B2B Lead Generation: A Beginners Guide (2020)

b2b lead generation
Let’s face it… the only thing we really care about as B2B marketers is generating leads for our sales team.

We sit in meetings and report on what we’ve contributed to the bottom-line. Marketing is no longer just branding, it’s about tangible results, and we’re on a mission to generate as many marketing-attributed leads as possible.

That said, B2B lead generation can be hard, and to make things worse there’s a lot of bad information out there. People telling you to buy email lists and getting the sales team to make cold calls isn’t helpful.

This article is going to put a stop to the stone-age approach, and layout how B2B companies should be generating leads through digital marketing in 2018.

First things first, what is lead generation?

Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting strangers and prospects into someone who has indicated interest in your company’s product.

Simply, it’s about converting someone who has never heard of your company, into a customer. This is commonly referred to as ‘Inbound Marketing’.

But like most things, generating leads isn’t black and white. Some leads may purchase immediately, some may be interested but have no demand, and some may never be interested to buy.

This is where marketing and sales teams can fall out. Marketing end up passing all inbound ‘leads’ over and the sales team come up empty-handed. This is simply because the majority of leads are not ready to talk to sales. In fact,  only 27% of the leads sent over to sales people are properly qualified.

To avoid this problem leads can be categorised into two groups:

Marketing qualified leads (MQL)

A MQL is a relevant lead which is not ready to be sold to. This user may have downloaded an ebook or attended a webinar so you know they’re invested in your industry, but they are not yet in the market to buy.

MQLs make up the vast majority of inbound leads, so it’s no wonder why many marketing teams get labelled as providing ‘rubbish leads’ when they’ve been passing them over to early. Just because you’ve downloaded an ebook, doesn’t mean you’re ready to buy a new software solution…

Sales qualified leads (SQL)

A SQL, on the other hand, is a lead which has the intent to buy. These leads are actively looking to purchase and could have requested pricing or a product demo. These are prime leads for the sales team to convert into customers.

More importantly, these are the leads sales are happy to see in their inbox.

Why not always go for SQL leads?

You’re probably thinking, why don’t I just attract ready-to-buy leads? It would save me loads of time and make me mega popular with the sales team.

In an ideal world this would be the case, but the truth is that 98% of your leads are not ready to purchase on the first visit. So if you’re only focusing on leads who are ready-to-buy, you’re leaving ALOT of money on the table.

The following focuses on a simple process you can use to attract MQL’s and turn them into the SQLs you’ll love.

B2B Lead generation starter kit

Before you can start reeling in the leads, there are a few things you need to get you started.

1. Customer persona: like any good marketing campaign, you need to start by defining who you want to target. If you can’t picture your ideal customer, how can you be expected to attract them? A good persona uses a data-driven approach to discover the biggest pain points of your customer, their gaps in knowledge, and how they consume information. If you haven’t got one already, here’s a great guide to persona creation.

2. Content: once you’ve chosen a persona, next craft a piece of content to solve one of their business challenges, or fill a gap in their knowledge. This content can take many forms:

– ebooks
– webinars
– Podcasts
– Free software
– Whitepapers
– Video series
… the list goes on. 

Creating content your readers love isn’t always easy, especially in B2B. If you’re struggling to come up with a topic your audience will genuinely love – follow this guide on how to write content in boring B2B industries.

Here’s an example of an ebook we created at b2bMetric for our readers:

3. Landing page: once your content is identified and created, you’ll need to build a dedicated landing page for it to sit on. This page outlines the incentive of why the reader should give up their email address in order to receive the free resource. 

As you can see, this ebook isn’t a run of the mill blog post. It covers every aspect a B2B marketer needs to know in order to rank highly in Google Search. The job of the landing page is to illustrate its value to the reader so they hit ‘download’.

4. Form and call to action (CTA): now you’ve got your landing page sorted you need a way to gate your content. Gating simply means users need to enter their email address before downloading the asset. The action of filling out the form is what converts them from a browser to a MQL. 

Driving leads to your landing page.

So you’ve got your lead magnet and landing page sorted. All you need now is traffic. Here are two of the best lead generation tactics used by B2B marketers to drive highly relevant leads to your landing page.

Search Marketing

Generating MQLs using PPC is often overlooked. Instead, B2B marketers use AdWords to target companies immediately ready to buy. This can work, but as mentioned if you only target these leads, you’ll leave a lot of money on the table.

Companies like Wordstream have figured out that while the majority of their competitors are promoting ‘sales focused’ ads using AdWords, they’ve taken a different route and promote ‘research focused’ ads.

