What is B2B lead generation?
Lead generation isn’t just about generating leads; it’s about generating quality leads – an essential activity for B2B marketing and sales teams. It’s the process of identifying the ideal customers for your product or service, then attracting them to make a purchase.
Some companies focus solely on acquiring new leads through outbound activities such as cold emails or prospecting, while others use inbound tactics such as inbound marketing, content creation and social media outreach. Regardless of how you choose to generate leads, it’s important to remember that no single approach works for every business.
In this article we’ll discuss what B2B lead generation entails, how it works, and some of the best practices you can use to make sure you are generating leads effectively.
Reading time: 10 minutes
In the world of B2B marketing, lead generation encompasses much more than simply identifying prospective customers. It includes the entire lifecycle of selling to those prospects — including nurturing leads into qualified opportunities, converting leads into closed deals, and managing the post-sale relationship.
In its simplest form, lead generation is about capturing and stimulating the interest of buyers and involves collecting a potential customer’s information — such as name, email, company name, and job title — and then using that information to target them with customized sales pitches or ad campaigns.
It is a critical part of every B2B marketing strategy, and one that requires careful planning and execution. Sitting at the very center of sales development, it is the first step in the B2B buyers’ journey towards your brand and a potential sale. Without an effective B2B lead generation process, there are no potential leads to pass to sales reps, and if prospective customers are not passing through your sales funnel, then there is no business.
What are B2B leads?
B2B leads are people and organizations identified by your business that have the potential to become customers. Qualified leads are leads who meet a range of pre-defined criteria and who have shown interest in your brand, product or service.
Every effective B2B lead generation strategy requires an understanding of MQLs, SQLs and SALs to determine how leads are moving through the customer journey. To do this, understanding the different stages of the sales and marketing funnel is key:
Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
Leads that fit your buyer persona are defined as Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs). These are leads that score highly against specific attributes, characteristics and data points defined in your lead scoring model and which help signal their readiness to buy. Once qualified, these leads can be further nurtured and converted into paying customers.
Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
When MQLs are qualified by sales teams as having strong buying intent, they are said to be Sales Qualified. Distinguishing between Marketing Qualified and Sales Qualified allows sales teams to prioritize and focus on those leads that are most likely convert.
This approach is useful, especially in situations where products have longer sales cycles and where nurturing the wrong leads can negatively impact conversion rates. SQLs are qualified and scored on predefined criteria — similar to MQLS, but it’s the job of sales to vet each lead and qualify it accordingly using one of the many frameworks available: BANT, MEDDICS, CHAMPS and so on.
Sales Accepted Lead (SAL)
Not every company finds it necessary to include a Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) status within their sales funnel. Often its purpose is to give feedback to the marketing team on the quality of the leads being generated but when it’s accompanied with a clear acceptance process and SLA it can also protect the most valuable leads from degrading over time.
Sales accepted leads are moved to sales qualified once the salesperson has engaged with the prospect and deemed it a worthwhile account to pursue.
Why is B2B lead generation important?
Lead generation is a key component of sales development. It’s the engine that ensures the business continues to attract, nurture and convert leads and ensures marketing efforts aren’t wasted.
If your lead generation program can attract more of the right people to your brand and your website, then your sales team can spend less time ‘hunting’ and more time working on those leads most likely to convert into sales – enhancing the sales process.
However, if your lead generation strategies are failing to bring your target market to your website or landing pages, or in sufficiently large enough numbers, then you won’t be giving your funnel an opportunity to work. The key is to pro-actively monitor and measure the volume of leads passing through each stage of the funnel, to understand what’s converting, how fast and whether they are valuable to the business – quality vs quantity.
3 benefits of lead generation
There are lots of benefits to lead generation above and beyond the leads themselves, here are some important ways it positively impacts your business:
1. Brand awareness
Brands are built on trust. And to gain trust, you must earn it. To achieve this, you have to build awareness and credibility for your brand. This starts with establishing thought leadership. Once people see you as an authority, they start trusting you. They begin searching out your information rather than looking up competitors.
The more quality content you can get into the hands of your prospects, whether publishing online or via your social media channels, the more aircover you are creating for your brand. This is the surround sound that your lead generation campaign contributes to the demand and visibility of your brand.
