What is B2B lead generation?
In marketing, B2B lead generation is the act of identifying and initiating an interest of potential customers. Or in other words, it’s the first step every business must go through before making a sale. Identifying potential customers means finding businesses who may have an interest in the product or service your business is offering (your target audience). Initiating interest is about capturing information from these contacts and feeding them into your sales funnel. A lead can then be converted into a customer with a sale.
B2B companies will usually have different criteria for what is considered as sales qualified leads (SQL), as it will depend on the specific area or niche the business is operating in.
Lead generation traditionally falls under the umbrella of advertising, but it isn’t limited to paid-for channels and tactics. Any channel that generates interest in your website or business can be classed as lead generation, both online and offline. The most common channels used include event marketing, social media, email marketing, pay-per-click advertising, cold calling and content marketing.
One of the most important elements of modern B2B lead generation marketing, is a well-designed website that is fully optimized, and geared towards generating interest in your services.
How does B2B lead generation work?
Generating leads can be difficult and time-consuming. However, the idea itself is pretty simple.
You need to create a website or landing page that offers a product or service, and get it seen by the right people. Then, using a compelling call to action, you need to persuade those people to complete a form or otherwise hand over their contact information, so that you can follow-up with them later on.
Making this happen isn’t always easy. The process can be broken down into numerous steps, each of which will require detailed planning, sufficient budget and expert execution (with a lot of trial and error involved to get it right).
What is best practice for B2B lead generation?
Keep things consistent
User attention spans are getting shorter. You’ll have just 3-7 seconds on average to capture a visitor’s attention.
With such a short amount of time to get your message across, you firstly need to ensure you have a well optimized website that immediately shows what products and services are being offered, and what value they offer to your potential customer.
Very few visitors will ever land on your homepage, unless they’ve arrived there via a direct link, or searched for your brand directly. They are far more likely to land on an interior page that is relevant to their specific search query. That means every page on your website needs to be consistent in design and quality. If one page looks out of place, or doesn’t get your message across effectively, then the whole site will suffer.
The secret is to test everything and test regularly. Never assume one page is better than another, or that one call-to action is more effective than another without having hard data to back it up.
You may think you know exactly what messaging will work on your audience, but even the most skilled marketer is sometimes wrong. And even if you’re not, can you guarantee that it can’t be better? Making small changes, such as tweaking the color or position of a CTA or form can affect the performance of a page. Just remember to only test one element of a page at a time, or it will be impossible to pinpoint what was responsible for any change in its effectiveness.
Analyze the data
Once you’ve got the data back from one test, analyze the information and make some informed changes to your landing pages, then test again.
Be realistic, especially regarding time and budget. Set a strategy you can stick to and dedicate yourself to completing it fully. If one avenue of lead generation isn’t viable for your current circumstances, then use another method until things change.
Define your customer
Define who your perfect customers are, using insights gained from your existing customers where possible. Create a buyer persona for each then work on targeting each persona specifically. This will help you connect with your audience in a number of ways; understanding what drives and motivates them, what pressures and problems they face and how you can help alleviate them.
Once you know who you’re targeting and what their key issues and ‘pain points’ are, address them directly. Avoid talking about yourself and your product. Instead, talk about your customers, their problems and what you can do to help. Potential buyers don’t want to read 10 pages about you, they want to know how you can make their day easier.
Get active on social media. 75% of B2B buyers are influenced by information they have found on social networks, so it’s vital for you to be as visible as possible on as many platforms as possible. That’s how you’ll get your brand seen and remembered. Social media is rarely about making a direct sale. It is about connecting with your target audience and building a relationship with them over time. To learn more, check out our tips for more effective social media marketing.
Content marketing is becoming increasingly important for lead generation. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) reports that almost 90% of marketers now leverage content marketing because of its effectiveness and low cost in comparison to other similar channels. It is in the search engines’ best interests to show users the most relevant results, so they’re constantly on the lookout for new, compelling content and will favor websites that consistently provide engaging content that answers user queries.