For example, if I type ‘landing page best practices’ into Google I see the following results:

The top results are instantly trying to sell me services. But Wordstream has noticed that my search query isn’t a ready-to-buy one. Instead, they’ve offered me an outlet for more information. Once I click on the ad I’m presented with the following landing page:

They’ve now received my personal information and I’m officially a MQL for Wordstream. On the other hand, their competitors have lost the opportunity to turn me into a lead because they were pushing for the instant sale.

Take away: while pursuing SQL using Adwords can be lucrative, you need to ensure you are only promoting ‘sales focused’ ads when consumers are looking for them. If the consumer is looking for information, don’t waste your budget trying the hard sell. Instead, generate an MQL using ‘research focused’ content…. like Wordstream.

Social media

There’s always been a big question mark over the success of social media in B2B lead generation. There have been ‘studies’ which show how ineffective it is, like this one:

And some which suggest it’s very effective, like this one:

The truth lies with how B2B companies use their social accounts. Companies who frequently upload self-promotion posts are going to fall short. On the other hand, companies who direct both organic and paid social traffic towards their free asset pages are going to drive many more leads.

LinkedIn is the B2B goldmine. With over half a million daily active users, LinkedIn is ideal for getting your content in front of a highly relevant audience. Just like paid search, Linkedin may not be the cheapest advertising platform. But we’re not looking for cheap leads. We’re looking for relevant leads and future customers.

The great thing about LinkedIn ads is how granular you are able to target.

You can target by company, industry, job function and even seniority – which is why 79% of B2B Marketers view LinkedIn as an effective source for generating B2B MQL leads.

Take away: LinkedIn ads are a great way of generating MQLs from relevant companies. Just remember not to go straight for sale, instead, direct them towards your value-adding landing page to convert.

You’ve now got a flurry of relevant MQLs coming in and It’s too early to them over to the sales team, so what can you do? 

Lead Nurturing (turning MQLs into SQL’s)

Lead nurturing, simply put, is the building of relationships with MQL’s who are not currently ready to buy. Its goal is to educate the prospect and build trust, so when the time comes to buying they think of you.

The obvious: email nurture streams

The guys over at Demand Gen Report found that nurturing leads through automated email streams increased opportunities by 30%. This is due to the fact that MQL’s need upwards of 5 touchpoints from a company before they convert into a customer.

Automated email streams are simply pre-programmed emails that trigger when a lead has downloaded content from your website. It’s a great way for small companies to achieve these 5 touchpoints, without having a massive sales team.

Take this example of a small lead nurturing sequence, which acts as a mechanism to drive leads automatically down the sales funnel.

Although brief, it illustrates how powerful automatic emails can be in passively guiding customers towards an eventual purchase. It ticks along in the background and slowly encourages the MQL’s to engage with your company, thus converting them into a beloved SQL.

Email streams are a whole topic in itself, so in the interest of staying on point, here are some great resource for creating email B2B nurture streams that convert  MQLs to SQLs:

B2B Email Drip Campaign Ideas and Examples
7 Steal-Worthy Drip Campaign Examples (And Why They Work)
7 Lessons from Top-Performing Drip Email Campaigns

Making it multichannel

In the past, nurture campaigns solely consisted of email marketing. Today marketers are able to go beyond the limits of email and use a mixture of remarketing, social media and dynamic website content achieve better results.

If you’ve received someone’s email address, there is much more you can do with it than simply send them an email. Ad platforms like Facebook and Linkedin allow you to upload email addresses which are matched to user’s profiles. You can then target ads to those specific users.

If you’re unsure of how this works, check out this video on LinkedIn Matched Audiences (38 seconds in).

You’re now able to target information to your MQLs across several channels. And so long as you’re providing them with relevant and insightful content, they’re being navigated towards your product.

Awesome.

Here are a few of the best posts on lead generation strategies:

– What is Lead Nurturing? (& How to Do it Right)
– How to Nurture Your Organic Leads
– B2B Lead Nurturing For Dummies 

Conclusion

Lead generation and nurturing have proven to be a scalable and effective strategies. However, it’s not always a quick process. From the first interaction a customer has with your company, it takes time for them to build the trust needed to become an eventual customer. It happens almost without them knowing it.

Your job as a marketer is to:

  1. Identify what content will lead the customer finding your company for the first time,
  2. Find ways to successfully promote that content,
  3. Work out which content you can provide to nurture them from first time visitor through to a customer.

A lot of work needs to be done in the background before you see any tangible benefits.

So get planting those seeds, and the results should follow!

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B2B Conversion Rate Optimisation: 16 Ways To Drive More Leads (Infographic)

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) refers to improving the likelihood that a user will complete a defined goal on your website.

This can be anything from buying a product, requesting a quote or downloading a white paper, and is vital for successful B2B lead generation.