2. Learn more about your target audience
Lead generation is a great way to learn more about your audience. Your lead generation strategies are an effective way of gathering richer intelligence about your audience to gain a more nuanced and comprehensive picture of your ideal customer – here are some of the ways you can capture intelligence about your ideal customer:
- Use analytics tools. These are free programs that track visitor behavior across different channels like email and Facebook ads. They give you insights into where people are coming from, what keywords they used and what actions they took once on your site. Analytics software can help you identify trends and patterns so you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
- Ask yourself questions. When you ask yourself “Who am I trying to reach?” you’ll be able to answer questions like: What do they care about? Who are my competitors targeting? Why should they choose me over them? How can I best serve them?
- Get feedback. Once you’ve gathered your intel, talk to your team members and clients to get their input. What do they like or dislike about your product? Spot trends and patterns in the feedback.
- Test everything. Try different copy, design, colors, fonts, calls to action, and messaging. See what works and what doesn’t. Then use the data you collect to refine your approach.
- Keep improving. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to adapt your strategies based on your findings. And don’t forget to keep testing. Learn from your mistakes, and always strive to do better next time around.
3. Grow your revenue
If your lead generation strategies are working well for you, your sales team can focus on other revenue-generating activities, such as converting high value leads into paying customers or cross-selling to existing. Inbound lead generation strategies rely on people coming to you which allows your teams time to analyze the performance of your campaigns, to test and iterate in order to scale your programs and drive more leads into your funnel. And with higher-quality traffic, the potential for buyers who are further down the journey to grow revenue faster is much greater.
The importance of data in B2B lead generation
As digital marketing has evolved, so the data it generates has also improved. As potential leads go about their lives online, they leave digital footprints about their preferences, likes, dislikes and where they are in their purchasing journey. This information is referred to as Intent Data. It is behavioral information collected about what individuals and businesses are interested in – what they are researching and reading online, signaling where they are in their decision-making process. The more you know about where your B2B buyers are in their journey, the more you can personalize their experience by serving up content that better meets their needs.
The reality is not all leads are good leads – some have a higher potential deal value than others, some are already researching your products, while others have no interest in buying. The benefit of intent-based lead generation is you have more control over who sees your content, tailoring messages not only to demographics and interests but also to where those people are in their journey and which are most likely to convert.
Turn data into intelligence
For successful B2B lead generation, good quality data is a must. It’s not just about who to target, it’s also important to collect and analyze data that helps you to determine the best way to connect with your audience and with what content. Engaging prospects with information that’s relevant to them at the right time in their journey improves customer relationships and creates brand loyalty.
If your marketing and account data is inaccurate or incomplete then it becomes much harder to create and promote content that converts.
Finally, if you are collecting the right data from your campaigns you are also much better placed to test and iterate to continually improve the way in which you approach your demand generation efforts.
How does B2B lead generation work?
There are many different ways to generate leads for your business, but the right method will depend on your business. Before we get into the different strategies, it’s important to distinguish between outbound and inbound strategies.
Inbound marketing relies on the creation of valuable content and campaigns that attract visitors to your website in order to convert them into leads. The buyer controls the time and channel of the engagement which could be via a search engine or a social media platform. Typically, they exchange their email address or contact details in return for an irresistible or valuable piece of content. This is normally the start of their journey. Effective lead gen campaigns then go on to nurture and build on this engagement.
By helping your B2B buyers to research and solve their problems and by demonstrating an understanding of their pain points and needs, inbound lead generation gives the contact more control over their interactions with your brand helping to create an overall positive experience. Consequently, they are considered a warm lead and more likely to convert – accelerating sales and increasing pipeline velocity.
Inbound marketing tactics include:
- Content marketing
- Blog content creation
- Lead nurturing
- Social media marketing
- Programmatic advertising
Outbound marketing, also known as interruption marketing, refers to any kind of marketing where the company starts the conversation. This could be through TV advertising, cold calling or emailing – the key is that the company, not the potential customer, has initiated contact. Outbound prospecting remains an effective lead generation practice for B2B businesses and when coupled with solid research and greater levels of personalization it’s a great compliment to inbound strategies.