To get started you need a solid content marketing strategy that you commit to fully. It should pinpoint exactly who your target audience is, what they need and where they can be found. The aim being to create the right content, for the right audience, at the right time, delivered in all the right places. Whilst content marketing is a powerful method for lead generation, the results won’t be instant. It can take many months to gain traction, so don’t grow disheartened if you don’t see a big impact straight away.
Go for a multi-pronged approach with your lead generation that covers lots of different avenues and tactics. Every method has its own strengths and weaknesses, and no single method ticks all the boxes by itself. If you’re running a long-term content marketing campaign, then consider bolstering it with something that does bring immediate results, such as a pay-per-click campaign. Plan your strategy wisely to ensure you achieve the optimal results for the available budget.
How do I get more B2B leads?
There are countless ways to generate leads for your business, but the most important thing is to find a B2B lead generation strategy that works for your business.
According to Hubspot, the three best lead sources for B2B companies are SEO (14%), email marketing, (13%), and social media (12%).
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to lead generation. You need to research who your ideal customers are and work out how to draw their attention.
For example, does your ideal customer spend a lot of time online? What are their browsing habits? Are they active on social media?
Creating accurate buyer personas is key to planning how best to reach your audience, and deciding where your precious time and money should be focused to do so most effectively. There are several tried and tested methods which perform well for most companies. These include:
- Content Marketing: the creation of high quality content which is tailored to your audience and their needs. It helps establish you as a trustworthy brand leader, keeping your name fresh in their mind when they come to make a purchase.
- Email Marketing: nurturing leads by building a relationship with them over time through carefully planned emails sent at exactly the right time. These emails should offer advice, new content or other helpful information and resources, without being intrusive.
- Event Marketing: getting face-to-face with potential customers is one of the most effective ways to form a lasting bond. You’re unlikely to hit gold first time, so try out a few different event types and review each carefully, to find the most effective one for you. If you’re unable to host or attend in-person events, then webinars can be an equally powerful tool. Whichever way you go, attendees must feel they have spent their time well and accessed valuable information.
- SEO: targeting terms that are likely to draw in relevant, high quality traffic from search engines which will be valuable for your business. While competition will be high for broader, generic terms, there are often several longer variants available, known as “long-tail” terms, which can be considered. For example, if you were aiming to be found first for the term “lead generation”, you’re unlikely to see results. However, creating a page dedicated to “lead generation software for small businesses” is far more likely to rank. The key is to find a niche that your business excels in, then to research search volumes and assess the competition before choosing what to target.
- PPC: Pay-Per-Click advertising is the act of targeting key terms or phrases within search engines with a relevant advert, which will only appear when the specified search criteria are met. As the name suggests, you then pay when someone clicks on your advert. PPC is used by loads of businesses – and with good reason. The results of a well set up PPC campaign are near immediate. Google estimates that businesses make an average of $2 for every $1 they spend.
- Social Media: hard to get right, but powerful when you do. Social media lead generation is all about being where your customers are and showing them your approachable, human side. The aim being to build a personal relationship with them, which will put you at the forefront of their mind when they come to buy.
The key to successful B2B lead generation is to plan, experiment, evaluate then adapt. Some things will work better than other for your business. Make sure you test out each strategy for long enough and that you are gathering the data you need to make an informed decision on whether it’s right for you or not. If it’s not working, simply move on and learn from your mistakes. Mix it up, using different tactics and fill in any gaps. The secret here is always to be where your customers are.
Who should I target?
Generating traffic is all well and good, but if you’re attracting the wrong kind of leads (those who are unsuitable and never going to buy what you have to offer), then all your hard work is going to be wasted. So how do you know who you should target, and how best to reach them?
The first step is to identify your target market – i.e. the top-level market you want to reach with your product or service – and to think which business model may work best for you.
Who do you hope to reach? This will have a huge effect on your overall tone of voice and methods of communication.
