Online lead generation budgeting: A results-based approach

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It's budgeting time. Sharp-penciled b-to-b marketers are sitting down to determine where their organizations will invest. Some are weighting their budgets back toward growth, but across the board CFOs are dictating that the money be smarter than ever. Marketers are being held accountable to results, and their budgets depend on that.

Organizations that have added online lead generation to their marketing mix now have the tools to manage this level of accountability, but the tools are not enough. A results-based approach to budgeting takes measurability to the next phase: intent and predictability.

As a b-to-b conversion-driven marketing agency, we start by working backwards from quantifiable, desired results to the tactics needed to get there. This starts with the question, “How many leads can our sales force handle each month, with peaks and valleys based on seasonality?”

This process takes it back one more step: “If we need to achieve X dollars in revenue growth within this line of business, how many leads should we plan each month, with lead times built in to allow sales to be closed by the end of the fiscal year?”

Once goals have been quantified, the foundation is there to budget for a program.

There are two cost considerations here. First, the initial investment to create strategy and assets—such as developing an informational offer like a white paper—and the costs of pushing the program's offers through online ads, search engine marketing, e-mail, social media, etc.

The process can be projected by starting with cost-per-lead numbers, as well as conversion. Projecting impressions-to-click, clicks-to-lead, leads-to-opportunity and opportunities-to-sale allows the marketer to tailor a media budget based on revenue goals. This entails guesswork, but the guesses are educated, starting with industry standards and then adding live results.

A well-managed lead-generation program with documented results enables a team to establish a benchmark “media cost-per-lead” and hold to that standard. Low performers get culled, and standouts get augmented. The program can be continually optimized so even if the cost-per-lead is initially missed, throughout the year the program approaches the goal.

There are other financial considerations also:

• Different tactics require varying levels of management time. This is balanced by the fact that some tactics have no media cost.

• Some tactics necessary for strategic purposes may fall outside of the cost-per-lead standard but still stay in the mix.

• Lead nurturing requires an additional analysis, including the ROI of reducing sales time and increasing conversions.

With strategic thought, an approach like this can yield both a results-based budget and tools to measure the program once it is launched.

Sam Eidson is a partner with digital marketing agency 90octane, Denver ( He can be reached at

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