As crucial as CRO is, it’s easy for marketers to become obsessed with driving traffic and putting little focus on optimising their site. CRO remains just one aspect of the customer decision process, and ensuring you convert the traffic you drive from the research team is integral to any campaign success.

In fact, for every $92 spent acquiring leads only $1 is spent converting them. Once more, only 22% of marketers are happy with the number of conversions they achieve.

This infographic outlines key elements a lead generating B2B website needs in order to improve conversion rates and increase sales.

Conversion_Rate_Optimisation

Tracking analytics

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Tracking customer behaviour allows you to keep the elements that work, and change the ones that don’t. 42% of B2B marketing professionals state that a lack of quality data is their biggest barrier to lead generation. Any good SEO agency should be able to set this up for you.

H1 Header

H1s are one of the most potent UX elements that you have in your arsenal. One glance should give the reader everything they need to know about what your company does. A clear header can also reduce bounce rate and can do wonders for your Google rankings  

A clear call to action (CTA)

Over 90% of readers who read the headline also read the CTA, a clear action is arguably one of the most vital components of your landing page. If your conversion rates are low, it could easily be because of unclear CTAs.

As a rule of thumb, the CTA font should be about 20% larger than the copy, but still smaller than the headline.

Creds bar Third-party validation is important for users to trust websites. A strong client or ‘featured in’ credentials bars can go a long way to helping users hit the ‘quote’ button.  

No stock images

If your images are not conveying the value proposition, you should remove them.   Good images increase readership, but Random stock images slapped on a page do not. if your images are not conveying the value proposition, you should remove them.   Testimonials & case studies

As 90% of buying decisions are influenced by reviews. It’s a no-brainer, if you have great reviews, put them where they can be easily seen.

Awesome content

Don’t just write on company news. Include in-depth information-rich content to offer readers crucial information they need to finish their sales cycle. 55% of B2B buyers read 5 bits of content before they make a purchasing decision.

Body text

Don’t overload sentences with information, especially in your opening paragraph. In fact, studies show users only need 14 words to understand the majority of what you are saying.

Secure your site with SSL

SSL encrypts the link between your landing pages and your visitor’s browser. A study shows that close to half of people will check a sites security certification before giving up personal details.

Footer those icons

Don’t give your users an immediate way out. Keep your readers on-site before they get the chance to swerve to their much loved social media.

Remove Youtube related videos

If you’re using videos on your website, great! Just make sure if you’re embedding from Youtube to remove the ‘related videos’ at the end. You don’t want YOUR visitors watching other companies videos on your website.

Live chat

Over 44 % of people say that live chat with a real person is the most important feature a website can offer in aiding conversions.

Mobile responsive

42 percent of researchers use a mobile device during their B2B purchasing process. If you want users to come back and convert, make sure your site works on mobile.

Covid-Proof Digital Marketing For B2B Companies

Since the 23rd March, the country has been on official lockdown and along with it many B2B marketing budgets.

The coming months will see some pain from businesses losing contracts and sales, which will result in freezing all ‘unnecessary’ spend. And unfortunately, Marketing often falls within this category and becomes one of the first areas to cease.

While the knee-jerk reaction to reduce rather than produce marketing kicks in, it provides a great opportunity for B2B brands who continue to market effectively online.

The State of B2B Marketing Spend

Before we look into actionable digital marketing strategies during this period, we first need to look at the current allocation of B2B marketing budgets:

  • Nearly 50% of B2B companies invest 10% or more of their annual budget in marketing
  • Upward of 40% of B2B marketing budgets are spent on industry/trade shows (Marketing Charts)

These figures contextualise the massive B2B investment in face-to-face events. And with the temporary halt of the offline event industry, there’s going to be a surplus of cash available for companies to allocate to other activity to remain relevant and continue to drive business through the door.

For many B2B companies, this could be their first step from traditional marketing to digital marketing.

Persona Shift – To An Industry Focus

Industry-focused personas are the first step in altering your digital marketing efforts. If you generally target company size, roles, demographics and behavioural traits, now is the time to apply each of these personas to target industries.

The reality is that there are a lot of industries that won’t have the cash flow during these uncertain times to invest in your products or services, so you’ll need to focus on the industries that are geared up to assist people with self-isolation and remote working.

A few examples:

  • VoIP and Connectivity Solutions
  • Cyber Security/Cloud Computing
  • Project/Time Management Tools (and other SaaS Software)
  • Online Courses / Certifications

If you’re unsure of the thriving sectors that may need your company’s support, you can use Google Trends to gauge the consumer interested for each industry. If you see a sudden peak in March 2020, you know the demand for that product or service is out there.

Pivot Your Marketing Strategy

So you’ve identified a list of industries you believe your offering would be perfect for.

What are the best channels to start gaining B2B exposure in a world of social distancing?