A five-step B2B lead generation process
Today there are a myriad of ways to generate leads in B2B marketing. Not every strategy works for every business, but follow this process and you will have created a basic lead generation engine that you can start to evolve and optimize over time.
1. Research your target market
The first step in any lead generation campaign is to have a thorough understanding of your target audience.
In B2B, this needs to happen at both a contact and company level. At a contact level this is known as a buyer persona and covers what they do, their industry, job title, the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis – detailed buyer personas allow you to create campaigns that better connect with your potential buyers. At a company level, this is known as an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). An ICP is a description of an ideal business representing the type of company that benefits the most from purchasing your product.
When you are developing your buyer personas and Ideal Customer Profiles, it’s helpful to understand what keywords and phrases they are using to discover the content and products they are searching. That way, you are able to create content that answers their questions and provides solutions to their problems.
Or grab this ICP profile planner template.
2. Promote content across your business channels
Now you have content, you will want to get it into the hands of your target customers. The key to channel selection is knowing which channels are most effective for your particular audience. You’ll want to test both paid and organic channels including PPC, Search and Social ads, as well as social channels including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, your blog, or wherever your customers are most active.
3. Personalize touch points
Personalization is key to improving lead generation quality. By targeting customers with personalized, relevant content that targets their interests, concerns and is based on where they are in their buyer journey can help to improve lead quality.
Customizing the engagement demonstrates that you know what your customer base wants and are willing to take the time to address their concerns on an individual level. Personalize your offers, email marketing and product recommendations – use first names in subject lines to encourage higher open rates and engagement and analyze how a prospect interacts with your content to gain insight about their future purchasing intent.
4. Score and nurture leads
Not all leads are at the same stage of their buying journey. If a potential customer has downloaded just one piece of content it may not be a purchase intent signal so you may want to enroll different leads into specific nurturing programs based on their attributes before you pass them to sales. Multi touch marketing campaigns offer a great opportunity for additional personalization. The key is to create content that builds trust by addressing your specific buyers’ pain points as you guide them through the sales funnel towards purchase. Then use lead scoring to indicate to sales which leads are most likely to convert.
5. Evaluate your lead generation process
Review your process regularly. Look to identify where leads may be dropping out of your funnel or going cold. Leverage all of the analytics tools available to you such as Google Analytics or any advertising platforms you may be using to determine whether benchmarks are being met and if customers are being driven down the sales funnel effectively.
9 lead generation tactics that get results
If you are just starting out with inbound lead generation, then you will want to brush up on your content marketing skills. For your inbound lead generation to work, every B2B company needs great content and a solid content marketing strategy that can drive relevant traffic to your website. Let’s dive into the mechanics.
1. Create gated content to capture leads
A bedrock of any content marketing strategy is gated content. Offering something valuable like a blog post, a white paper or an eBook in exchange for information from your prospects such as their name, email address and industry is a great way to build trust, gather information and generate B2B leads.
Another option is to use sponsored posts or search and display ads to drive potential customers to a dedicated landing page which can further qualify the lead and collect information.
2. Repurpose your content
Content can be expensive and time-consuming to create so ensure you are making the most out of every piece of content you produce. Re-purpose your content for different channels and audiences. Turn white papers into infographics, webinars into short form explainer videos, summarize blogs into YouTube videos. Repurposing content can help your marketing team maximize demand generation results while saving time and money. It also guarantees that your audience can consume the content in the format they prefer and via the channel best suited to them.
3. Use Programmatic Display Ads
Programmatic advertising uses AI to automate the process of buying and selling digital advertising space. It uses real-time data to dynamically place ads on relevant websites. The use of AI in programmatic helps to generate data-rich intelligence about the performance of your campaigns and provides actionable insights into your target audience and their buying patterns. This gives B2B marketers the opportunity to deliver ever more personalized ads to their prospects in order to capture more leads.
4. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and Google Ads
Pay-per-click lead generation is the process of generating leads through pay-per-click advertising. B2B brands advertise on search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo to drive highly targeted traffic to content rich pages that have been carefully constructed to drive high quality conversion. Search advertising is often thought to be a quick but not inexpensive way to generate quick results when it comes to B2B lead generation.
