What is B2B Lead Generation? Definition, Process and Strategies for 2020

What is B2B Lead Generation?

B2B lead generation is defined as a marketing process of contacting, convincing and converting other businesses into potential customers in the form of sales leads. Customers of B2B businesses are also businesses, who in turn may be in business with direct consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B). 

B2C lead generation seeks out for consumers as potential customers, whereas B2B lead generation seeks out businesses as potential customers. 

For example, a customer relationship management (CRM) software company is a complete B2B company, since only businesses can have customers to manage. If such a company seeks to generate more leads for their software product, they will need to seek out other businesses. Similarly, an HR services company is a B2B company for human resource recruiting and/or management. 

Key channels for B2B lead generation:

B2B lead generation can be done either online, offline or both. More and more share of the marketing budget is being allocated to digital activities and many startups and SaaS companies rely only on digital. 

This is because, among B2B audiences, digital penetration is high given their relatively higher net incomes and are also more active online. In a 2019 report by Google, 67% of buyers in the B2B sector of industrial manufacturing, supply-chain and shipping were influenced by digital discovery. 

Therefore, let us first look at the key online B2B lead generation channel:

Search engine optimization (SEO) and advertising of web content
For any healthy website, organic traffic that originates from search engines should be at least 50% of the overall traffic from all sources. This is because organic traffic is predictable and repetitive for evergreen topics if you are ranking for them and will be a source of continuous traffic. This is unlike traffic from other sources that will need some repeat action from the marketing team to generate traffic. 

Above all, organic search users have a clear intent (based on their keyword search) which makes their intent predictable. For example, if you sell a software called X, and let’s say one of your articles rank for ‘X Software’ keyword on Google. One can easily tell that if people are searching for the type of product you are selling and then they arrive on your website to read more about it, then it displays a clear case of purchase potential based on search intent of the user.  

This makes organic traffic a key source for lead generation and since you already have this traffic, all you need to do is add a call-to-action (CTA) button that is contextual to the content on the page and the product being sold. This CTA can be a small promotional text with a button that leads to a form. 

Below is an example of a CTA on a blog. 

But what if you have a website that is not doing so well on organic traffic and you still need to promote your business and generate leads? For such purposes, all search engines including Google have dedicated ad slots on top of each search query result. You can create ads and bid for slots based on budget and quality of advertisement. 

Search ads provide the same quality of traffic that is based on user queries, however, in this case you need to spend money for each click based on the pay-per-click model in use across search engine ad networks.

Social media and social ads
Social media marketing may not get you heavy traffic like organic does, but if done correctly, it can get your high-intent traffic. This means making strategic use of hashtags, interest groups, creative design and above all- good content. Brands typically share their existing content on social media to drive traffic and convert them into leads, but if you have a rather large following, your content team can create social-media specific blogs to nurture that audience.

Furthermore, professional platforms such as LinkedIn are an excellent way to search for the right prospects using advanced filters and connecting with them one-on-one for lead generation. 

Email marketing and paid email banners
Email marketing would require either an existing database of potential customers or would need you to purchase one. One of the long term methods of creating your own list is by regularly posting informative articles on your blog that will be helpful to your target audience, with a subscription option.

Once your email database is ready, you can shoot your landing page as part of a curated list of blogs/informative content or a dedicated email just for the purpose of promotion. If you are sending HTMLized emails with graphics, please ensure to test if its ending up in the user’s spam box, since heavy emails get classified as spam by many email service providers, including Gmail and Yahoo. 

Additionally, if you have a sponsorship budget, you can identify publications in your domain and sponsor their newsletters. This is typically done in the form of banner advertisements placed around the newsletter or within the copy itself. 

 Web display advertising
Display advertising is typically done through a demand-side platform like Google Adwords. Each such platform is a portal to a host of partnered websites where your advertisements will be displayed based on relevance to your ad offering.

Alternatively, you can also directly connect with a site owner and strike a deal. Many independent B2B publications choose to run their own ad network, rather than tie up with 3rd party networks. 

Paid display advertising requires you to substantially test not just your landing pages - but your ad design and copy as well. You can choose your ads to be static images, GIFs or videos. The site you are partnering with can also give you insights on what type of content works best on their site for highest impressions and clicks.

Display advertising deals can be based on only impressions (ad views), only clicks or both. 

Hosting events and event sponsorships
Hosting corporate events on informative subjects (that are closely related to your company’s service or product offering) allows your company to project itself as a industry thought leader where you can help educate attendees, strike panel conversations, engage the audience by taking questions etc. So how do you generate leads from it?

There are 2 ways B2B events help garner leads:

Event registrants: These are potential leads because a user has shown interest in the subject, however, they may not all be qualified for sales. At this stage, they are low or medium quality leads.

Event attendees: People who register and then actually show up for the event, shows a much higher interest in the subject. Typically, in a free web-based event like a webinar, attendees can be as low as 25% of total registrants, but this 25% who showed up despite not having spent any money on purchasing tickets, are strong signs of lead qualification. 