Search Ads (Google / Bing)

There’s a lot to love about Google Ads, but the most relevant during this period is that if demand drops, so does ad spend. So even if there is a decrease in the number of people searching for your product or service you only pay for the clicks and exposure you get.

The above companies are still utilising PPC and are only paying when someone is physically looking for the software they sell. Clicks may go down, but the key metric of success is Cost Per Acquisition (CPA). Even if you’re only driving 50% of the traffic you were, if you can keep a strong CPA through this period you will come out the other side as a market leader.

The other advantage for Google Ads users is Cost Per Click (CPC) isn’t determined by Google, but by the market. So if fewer people are advertising then the average amount you’ll be paying per click will be lower than usual – opening the door for a decent ROAS if the account is structured correctly.

The PPC Pivot

There will be many industries where continuing the same PPC strategy as before will not attain the required result. An alternative approach PPC during this period of uncertainty is utilising a ‘2-step’ PPC strategy.

The premise of the ‘2-step’ PPC approach is around lowering the ‘investment’ of your call-to-action, whilst still keeping your keyword targeting ‘high intent’.

For example, there will be IT teams looking to increase their Cyber Security investment during this period of remote working. However, there may also be more window shoppers than ever before, meaning your conversion rate for ‘request a quote’ may go down.

Instead, B2B brands need to evaluate how they can pivot their messaging to develop a relationship through PPC that their traditional strategy may have missed.

You can see a brand bidding on a high intent term ‘Cyber Security UK’, but instead of going for the jugular with the sale, they are providing value. This makes the choice a lot easier for those who are yet to have that ‘first touchpoint’ with a brand.

Not only will it capture leads the other ads won’t, but it also allows them to gain credibility by showcasing industry knowledge.

Furthermore, once the prospect has downloaded the whitepaper, your sales team is still able to get in touch to ignite that conversion around their needs and next steps. First-touchpoint selling and ‘Low-hanging fruit’ leads will be the first to disappear across a number of industries, so brands need to get creative and think ‘how can I start this conversation’.

Display Advertising

Display advertising refers to targeting relevant messages at users with certain demographic or behavioural traits. And whether we’re talking about Google’s Display Network or LinkedIn Ads, during this period there are a few key changes that will make your Display advertising more effective. 

First, we need to address targeting. Earlier we spoke about amending general personas to align with industries geared towards online working. This alteration needs to be carried through into your display campaigns.

This hyper-targeting means you are able to get relevant messages in front of your ideal demographic within targeting industries.

In GDN (under ‘Audience’) you can choose ‘in-market segments‘ to target which allow you to only get your message in front of users who would be interested in your service or product during this period.

Similarly, you can pivot your general ‘Job Title’ LinkedIn ads, towards Job Titles in Specific industries. 

To take things one step further, if you are promoting a whitepaper, ebook or video now is a great time to tailor the front cover for each ad ‘Job Title’ + ‘Industry’.

For example, we would repurpose our ebook to read: ‘The Marketing Managers Guide to SEO for SaaS companies’.

Whether it’s to a brand new audience or a remarketing list, your MQL conversion strategy will improve dramatically. 

When it comes to Display messaging, depending on the industry you operate in there several avenues you can explore and test engagement with different types of content:

  • Actionable business advice – like this article.
  • Upskilling – offering resources or content which help them improve professionally.
  • Humour/well-being /support – which makes their life easier.

With long B2B buying cycles, display advertising is not the channel to sell your product but create a mutually beneficial connection that opens the doors to bigger conversations.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) 

The above pay-per-click strategies act as a great immediate response to the current climate and offer tangible benefits. B2B SEO, on the other hand, is both the enemy and secret weapon during the next 12 months.

It’s the enemy because it’s a long-term strategy, however, this also plays into why it’s a secret weapon.

Being one of the most obvious channels to cut many companies will take their foot off the pedal with SEO activity. In the short-term, while consumer confidence in B2B is low, there may not be a large difference in the tangible leads generated through organic search results. However, the large opportunity lies 3-6 months down the line.

Focusing on improving search visibility while others turn off their activity opens the door for medium-sized companies to outperform market leaders. By the time they turn their SEO machine back on, they’ve lost the 3 months others have used to focus on creating content and building authority – resulting in a 6-month deficit.

From link velocity to identifying long-tail keywords, companies who start or keep up SEO spend will be in a great position to secure a strong Q3&4 when normality resumes. Unlike PPC, ‘turning off’ SEO can have long-lasting implications for your online presence.

Conclusion

There’s an understandable hesitancy towards B2B marketing spend, but if done right B2B brands will be able to maintain relationships, create new contacts, genuinely help people and in some cases see a continuous flow of business.