In today’s volatile market, B2B sales organizations must contend with a variety of challenges. Pipelines are thinner, conversion is decreasing, deal cycles are getting longer, and — worse yet — deals stall out in the eleventh hour. Marketing and sales teams are under more pressure than ever to source and convert high-quality leads, all while businesses continue to tighten their spending.
Here, we’ll take a deep dive into B2B lead generation, including a step-by-step breakdown of the process and sophisticated strategies for alleviating some of the pain points today’s sellers face as they strive to generate quality leads. These tactics are designed to help you reach your target audience, establish your brand as a leader in your industry, and ultimately grow your business.
Simply put, B2B leads are sales contacts that are potential buyers. There are many different types of leads. "Leads" could refer to sales-qualified leads (SQLs), marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), sales accepted leads (SALs), each of which are categorized by their readiness to buy, where they’re at in the pipeline, and other specific criteria.
B2B leads are crucial to the sales cycle because they’re the companies that end up becoming actual customers. Without leads, a B2B sales organization would have no buyers, so drumming up new potential clients through lead generation is absolutely essential to the business’s success.
B2B lead generation is the process of attracting new potential buyers to the business. Depending on the organization’s approach, lead generation may fall on marketing, sales, or a combination of the two departments.
Lead generation is typically the very first stage of the sales pipeline, and includes activities like cold calling and emailing, LinkedIn messaging, and developing compelling content to attract new leads. It’s a critical first step in the pipeline because buyers can’t purchase a product or service if they aren’t aware that it exists — so identifying, contacting, and informing potential leads about a particular solution is a logical jumping-off point.
It’s important to note that B2B lead generation differs from B2C lead generation in several key ways. B2B lead gen aims to attract businesses comprised of multiple decision-makers, whereas B2B lead gen targets an individual consumer. The channel that B2B and B2C marketers and sellers utilize to reach their intended audience also varies, since different types of buyers respond more positively to social media vs. paid ads vs. email marketing campaigns (et al.), depending on the product, service, industry, and more.
Because individual consumers make their purchasing decisions using different criteria than a business’s stakeholders, the content used for B2B vs. B2C lead generation also differs. B2B buyers want content that demonstrates the business’s knowledge surrounding their unique pain points and how to solve them, while B2C customers generally respond well to eye-catching, shorter communications that appeal to their emotions.
The B2B and B2C sales processes, pipelines, strategies, and techniques are all distinct from one another, and thus so too are the ways in which each type of salesperson approaches lead generation.
While the lead generation process varies depending on the particular organization, industry, target audience, and more, B2B businesses generally follow these common steps:
Identify B2B leads - First, the organization must find contact information for leads by executing specific marketing and sales strategies. The identification phase usually falls on marketers’ shoulders and might include developing gated content on the company’s website, collecting company details via an interactive web tool (like an ROI calculator), or encouraging a particular audience to subscribe to an online event.
Begin outreach - With contact information in hand, marketers and sellers can begin reaching out to leads to evaluate their level of interest. They can do so using cold calls and emails, LinkedIn and other social media messaging, or replying to questions submitted on the company’s site.
Qualify leads - Of course, not every lead fits the profile of an ideal customer. In order to be truly qualified, a lead should (among other specific criteria) be ready and willing to buy, have the proper budget, decision-making power, and have pain points that can actually be solved by the seller’s products or services. In order to determine the proper next steps, marketing should bucket leads into three separate categories: research/awareness, consideration, and decision. Depending on where they fall on this spectrum, marketing or sales should select and share appropriate content, execute product demos, and conduct meetings with different decision-makers to move each lead through the pipeline.
Close leads - Once a lead makes a purchase and the deal is closed, they officially become a customer. This can take several weeks or months, and requires multiple conversations, negotiations, and collaborative efforts (from marketers, sellers, and buyers alike) to complete.
Experienced B2B sales managers and reps have an intricate understanding of just how difficult the process can be.
B2B lead generation is about much more than creating alluring content that catches the interest of every passerby: Marketers and sellers must employ intelligent strategies that help them appeal to the right potential customers at the right time. Casting too wide a net will waste the company’s time and resources and lead sellers down a fruitless rabbit hole.
