Business to business lead generation (or B2B lead gen as we say in marketing jargon) is a particularly fickle beast.
You’re rarely selling to just one person but a whole team. And with that comes conflicting interests, priorities, timelines, and needs. Besides, B2B can have a notoriously lengthy sales cycle. Selling expensive software takes a lot longer and a lot more brand trust than selling a t-shirt. For example, the average small to medium business sale hovers around 60 days. It only took me 4 days of reading reviews online to purchase my new electric scooter (don’t judge me, you know those new Bird scooters are fun).
The good news? B2B lead generation can still be done well and over our many years of helping B2B organizations grow, we’ve learned of quite a few effective tactics we’d like to pass on to you.
But first things first, let’s define some terms and make sure we’re all on the same page.
What is lead generation?
Lead generation is any activity that draws qualified or relevant prospects to your business. Like the traditional sales process, you need to establish a trusted relationship with your prospects so delivering relatable, timely content is highly effective for lead generation.
What differentiates this from regular old marketing and traditional advertising? Lead generation is any marketing, or other activities, that convince someone to give you their information (or 1st person data if you want to be really fancy with your terminology).
What lead generation tactics are not
Lead generation tactics are not a strategy. Our friends at Merriam-Webster define strategy as,
“the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal.”
In other words, tactics are what come out of a strategy. A strategy is how you determine what tactics will meet your goals and what the definition and metrics of success are for those tactics. Put even more plainly, don’t start using these tactics willy nilly with no strategic aim. Ask your doctor marketing strategist if these tactics are right for you.
Our top 5 favourite B2B lead generation tactics
Inbound marketing is one of our favourite B2B lead generation tactics for its effectiveness, multi-purpose benefits, and lead qualification abilities, but let’s break that down a little.
What is inbound marketing?
HubSpot defines inbound marketing as, “a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them.”
Inbound marketing is a broad term that encompasses a lot of tactics, but for lead generation purposes, it’s primarily a mixture of content marketing (blogs, videos, social posts, emails, etc.) and lead nurturing (workflow automations, emails, premium content offers, etc.).
Inbound marketing for B2B lead generation
Inbound marketing is a match made in heaven for B2B organizations. It serves as a way to educate prospects on technical topics, build brand trust, speak directly to the different decision-makers in a business, and boost organic traffic.
Let’s use an example to dig deeper into that. Let’s say you work for a paper manufacturer, and you’re looking to sell to an enterprise business. Within that business, you’ll need to win over the purchasing manager (they care about the finances), the ESG specialist (they care about sustainability), and the operations director (they care about how it all works together and meets their needs). Knowing this, you create a content strategy to speak to each of these buyers and produce content on the low environmental impact of your particular type of paper, the benefits of writing on paper for memory retention, and a cost comparison between paper types. Over time, your organic traffic boosts in the keywords they’re searching for, and they’re starting to fill out forms with their information for your premium content offers (webinars, white pages, etc.). Tada! More qualified leads, more brand trust, and you didn’t even have to spend expensive ad dollars to do it.
So, what are the pros and cons of this tactic?
Pros of inbound marketing for lead generation
- Cost-effective (no ad campaigns needed)
- Builds organic traffic over time
- Fosters brand trust
- Attracts more relevant leads
Cons of inbound marketing for lead generation
- It’s labour intensive. Producing a good strategy and then executing all the tactics takes time and effort.
- It’s not fast — even the best inbound strategies take months or even a year to pay off. Without some paid boosts, it can take even longer to get off the ground.
Paid digital ads
I often think of paid ads as the jet pack of the marketing world. They take whatever message or offer you’re trying to get to your audience and deliver it at warp speed. That’s why they’re so useful for B2B lead gen in particular — you can bring your offer to them instead of waiting for them to find you.
This tactic is intentionally non-descript because the platform you use depends on your audience and product. No matter what platform you work with through, there are three key ingredients for a successful paid digital B2B lead generation campaign:
- A conversion-worthy offer. Something so interesting/helpful/relevant to the reader that they’re willing to exchange their precious personal information in exchange for that thing. This could be a white paper, guide, webinar, software demo, or any other highly targeted premium content offer.
- A killer, conversion-optimized landing page. A conversion worthy offer is step one in this equation, but you still need to sell that thing. Highlight for your audience why they need it.
- Platform(s) that you know your audience is on (like LinkedIn) or that allow you to get highly targeted in your search, thereby weeding out irrelevant buyers (think Facebook or Google AdWords).
What paid digital ads platforms are there?
This list is by no means comprehensive but the ones that we work with most for B2B lead generation campaigns.
LinkedIn is considered the “professional social network” and is one of the first places that B2B marketers turn to when building their social strategy. On this platform for paid digital options, you have dynamic ads, text ads, direct message ads, and the ability to sponsor regular content.