Are you a B2B company targeting other businesses, or a B2C company targeting consumers directly, or even a B2B2C that deals with employees in a company in the hope of one day landing the company itself?
Once you know what your target market is, you can then break this down further into customer profiles; ideal customers that are the perfect fit for you and your business. To do this, you need to look at your existing customer base to see who gives you the highest profit margins and who you enjoy working with. Focus on bringing in more clients like these ones.
Once you’ve analyzed all available data and defined who your target audience is, you should work on developing your buyer personas further. Find out what really makes them tick and use this knowledge to create content targeted at your ideal audience.
What is the lifecycle of a lead?
Each company will have its own answer to this one but the steps a lead needs to take on the way to making a sale are generally the same:
A B2B lead needs to be identified, qualified, entered into a sales pipeline and then acted upon.
Hubspot coins the different stages of the lead lifecycle as: Subscriber, Lead, Marketing Qualified Lead, Sales Qualified Lead, Opportunity, Customer and Evangelist. With each step, interest and relevancy will grow. Traditionally, the customer journey was viewed only from a sales perspective but modern sales funnel management is changing and focus is now on the buyer’s perspective.
The first stage in a buyer’s journey is awareness. This is the point at which they realize there is a problem or opportunity. At this stage they are likely to head online for some top-level information, but are making no conscious effort to research or purchase a solution.
By the next stage – consideration – the buyer is now starting to look for solutions. They will be spending much more time digesting content and researching the best course of action, both online and offline, but still aren’t ready to make a purchase.
Once the buyer has done their research and knows everything they need to know, the decision making will begin. They’ll be deciding if they want to buy, and if so, from whom. If one company has stood out up to this point as being consistently helpful, giving them all the information and content they need exactly when they need it, then they’ll be in great position now and at a huge advantage.
Once a decision has been made, then comes the post-purchase stage. Just because the buyer has handed over their cash, doesn’t mean this should be the end of your involvement and B2B lead generation efforts.
If the buyer feels you have gone out of your way to be helpful, to keep them happy and to troubleshoot any problems, then you could earn the most powerful marketing of all – word of mouth referrals. Happy customers want to tell others about their experiences and are likely to stay with you in future. Closing the sale should never be the end.
Each step of this journey will require specific content that is highly tailored and designed to lead them further down the path towards a sale.
Online vs offline B2B lead generation
How does online B2B lead generation work?
Online B2B lead generation is a cover-all term for any method of generating interest or inquiries via the internet. Whilst online lead generation can take longer to start generating results, compared to things like traditional advertising, the leads coming through online channels tend to be both cheaper and more effective.
To generate B2B leads online, you’ll need a well-optimized website with a strong, consistent brand message running throughout. Web visitors will rarely arrive directly on your homepage (unless they’re searching for your brand specifically), so every page on your website needs to be aligned. It should also fit with your brand identity and be as customer-centric as possible.
Special landing pages tailored to your audience are key. These are the pages that a user will ‘land’ on when first coming to your website. They need to cover a specific niche or intent. For example, if you’re a company that offers sporting gear and someone searches for bikes, you want them to land on a page specifically about that product. It will be of no use to you if they come through to a section on snorkelling.
Your entire online B2B lead generation strategy should be focused on the customer. Why are they here? What do they want? How can we help them? How can they be contacted?
If you focus on your own goals and shouting about how great you are, then you’re far less likely to be successful down the line.
Common forms of online B2B lead generation are:
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Social Media
- Video Content
- Free Resources (for an idea on free resources, check out the Ultimate Tech Stack below)
How does offline B2B lead generation work?
Offline B2B lead generation refers to any method of creating interest around your product or service that doesn’t involve the internet. Although many marketers will claim that offline marketing is dead, that is far from true.
