July 25, 2017

B2B Lead Generation Chart: Business versus personal email addresses in lead forms


Email is central to many B2B marketers’ lead generation efforts, and those addresses often come in through lead generation forms.

When they do, you might notice a mix of company email addresses as well as free email addresses (like Gmail or Yahoo!).

To help you benchmark your efforts, read on to see data from more than 7 million lead gen form completions in the NetLine network. Plus, we provide an analysis to help you determine the value (and meaning) of business versus personal email addresses.

(As seen in the MarketingSherpa Chart of the Week newsletter. Click to get a free subscription to the latest research and case studies from MarketingSherpa.)

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

NetLine Corporation has a B2B content syndication lead generation network. Recently, MarketingSherpa started a partnership with the company to place our own content on the network to get more subscribers to MarketingSherpa newsletters as we seek to build our own new relationships.

While working with NetLine, we also asked them to do a custom analysis of their data to help benchmark a phenomenon that often concerns (and sometimes irks) many B2B marketers — the use of personal email addresses (e.g., Gmail or Yahoo!) in B2B lead gen forms instead of their corporate email address.

If you want every last detail, the below chart shows info across 14 job roles with four company sizes for each job role based on more than 7 million lead gen form completions on the NetLine network from March 1st, 2016 to February 28th, 2017. You can click on the chart to get a larger version. (Numbers may not add up exactly to 100 due to rounding.)

However, if this is too much data, simply scroll down. We provide four additional charts focused around specific job roles, along with an analysis of the data to help you make sense of it in your own B2B lead gen efforts.

 (The chart will open in a new window, click and zoom to read the data.)

Personal email addresses account for at least some leads across every title in every size company

If you look at nothing else in the above chart, take a look at the purple bar. Personal email addresses account for at least some of the new relationships across all job roles and all company sizes. And for many of them, a fairly significant amount.

Personal email addresses were used most by students who listed their company size as 0-99, with 399% more lead form completions having personal email addresses. And this makes sense; a great amount of this group may not have a job yet and thus don’t have a corporate email address to use.

On the far left, we find encouraging news for marketers biased toward collecting business email addresses. Directors in companies with more than 5,000 employees — a very coveted group for many B2B marketers — used corporate email addresses 73% of the time they filled out lead gen forms.

Let’s take a look at a few key roles in between those two extremes.

C-level executives use personal email addresses about half the time

The biggest differentiator was for C-level executives in companies with 1,000-4,999 employees, who were 31% less likely to use their personal email addresses.

Other than that group, C-level executives used their personal email addresses roughly half the time. For this group, keep in mind there may be someone else (i.e., an executive assistant) reading and prioritizing the email on their corporate account and filtering out anything that appears to be a sales effort, or doesn’t seem like an email meant directly for them from a real person.

This could affect their likelihood of using their corporate email address and also mean that having their personal email address could be a big benefit (if it is a personal email address they regularly check themselves).

Small company senior directors much more likely to use personal email addresses

Senior directors exhibited similar behavior as C-level executives, although the effect in small companies was even more pronounced — senior directors at companies with under 100 employees were 63% more likely to use their personal address. The balance shifts more toward business email addresses as company size grows.

Small company individual contributors much more likely to use personal email addresses

Individual contributors at the smallest companies (0-99) were 125% more likely to use their personal email addresses. For other size companies, the split was roughly half-and-half.

This may be because individual contributors at the smallest companies don’t always work directly for those companies, or they may use many of their own resources like laptop and phone and not even have official company email addresses.

Managers more likely to use their corporate email addresses

Managers, on the other hand, behaved somewhat differently than individual contributors. Other than at the smallest companies, they were significantly more likely to use their corporate email addresses. And managers in companies with more than 1,000 employees, were over 40% more likely to use their company email address.

Different lead generation behavior by different industries

Aside from different behavior among different job levels, there was different behavior in different industries as well. Those in the insurance industry were most likely to use their corporate email addresses, with 56% of leads in that industry having a corporate email address sent in through the form.

Agriculture professionals were on the other extreme, with 71% of workers most likely to use their personal email addresses.

Real estate and our very own advertising/marketing industry were second to the agriculture industry, with 61% using their personal email addresses.

