data points for perspective:

  • Investment in ABM continues to rise, with ABM budgets increasing by 40% from 2019 to 2020, according to Demandbase.
  • 75% of marketers report higher ROI with ABM than with other marketing tactics, according to the ABM Leadership Alliance.

Investment and experience in ABM are translating to stronger results. For instance, of those firms reporting a return of 2x or greater, 34% have had a full ABM program in place for over two years, while 75% have had one in place at least six months, Demandbase finds. A more detailed breakdown of ROI is in the chart below.

Source: Demandbase

What will enable marketers to achieve strong ABM performance and great ROI?

Content marketing guru Michael Brenner urges marketers to create content that will guide prospects with specific details on how their product/ service will solve a looming or current problem. Success at addressing pain points with content will enable marketers to land target accounts and, over time, build robust relationships with clients on their account list.

From our perspective at HIPB2B, we’ve observed account-list campaigns evolve into what the martech industry eventually christened as ABM.

A couple of our primary learnings:

  • ABM outcomes expected by corporate leadership mean their campaigns are only as scalable as their customer database, so they often need to address that constraint and augment their database with the help of third parties. This isn’t a sales pitch; rather, it’s an acknowledgment that most corporate customer databases (for that matter, most databases) don’t have the depth or breadth to single-handedly deliver on an aggressive ABM strategy.
  • The existence of groups or committees that make buying decisions means that an overly narrow focus on a set of titles can result in brands missing opportunities to capture the maximum number of influencers for a campaign. ABM can be even more successful if marketing and sales teams acknowledge that the buying committee’s makeup necessitates casting a slightly wider net.

Success at ABM in 2021 will require greater investment, greater understanding of what can and can’t be achieved with a single database of customers to target, and an optimized content strategy to engage prospects.

Finding the Optimal Mix of Channels

Neither ABM nor lead quality, the focus of the two preceding sections, can be successfully executed without a plan that capitalizes on multiple channels. While many B2B brands and the agencies that support them emphasize, or have particular strength in, one or two channels such as email or social, the ability to perform strongly in more than two channels will separate the stellar demand-gen performers from those that merely muddle along.

The most effective ways to reach buyers has tilted heavily toward digital, a trend accelerated by Covid-19. A McKinsey survey finds roughly two-thirds of buyers now prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service over interpersonal interactions. That’s a powerful indicator that marketers must adapt their customer outreach to meet the preferences – and behavior – of targets and customers. B2B marketers need to be adept at reaching prospect and customers through your website, email, social, and even display ads.

Consider that audience engagement increases by 250% -- from just over 5% to nearly 19% -- while the purchase rate rises at a nearly identical rate, when marketers deliver messaging across multiple channels, an Omnisend report finds.

(Note: this data point was in ABM Evolution as well – it’s equally valuable here)

Marketers are reporting great success with a broad mix of channels. The 2020 State of Multichannel Marketing Report from PFL finds that 77 percent, the highest percent reporting strong response rates, indicate their optimal number of channels is four to six. More than 70% also said their optimal number is more than seven.

You may be surprised by just how expansive these reported channel mixes are. But at HIPB2B, we have had considerable success with prospect outreach via LinkedIn, followed by email outreach, then phone or video as the customer’s interest and engagement increases. While we developed and refined this model of using three+ channels pre-Covid, customers’ increased preference for digital contact only increases the velocity and results we can achieve.

Email: Still a Marketing Bedrock

Email provides reliable delivery, excellent tracking, and compelling opportunities to personalize. But you probably know all of that.

Here’s something you likely don’t know: email offers an eye-popping 4,200% ROI, or $42 in return for every dollar you spend, according to CampaignMonitor. It’s an extremely affordable, highly profitable contributor to your multi-channel strategy.

Once researchers complete their post-Covid analyses, we expect they’ll be reporting even higher ROI because email has actually become more valuable, and more engaging, in the past year: 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months, Hubspot finds.

Engagement is highly desirable, of course, but when it comes to lead quality and ABM campaigns, conversion is even more important. Email is a premier performer here as well. DemandGen Report finds email ranks highest among channels in driving early stage engagement (cited by 53% of marketers) and late-funnel conversions (51%).

Because of its excellent targeting capabilities, email is an optimal means of personalizing messages and content for customers, and thereby delivering a tailored, helpful customer experience.

From the marketer’s perspective, email can be a fertile source of information on contacts, even if their initial engagement doesn’t result in a form completion. If you’re promoting a gated offer from an email and an individual opens the email, clicks the offer from the email and doesn’t complete the form, that intelligence can still contribute to building a profile of an individual; follow-on steps can include data appends, additional touches, or other tactics. At HIPB2B, we view this type of insight as an underappreciated source of value from email.

Among digital channels, email has been a long-time leader, and time only appears to be strengthening that position.

Webinars, Videos Top the Content Priority List

A review of the current state of demand gen can’t be complete without touching on top 2021 content trends and formats that are paying the strongest dividends for B2B marketers.

A range of research points to webinars as an excellent content type for engaging prospects and advancing them in the funnel. They’re not new, of course, but webinars continue to enable prospects and customers to continue their buying research with interactive content that they can consume live or on demand (on their timetable).

At the same time, webinars give marketers a flexible, robust platform to reach those prospects and deliver the information they need. That likely explains why 53% of marketers – the highest percent — say that webinars are the most successful tactic for generating top-of-funnel leads.

As for types of content, video has become more valuable than ever, helped in no small measure by the fact that so much of business communication now runs on video. One of the great appeals of video for B2B and B2C consumers is that watching and listening to people can be far more engaging than text-based content; the best video is delivered in short, punchy snippets, thereby appealing to those whose time is quite limited (that is, most or all of us).

This probably explains why blog posts without a video get 92% less traffic and 24% less shares than those with at least one video, according to SEMrush.

Video content provides great engagement metrics (time spent with the video, how far in a visitor watched, if they clicked any embedded links); that detail in general goes deeper than other formats such as PDFs or e-books, and that measurability gives marketers a strong capacity to measure ROI.

Think of video as a major contributor – one type of content that stands out in multi-touch campaigns that feature a range of assets and asset types. If your content inventory does not include video today, it certainly needs to be added in the year to come.

2021: Quality is King in Demand Gen

Demand Gens marketers plot their course for the balance of 2021, the pressure from sales to deliver leads of great quality will continue to rise. To meet that mandate, they need to strategically deploy ABM practices, a robust mix of channels, and the content that currently resonates to draw in prospects, close deals and develop loyal customers. Those that rise to the challenge will continue to prosper amid the rapid changes taking place in demand generation.


As noted above, HIPB2B has a deep history in delivering leads to meet complex customer requirements, including the execution of account-list programs dating back to the days before ABM was one of marketing’s hottest buzzwords. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help deliver high-quality, highly targeted leads, let us know.



If you want to speak more about your data quality strategy or get a quote to fill your system with targeted leads from HIPB2B, contact one of our experts today! We love to talk data.


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