But focusing all their efforts on the proverbial white whale (i.e. that ever-elusive, enterprise-level deal with a mega budget) is just as risky, since it ties up valuable time and resources that could be better spent pursuing multiple leads.
A strong B2B lead generation process should leverage a variety of strategies for support. Here are 15 strategies your organization can use to take their lead gen efforts to the next level:
There is no one-and-done secret to generating quality leads. Marketers and sellers must consistently tweak their approach in order to improve results. But it’s equally important not to change too many things at once or too quickly, which will make it impossible to accurately measure what’s working and what’s not.
The key here is to conduct A/B tests to find the sweet spot. First, set a baseline for a specific area of improvement (like email open rate). Your baseline in this instance would be the current open rate. Then, test different variables at different times and measure their impact on the overall open rate. Some variables might include subject lines, calls to action (CTAs), tonality, send schedules, and link sharing. Equally important is A/B testing sales copy and enhancing UX on the company’s site — both of which are crucial for attracting leads.
Luckily, there are intelligent tools that can make the testing and optimization process faster and more effective. Some sales engagement tools, for example, use machine learning (ML) to identify what’s working across teams, so marketers and sellers can scale their lead-generation efforts with ease. These technologies automate key sequences, so lead generation becomes a more efficient process that yields positive results.
Establishing genuine, timely connections on LinkedIn is a great way to get in front of leads, but getting it right requires some finessing. Sending out a generic InMail message blast to every potential lead likely won’t get your team very far; but the platform is an extremely valuable lead gen tool when you engage with leads at a proven cadence over time.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator can help sellers properly identify and research decision-makers and connect with them at the right time. Some sales engagement tools offer integrations with Sales Navigator, so reps have access to everything they need (and the ability to execute lead gen activities) in a single, user-friendly platform. This saves the time it would otherwise take to toggle between various apps to research, engage, and follow up with leads.
Within their centralized workflows, sellers can find new contacts, view profiles, send connection requests, message leads, or ask a mutual connection for a warm introduction without ever leaving their engagement platform. The result is a more efficient sales lead gen engine with the power of LinkedIn at their disposal.
A whopping 92% of buyers trust word-of-mouth recommendations from their peers; so it’s no secret why sellers bend over backwards to build the type of trust and rapport required for a custom referral. In today’s increasingly remote B2B sales landscape, referral selling is more valuable than ever, as it enables sellers to attract high-quality leads without leaning on in-person interactions.
This strategy is best used for larger accounts, since it requires more resources to get it off the ground. Sellers and marketers can identify strong referral opportunities by finding existing relationships across a few notable categories (like internal employees, partners, and board of directors), then prioritizing those connections based on the strength of that relationship.
From there, the teams can coordinate, organize, and execute on a referral request plan. Modern sales engagement software eases the burden of this complex process using individual email templates and longer sequences, which enable referrers to send introductory emails and follow ups with the click of a button.
Cold calling is a tried-and-true (albeit frustrating) strategy for generating sales leads. Most sellers cringe at the thought of cold calling, but the right tactics can make the process easier, faster, and more effective.
In addition to leveraging some best practices — like striking the right balance between quality and quantity, adopting a customer-centric mindset, using positive language, and verifying that they’re speaking to the right decision-maker — sales teams should also use the right technology to take the pain out of cold calling.
An intelligent sales engagement platform, for instance, can track when reps connect with leads and when they don’t. The right tool can help sellers identify the best time to dial, instantly identify and prioritize already-engaged prospects, and automatically flag high-priority calls, so reps can focus on what really matters: making genuine connections with high quality leads.
Nine out of ten B2B companies agree that account-based sales (ABS) is an effective approach to the sales process. The foundation of a successful ABS strategy includes deep research into customer needs, sales and marketing alignment, and a large library of custom targeted content.