As for advertising and marketing, that could be because there are many freelancers and independent consultants in advertising and marketing. Or, it could be because marketers are hyperaware of what happens when they put an email address in a form.

Using personal versus business email address information for segmentation

There is an assumption by some marketers that only business email addresses matter. They hope to append data from business databases or, if nothing else, at least be entirely clear about where the lead works even if they don’t ask for company name on the form.

Alternatively, perhaps those in Marketing or Sales see it as an indication that someone is a more serious opportunity.

However, as you can see in the data, while the use of personal email address varies some by job role, company size and industry, it is a common occurrence for all professionals to use personal email addresses for work activities — in this case, when filling out a lead form.

So the real question you should be asking is — what does this behavior tell me about the customer, and can you use this info to better communicate with your customers?

“The data clearly supports the fact that certain professionals prefer to consume long-form content (white papers, eBooks, reports, etc.) via their personal email address versus professional. At the core, professionals are likely too busy to be bothered with long-form content consumption/research in the office these days. They want the opportunity to read the content when, where and on what device they choose regardless of what you, the marketer, wants them to do,” said David Fortino, SVP of Audience and Product, NetLine Corporation.

I had to laugh when I read David’s response because I exhibit this behavior myself. In fact, I’ll even forward info from my work to my personal email address so I can read it at night or on the weekend when I’m less distracted.

To test out this hypothesis for your own customers, you might want to try to split your list by corporate versus personal email addresses and change the send time and content. For corporate email addresses, experiment with more short-form content and send it during regular business hours. For personal email addresses, send more long-form content and send it at night or on the weekend.

The longer lifetime value of personal email addresses

B2B email lists are tough to build. As you know, people don’t stay in their current roles for every long and certainly not forever. And when they leave, odds are they are not going to update every email subscription.

“In an era where job-hopping is rampant, the professional email address has a limited timestamp. Unfortunately, your organization/sales team may be hyper fixated on acquiring corporate email addresses — but they should know that each corporate email address is a ticking time bomb within your customer database,” Fortino said.

We know from behavior outside of lead forms that when people see something of value they don’t want to lose when they change jobs, they use a personal email address. Fortino used LinkedIn accounts as an example. “It shouldn’t come to you as a surprise that LinkedIn is flooded with personal/free email addresses,” he said.

Are you an outlier?

Of course, the above info doesn’t mean that every personal email address is valuable. After all, you likely have colleagues who use free mail accounts just to get the download and then ignore everything else. Perhaps you do it yourself.

However, this observed behavior can be anecdotal and lead to the common “I do it so my customer must do it” fallacy. You are not your customer. As I mentioned above, the use of personal email address in lead forms is especially prevalent in the advertising/marketing industry, more so than in almost every other industry.

The real question you should be asking is — are the personal email addresses I’m collecting valuable business information?

“If you don’t have definitive findings, run A/B experiments and see what performs best for your business,” Fortino advised.

Respect customer preference

Whether you like it or not, using personal email addresses is a very common behavior. “At this time we have found that on average, 55% of professionals are using their personal email address to download long-form content,” Fortino said.

It’s interesting to note that according to separate research, this behavior doesn’t only vary by industry and job role, but by age as well.

“When you look at the heaviest email user generation — millennials — they like to be in even more control of the content they receive, including where and when,” said Erin Gade, Senior Marketing Strategist, Yes Lifecycle Marketing. According to her company’s research, “More than a third of consumers (36 percent) have opened separate email accounts just for brand communications — a number that jumps to 58 percent for millennials and drops to 26 percent for Baby Boomers.”

So, as you’re building your B2B lead efforts, don’t swim against the tide. Use email address provenance as one more way to understand and tap into customer preference.

“Don’t make the mistake of forcing customers to interact with your brand on your terms. Doing so will end badly ... even when you have a phenomenally sound reason for doing it that way. Failure to put the customer first is failing to recognize a fundamental element of any business — without customers, you have no business in the first place,” Fortino concluded.

Related resources

2017 State of Content Consumption and Demand Report for B2B Marketers (via NetLine)

Email Research: The 5 best email variables to test

A Marketer’s Guide to Reaching Each Consumer Generation (via Yes Lifecycle Marketing)

B2B Marketing: Lead generation campaign generates 23% response rate

Retargeting: 5 tactics from drip email to lead generation

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