- The LinkedIn audience is there to do business or learn about their industry so they’re often receptive to educational messaging
- Targeting options are far more limited than Facebook or Instagram
- LinkedIn conversions are considered expensive in comparison to their other social counterparts
Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the world - making it great for mining data about people, their behaviour, and their interests. On this platform, you have the ability to create paid ads, boost organic posts, and retarget people based on a wide array of audience targeting options.
- "Everyone" is on Facebook, you have a very wide reach available
- Wide array of targeting options from demographics to interests to specific pages people follow and more
- People are on Facebook to keep up with their relationships - B2C is a better performer here than B2B products or services
- The platform is pay-to-play, for anything to perform you need to back it with some money
- Organic reach has been steadily decreasing
Also highly popular, and with similar attributes to Facebook, Instagram is a photo and video sharing app more popular with a younger demographic. Instagram is owned by Meta, and their ad platforms are tied closely together.
- By its nature as an image-sharing platform, Instagram's algorithm is tightly tuned to user behaviour and what they're looking at, giving you incredible control over targeting via user interests
- Instagram is very good for B2C and "quick" or short-funnel purchases (less likely to apply to B2B businesses so this is both a pro and a con)
- Influencers, with their thousands (or more) of followers, can be very effective here
- Instagram is designed to keep users flipping through photos and short videos - as a business, you have an estimated less than 3 seconds to make an impact with your messaging
The internet's widest network of advertising, Google Ads feeds search ads across Google.com and display ads across millions of websites using Google's ad network. Google also owns YouTube and serves video ads through that platform.
- Search ads are a great option for B2C and B2B brands as they're targeted based on keywords people use to solve a problem they have
- Wide reach across a huge variety of websites for display advertising and retargeting
- Video ads are a highly engaging avenue, with YouTube supporting un-skippable ads
- Costs rise every year as more companies compete for exposure on the network
- Display ads are becoming decreasingly effective as users are trained to look past ad placements on websites or utilize ad blockers
- Because the ad network depends on data from websites outside of Google's control, targeting may not be as tight as one would expect
I’m going to be honest here and say that while B2B lead generation is very much bolstered by paid ads and you can definitely create those ads yourself, you’re better off working with a professional. Advertising is often an expensive medium, so consider finding an expert within your organization or hiring an advertising partner to ensure that money is being put to good use.
Customer and employee advocacy
Referrals are far and away the best leads. They’re already warm, there’s already brand trust, and you didn’t have to pump money into marketing or advertising to generate them. Plus, they have some of the highest conversion rates. Referrals don’t have to be direct either, getting customers and employees to engage with your brand online can have similar impacts. Positive reviews, social shout-outs, and testimonials are invaluable.
Before we talk about referral and engagement programs, however, it’s important to clarify one vital point: it’s hard to generate referrals and advocacy without a fantastic brand experience. Happy customers and employees willingly share their experiences. Asking unhappy customers and employees to promote you isn’t going to work — just think about the last time someone you don’t like asked you for a favour.
2 ways to get customer referrals and reviews
- Conduct regular NPS surveys
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey has long been a reliable measurement of customer satisfaction. Essentially, you survey your customers to rank how likely they would be to recommend your services or product to a friend or colleague from 1 to 10, and their score determines their NPS ranking.
Anyone ranking 0-6 is considered a detractor and should be reached out to with the intention of addressing their issues. 7-8 is considered passive and should have a prompt asking what your organization could improve upon to become a 10. 9-10’s are considered promoters and are the ones to ask for referrals.
Once you’ve identified your promoters, reach out to thank them for their business and make your request. This could be for a case study, a testimonial for your website, a Google/Facebook/etc. review, or even a social media shout-out. Whatever your ask, make it as easy for them to complete as possible. Link them directly to your Google review page or book a time to call them to transcribe their testimonial so they don’t have to write it. Whatever the thing you want is, make it easy. They might like you, but everyone falls victim to a busy calendar.
- Create a customer referral program
There’s a reason softwares offer discounts, credit, or kickbacks each time you refer someone to them— customers are the most effective salespeople. Sure, this depends on the type of business, but it’s broader than you might think. Determining the best way to run a customer referral program really depends on the customization and cost variability of your product or service.
For example, a clearly priced and tiered software understands what they can safely spend at each tier to get new customers. A consultancy or marketing agency often cannot as the pricing is custom to each scope of work, so this applies less to them.
If your product or service has a clear cost and a shareable component, consider setting up a referral program.
Lead generation is the sum of all parts
Famous advertiser, David Ogilvy, once said,
“Great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.”
I would propose the same is also true of a bad brand. No amount of lead generation will work well in today’s highly competitive market if the brand platform doesn’t speak directly to your audience. Which brings me to my last piece of advice: consider going through your foundations before pumping resources into lead gen. Your audience’s impression of your brand is a sum of all parts (website, brand identity, tone of voice, social pages, etc.).
Want to learn more about how to improve your sales and marketing alignment?
Join us on Thursday, June 9 at 11 am (MDT) for a free webinar discussing how to make the most of the relationship between sales and marketing in your organization. Click the link below to learn more about the event and save your seat.