ABS is highly scalable and replicable, so focusing your team’s outbound lead gen approach on various decision makers at a particular company can help them convert more leads at a faster pace. With ABS, all go-to-market teams play an important role in researching, creating, identifying, and executing highly-personalized strategies for each lead. This enables them to collaborate, target, and reach key stakeholders at crucial phases of the sales process, which helps them customize content, engagements, and messaging to convert those leads into customers.
A strong ABS program heavily depends on a high level of personalization, collaboration across departments, custom-built messaging, and more, and getting it right requires the right tools for support. Using a sales engagement platform, sales teams can build an impressive library of email templates, call scripts, and other content, then curate, categorize, and share that content across all relevant teams. That way, each individual within each go-to-market team has everything they need to develop effective messaging for every touch point.
Search engine optimization (SEO) has become a buzz-worthy phrase for salespeople and marketers alike, though many still aren’t using it to their full advantage. Effective SEO helps get more eyes on a business’s content and enables that business to demonstrate its knowledge in a particular space.
A B2B technology consulting company, for example, can drive more organic traffic to its website and generate more leads by creating optimized content that provides value to its intended audience. They might know that a good chunk of their customers are looking for holistic IT solutions that break down communication barriers and speed up operations. So they start by conducting competitive keyword research around relevant phrases, like “technology solutions for operations” and “how to improve communication in the workplace.”
Depending on each term’s search volume and the search engine results it surfaces, the company can build helpful, thoughtful content that serves the appropriate user need (or optimize their existing content for organic search). Over time, they’ll amass a large library of fully optimized, helpful web content that shows potential buyers they’re a thought leader and understand customer pain points, which appeals to leads looking for empathetic, knowledgeable solutions partners.
Email marketing is a core element of lead generation, and can be a very valuable touchpoint in the sales cycle. Since 31% of salespeople say that sending one-to-one, customized messages is extremely effective, utilizing personalization throughout your email marketing campaigns can help generate better leads that turn into buyers.
Thorough research into target accounts, their social media, existing solutions, pain points, and more can help get the ball rolling on a winning email marketing campaign. But to generate higher-quality leads at a break-neck pace, sales and marketing teams need powerful tools that help them measure the success of their personalization efforts and repeat them at scale.
Sophisticated sales engagement tools go beyond traditional CRMs like Salesforce by accurately measuring buyer sentiment, the lead’s emotional response to an engagement. They can categorize reactions into positive, rejection, referral, or unsubscribe buckets to better inform next steps. The result is a sales team that better understands its leads and can tweak its communications to move deals along faster.
Social proof refers to the theory that people will mimic their peers’ behavior regarding the solutions they purchase. Because peer recommendations are an undeniably influential factor in selling, highlighting social proof is a no-brainer for generating leads.
There are countless techniques for implementing social proof, but some common tactics include:
Featuring customer reviews on your website
Filming and sharing customer testimonials on your site and social media pages (with the client’s permission, of course).
Building case studies that demonstrate how your product or service has solved specific problems
Mentioning your work with similar businesses
Hosting webinars and events (both in-person and virtually) provides a unique opportunity to identify high-value leads, offer in-depth information about your industry, company, and solutions, and connect with potential buyers.
When people sign up for a webinar or event, they pass along contact information while also acknowledging their interest in your organization and/or its offerings. Since webinars and virtually-hosted events are relatively budget-friendly, they’re often a cost-effective way to stir up interest and get a pulse on companies in the market for a new solution.
Armed with their contact details (and the assumption that they either want to make a purchase or learn more), marketers can execute post-event follow up to convert those leads to opportunities. This step is infinitely easier with the right sales engagement technology, which can qualify leads, segment your audience, and determine whether they’re ready to be contacted by sales or should continue to be nurtured by marketing for the time being.
There are countless reasons why a user might visit your site only to jump off the page. People get distracted, overwhelmed, decide they’re not ready to make a purchase, or start researching competitors.
With remarketing tools, you can target visitors who land on certain pages on your site with highly relevant ads on another website. If, for example, a user lands on (then navigates away from) a field service management software solutions page on your site, you can advertise an ebook about why field service management software is essential on another site.
This encourages users to revisit your content and warms them up before you even attempt to reach out.