In recent years, Linkedin has become a go-to platform for B2B lead generation, not least because it allows B2B marketers the opportunity to pursue both inbound and outbound strategies, paid and organic on one platform.
LinkedIn’s paid advertising strategies include sponsored posts and display ads. One of the most significant benefits of creating display ads on LinkedIn is the ability to hone in on your target audience based on their job title, seniority, interests, geography, group membership and other important attributes, which had helped make it one of the most effective channels for driving high-quality leads.
It’s also a great way to share social proof such as testimonials and cases studies either organically or via its paid network.
6. Facebook lead ad campaigns
It’s easy to overlook Facebook as a B2B lead generation channel but many consumers use Facebook in a professional capacity also.
Like LinkedIn it’s possible to create lookalike and interest-based audiences, and to split test campaigns to gauge which content is working hardest for you and generating the most leads. Whether you’re looking to promote content, drive product demos or gather free trial sign-ups, lead ads on Facebook can be fast and simple to set up and can generate high volumes of quality B2B leads for your business.
7. Retarget & remarket website visitors
Retargeting is a great way to remarket to customers who have already visited your website to maximize conversions from your paid and organic marketing. It works by tracking visitors to your site and then showing them paid ads on another website in an effort to bring them back to your site.
8. Combine ABM with Inbound
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a B2B a digital marketing growth strategy that targets your best-fit customers and accounts with personalized content and campaigns to capture their attention and turn them into customers. Whereas inbound marketing goes broad, ABM focuses on delivering personalized experiences to a much smaller group of potential customers and key accounts in order to maximize revenue.
9. Work closely with your sales team
Sales and marketing alignment can make or break your lead generation strategies. Businesses with aligned sales and marketing teams generate over 200% revenue growth from marketing tactics, are more than two-thirds (67%) more effective at closing deals and see 24% faster growth in revenue.
Ensuring B2B marketers are working in unison with sales can be difficult, but it’s not impossible! Below are ways to build unity across the two teams:
- Set out clear roles and responsibilities to ensure accountability
- Regular meetings to communicate areas of concern and stay in sync with one another
- Share reports and analysis when it’s relevant, insightful and could help the other team
- Marketing to create ample amounts of new content and communicate when it’s live, along with a summary of its key takeaways
- Shadow one another to appreciate how content creation and sales calls work
Lead generation resources
Contributors help to build out HubSpot’s free lead generation resources which is packed full of guides, tutorials, strategies, eBooks and templates on every topic imaginable. There is something there for everyone.
The Strategic Marketing Show
Hosted by David Bain and brought to you by Insights for Professionals, The Strategic Marketing Show delivers strategic insights from today’s enterprise marketing thought leaders covering everything from how to use a data-driven content to where LinkedIn ads fit into your marketing mix.
MarketingProfs has one of the largest libraries of articles on lead generation with a wealth of how to articles on every aspect of lead generation for business owners. Go deep into channels, technologies and how to generate quality leads.
Marketing Smarts contains in-depth, long form interviews with marketers from all walks of life to share practical advice and actionable insights covering current issues, trends & technologies across the marketing pantheon.
Revenue Vitals, formerly State of Demand Gen, Refine Lab’s CEO, Chris Walker interviews some of the brightest minds in business and marketing to learn how to build a high-growth company. From proving new revenue programs to identifying and scaling programs that work, discover how to create predictable pipeline and compoundable revenue.
Demand Gen Chat
Demand Gen Chat is a Chili Piper podcast hosted by Tara Robertson. Tara interviews B2B marketing leaders to hear about the latest tactics and campaigns they are using to drive pipeline and revenue.
Our B2B lead generation service
At Inbox Insight, we use the best data-driven strategies to optimize and deliver high performing lead generation programs for thousands of brands across the globe.
Our goal is to optimize demand marketing, by connecting your content to your target audience at the most crucial touchpoints in their buyer journey, to accelerate market demand and deliver effective lead acquisition and audience engagement.
For deeper insights, explore our lead generation service page…