Online B2B marketing may be more effective in many situations, there are several areas where traditional marketing remains just as powerful. It can even reach audiences that online marketing can’t. Some common methods of offline marketing include:
- Event Marketing: different sizes and styles of events will prove more valuable for one business than another, but all capitalise on the power of getting face-to-face with leads, or even better getting them face-to-face with existing customers
- Networking: never underestimate the power of having a strong network of contacts. Jump on every opportunity you can to meet new potential contacts and start building those links
- Event sponsorship: most events will have a range of different packages available to suit different budgets and this can be a great way to get your name in front of a target audience
- Print advertising: in the right magazine, journal or equivalent, print ads are still a viable way to reach a specific target audience
- Direct mail: while this medium may have dropped in popularity, if done well it can prove very effective and more personal than an email equivalent
- Outbound calls: the sales call has been the go-to tactic for generations of marketers but it’s harder than ever to make an impact, so it’s important to look at ways to make your cold calls more effective. Hitting the phone still has its place, but concentrating on only warm leads will bring far better results.
It is just as important to track results the effectiveness of offline lead generation, as it is for your online activity. Evaluate which channels have worked the best and refine what you’re doing.
How can I combine online and offline B2B lead generation?
Customers rarely, if ever, buy after a single contact with a supplier, so it’s in your interest to be as visible as possible over as many channels as possible. Combining online and offline lead generation will help you reach a far wider audience than either could manage alone, as well as getting you in front of prospects over several mediums.
Online and offline B2B lead generation can work together in several ways. For example: you may gather emails and contact details at a face-to-face event, then keeping in contact with those people on social media, or by sending them some content related to the interests you were discussing.
Equally, you may send B2B leads generated online an invitation to one of your in-person events, so you get to meet them face-to-face. You could re-purpose and print some content that was originally developed for online use and issue it as a handout, or simply point anyone you meet towards your website.
All your offline B2B lead generation activities should aim to point people towards your website. Be it letters, events or traditional PR. You should also be collecting and analyzing all the data you can. Learn from it and use it to make informed marketing decisions.
Planning & analyzing
How much budget should I allocate to B2B lead generation?
Deciding how best to allocate a marketing budget can be tricky and there is no easy answer – regardless of whether your budget is £1,000 or £1,000,000. Here are some issues to consider:
- What are you hoping to achieve?
- How quickly are you looking to reach your targets?
- How should you measure lead generation?
What are you hoping to achieve?
Are you looking to generate B2B leads, make sales or simply to push brand awareness?
If you’re a new business, a majority of your money and effort will probably be focused on branding – getting your name in front of potential customers and building a presence, both online and offline. If you’re already well established, you’re likely to be spending less on branding and more on lead generation and sales.
How quickly are you looking to reach your targets?
If you’re looking to see results quickly, you’ll need to allocate more so you can push your marketing harder – you’ve got to ‘spend money to make money’ as the saying goes.
A CMO study suggests companies spend around 7% of their annual revenue (11% of their firm budget) on marketing, though this varies with both size and area of business. Construction companies spend only 2% of their annual revenue on marketing, rising to 18.5% within the education industry.
One of the most cost-effective channels is content marketing, so it’s easy to see why it forms the cornerstone of most online marketing campaigns. When allocating budgets, always focus on the expected return on investment (ROI). Whilst this is easier said than done, especially as some channels take longer to gain traction than others, as long as you have a data-driven reason to expect a return, then the sky’s the limit.
If you’re just starting out, try targeting one or two channels and give them time to kick in before moving on to the next. Spreading resources too thinly straight off the bat can be a recipe for disaster. Choose the channels which will provide the most value for your business. Once you start seeing a return, add one or two more channels at a time and repeat the process.
How should you measure B2B lead generation?
Effective lead generation is anything but cheap, so how do you go about measuring your return on investment? What metrics are most important to track?
Firstly, you’ll need to track how much traffic you’re drawing in, and how much of this traffic is relevant to you. There are several good tools available, with Google Analytics being one of the most widely used and most comprehensive. Plus, it’s free to use and only requires a small snippet of code to be inserted into the header of your site.