Speaking of “warm” leads, implementing a warm sales call strategy can push potential buyers closer to the finish line. Your lead gen process should take careful note of those who have already engaged with your content or with whom sales and/or marketing have already been in contact.
Instead of letting them fall through the cracks, reps should call those warm leads as their free trial approaches expiration; a week or so after they’ve downloaded a piece of gated content; a few days after they attend a webinar; or when they cancel a product demo.
The right technology can help teams set those warm leads on fire without wasting time digging for information on previous touch points, responses, and more. Intelligent sales engagement platforms track and store all this information in a centralized place and make it easy for reps to determine how best to proceed.
Issuing a press release is a fantastic way to generate buzz around your company, your products or services, and even your social efforts. News sources,digital media firms, and social media influencers can publish and share your press release to drive traffic to your website and social media profiles.
You’ll want to save this strategy for important moments to avoid turning potential leads off, so consider the press release play when you:
Launch a new product or service
Earn an industry award
Announce an important event
Unveil a new integration or partnership
Are directly involved in a merger or acquisition
Make clear, genuine contributions toward a social or charitable initiatives
The word “free” tends to capture the interest of an audience, so why not use it to generate leads? Free incentives can mean a wide array of things, so choosing the right free incentives is crucial for helping your team reach the right potential buyers.
For example, while offering a free pizza to the first 500 people who subscribe to your email list will undoubtedly get people to sign up, it likely won’t generate high-value leads that fit your ideal customer profile—unless, of course, your company sells pizza.
A B2B technology solutions provider, for instance, will likely generate better leads by offering one of the following free incentives in exchange for a user’s contact info:
A downloadable guide for evaluating your existing tech stack
A user-friendly, interactive tool that calculates the ROI of digital transformation
A product demo
A trial for one of their basic SaaS solutions
The key here is to provide value that’s directly tied to what your company actually has to offer. That way, you can be sure users aren’t signing up strictly for a totally unrelated freebie, and you can more easily identify the interest level of those who choose to participate.
As the ways in which buyers seek out, research, learn about, and compare solutions evolve, so too must the types of content organizations create. While printing out product brochures and passing them out door-to-door may have been an effective approach for sellers in the past, today’s B2B salespeople would likely find it hard to generate real leads using this same method.
Today’s purchasers consume various types of content before they actually buy a product or service, so it only makes sense for marketers and sellers to mix it up to appeal to a broader audience. A healthy combination of ebooks, blog posts, emails, social media posts, white papers, press releases, webinars, guides, case studies, video content, and even podcasts episodes can help your team reach your intended audience wherever they are.
Powerful sales engagement tools can even help your marketers and sellers determine the best time to share each type of content (based on buyer sentiment, historical data, etc.), then measure the recipient’s response. Over time, your teams can make smarter decisions around which types of content yields the best results, and which ones simply aren’t worth the effort.
Chatbots, which are virtual assistants that typically communicate with human users through a website’s interface, and invaluable tools for generating better-quality leads with less effort from your team. These savvy chatbots can categorize leads based on the information they provide and the questions they ask.
If a user is interested in a demo, has questions regarding a particular product, or wants to better understand how your solutions can solve specific pain points, the chatbot can route them to the right resource or rep. This increases the likelihood of conversion and gives your team a greater understanding of who’s coming to the company website and what they’re looking for.
Implementing a wide array of effective B2B lead generation strategies is an excellent start for sales teams looking to build pipeline, increase conversions, and close more deals. But even the best best practices can only get your team so far if they’re still using inadequate tools and technologies for support. To get the most out of these 15 winning lead gen strategies, B2B sales teams need intelligent solutions that eliminate tedious, time-consuming manual tasks and allow them to focus on building strong relationships with more leads.
The Outreach Sales Engagement Platform enables teams to efficiently create and close more pipeline while improving overall rep productivity. With tools for streamlined workflows, integrated A/B testing, buyer sentiment analysis, call analytics, and more, Outreach can empower your sales team to leap ahead of the competition.
Learn more about how your entire team can build efficient pipeline or request a demo today.