The quality of the traffic you’re generating is one of the most important metrics you need to look at when analyzing your lead generation. You may be achieving big numbers, but if no one is converting then it will be for nothing. Also consider, at what point will you consider your B2B lead generation successful?
The whole point of lead generation is to generate leads. Searchengineland states the average conversion rate of a landing page to be 2.35%, so if you’re hitting that number you may think everything is good. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
If you treat the number of leads generated as your sole measure of success, you’re likely to get a skewed picture of how well your campaigns are performing. Of those leads, how many went on to become marketing qualified? Or sales qualified? And how many actually bought from you?
It’s important to measure the sales funnel as a whole, looking at the bigger picture rather than each section in isolation. By examining long term trends, you will be able to work out how many people have converted and what revenue has been earned from these conversions. If you then work out the full amount you’ve spent on getting these conversions (including any software and staff wages), you can simply divide the profit by the investment made, then multiply this by 100 to work out your ROI.
But that isn’t the end of the process. There are several other important factors to consider. Rather than just measuring lead generation performance as a whole, it’s important to measure on a channel-by-channel basis, to find the areas which are performing best and generating the highest return.
One common mistake here is to use a last-click model that attributes a lead entirely to the channel they finally converted on. Whilst this is tempting, as it keeps reporting clean and tidy, it will give you a grossly inaccurate picture of how things are performing.
Some channels are vital for capturing leads, but will rarely result in direct signups. They will appear to have a huge cost for very little return, when in reality cutting them out would be massively detrimental to your success overall.
So how do you go about accurately attributing leads? There are several attribution models which can help to do this, each of which has its own uses.
The linear model distributes credit for a conversion equally across all channels that have played a part – for example if someone found the site via social media, then visited again via paid search, then came back later through organic search and finally converted after typing the URL directly, 25% of the conversion value would be attributed to each of the social, organic, paid and direct channels.
Lead gen tools & timesavers
Are lead generation companies worth it?
The knowledge and passion you have for your business will always make you the best person to generate leads. However, outsourcing sections of the sales process can potentially help to relieve some of the pressure and help you streamline your sales pipeline. Generating leads is a difficult and time-consuming process, so you need to weigh up how much your time is worth.
If you decide to go with a B2B lead generation company, there are a lot of factors to take into account when choosing a provider. What are you expecting them to deliver? What KPIs will they measure, and how do these fit with your own priorities? Do they have expertise within your business niche? How responsive are they? What may it be like to work with them, are they going to be a good fit?
The best B2B lead generation companies cost a fair amount, due to the time, effort and skill it takes to generate high-quality leads. But if the company excels at what it does, then the leads generated could be worth their weight in gold and will easily justify the cost, as well as freeing you up to concentrate on other things.
What are the best B2B lead generation tools?
B2B lead generation is a complex, time-consuming activity at the best of times. So, what can you do to save time and streamline the process?
Fortunately, there are several tools on the market designed to help you do just that. For more information, check out our blog covering the must-have lead generation tools.
What is B2B lead generation software?
B2B lead generation software is designed to take as much pain out of the experience as possible. It’s designed to automate as much of the process as possible – from capturing leads (often from forms and landing pages created within the tool itself), to segmenting them based on predefined parameters, including which webpages they look at, what content they download and any other indicators which suggest their position within the sales funnel.
Nearly all B2B lead generation software can interface directly with a CRM, automatically adding details of new leads without the need for manual input. Most can also integrate with social media accounts, ensuring everything is aligned across all platforms.
Using B2B lead generation software across your business can also help to improve communication, both within sales and marketing teams and across the business as a whole. If everyone has access to the same information about customers and it’s easily accessible whenever they need it, then this will help better align teams with the wider company goals.
The automated nature of the software ensures no time is wasted at any stage of the sales process. Combined with the increased communication and ease of access to information, the sales cycle can be shortened – especially when combined with software that aids with lead nurturing.
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In the meantime, you may be interested to read 11 growth hacking strategies for marketers.
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