If your company does not have the time to host events, you can also look at sponsorship opportunities at webinars/ seminars. Webinar sponsorships are much cheaper given the low cost of production, while in-person events cost much higher, however, these events also have higher attendance (because they buy the tickets) and greater scope for networking and lead generation. 

Video and podcast marketing and sponsorship
Since COVID lockdown, everyone is on the internet and videos are quickly gaining ground as the most preferred mode of content consumption. An Economic Times report in India (World’s 2nd largest digital consumption market) found that in 2020, Youtube channel subscriptions grew by 20% in just 45 days of the lockdown.

While creating your Brand’s YouTube/ video channel subscriptions is a long term strategy and will need time even with paid ads to promote them, sponsoring other popular channels in your industry is a quick source of leads. You can either run ads on YouTube that play before the video begins, or you can strike a deal with the channel where the ads/ promos are placed within the main video itself (hence more effective), or both. 

Web assets and sponsorship
Web assets include ebooks, research reports, buyer guides etc, basically long format content that the reader can access once they have filled out a form. These users, based on their interest level given that they took the time to download an asset and share their information, is a strong indication of subject interest and intent.

If a user download an ebook on a subject, that is a lower level of intent since the user is still studying the subject and may not be ready to make a purchase. However, if the same user or another user downloads a buyer’s guide by a publication which  

While product/ service companies in the B2B sphere often create their own ebook and informative material, you can also sponsor your industry’s publications and place ads in their assets. The company lead gen ad is also typically present in the landing page of the asset where the form is to be filled. 

B2B Lead Generation Process: Key Components

B2B lead generation process consists of several moving parts. Below are the key process components to keep in mind while planning your lead generation strategy:

Budgeting

Once you are clear on the channels for lead generation that you want to pursue, you need to draw an approximation of the amount to be invested in tools, human resources and advertising. 

Please note that this budget will also be the benchmark to calculate return-on-investment (ROI). Therefore, it is important to be effective and efficient while submitting your budget proposition. 

Landing/ signup page for online lead generation
Once your budget is approved and you are ready to move forward with your time bound lead generation plan, it is important to work backwards in execution. For instance, without your landing pages and conversion forms in place, traffic to your website will not be convertible into leads. Hence, begin with assets needed for conversion with the proper backend functionality checks, and then move into promotion and traffic generation stages. 

Promotion creatives (offline/online)
If you have an ad spend budget, or want to use a downloadable resource as a lead generation medium (like an ebook or research paper) the next stage will be to ensure that your promotion creative are ready. Without these, you won’t be able to utilize your ad budget in time to deliver the targets. This also includes variations that need to be tested and concluded, with ensuring that additional bandwidth is available for post-deployment amendments of advertising creatives if needed.

Customer experience (CX) and service
According to a recent Pew Research study, nearly 70% of customers in the US say that customer experience and service is a key factor in their decision making, with 52% even stating that most companies require improvement in these two spheres.

Couple this with the fact that over 90% of B2B brand discoveries happen online, you need to extend your customer experience, and perhaps even adopt a digital-first approach if your industry and lead generation targets align with it. 

A CX plan typically needs to be an organization wide plan, to be created in coherence with the senior leadership team. A well planned customer experience (CX) will impact web design and content, social media creatives, ad creatives, email template design and content etc, to ensure that you are able to deliver a cohesive visual and content consumption experience that is contextual to the stage of the conversion funnel.

Brand recall
If your organization has already invested in branding effort, it is efficient use to branding to ensure that your company’s brand recall material - logos, color themes, tag lines etc are prominent parts of every marketing package. Even if you have not spent in heavy branding, every effort in marketing that leads to a positive (or negative, for that matter) contributes to future brand recall, that will aid your upcoming campaigns. Plus, it takes very little effort to replicate a few key branding elements if you have them ready in usable dimensions, such as for email templates, website, social media, sponsorships, various advertisement creative sizes etc.

Top 7 B2B Lead Generation Strategies for 2020

Mobile first
Whether you are testing your landing page, email, social media or advertisement, as long as it's an online campaign, everything needs to be tested with a mobile-first approach. This is because mobile dominance, even in the B2B space, has already surpassed desktop use.

Even for organic search listings, according to Google, the first search result (including ads) gets nearly 27% of the clicks on mobile, Vs 19% on desktop. Now add that with Google’s 2016 report when mobile first overtook desktop and you can see why a mobile-first approach is critical to successful delivery of content invariant to the device. A page that displays well on mobile, will do so on desktop too, but the reverse may not be true. 

Long form content for SEO
With the emergence of micro-content sites like Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, marketers had made a grave mistake of thinking this short form, snappy content will work everywhere. The truth is, details matter, especially if you want to build trust among readers.

According to a SEL report, the average content length of pages ranking in the top 3 positions of Google is between 2000-2500 words. As the length decreases, so does ranking on search engines. 

Long format content also allows you to group multiple correlated keywords into one article and that one article will garner more side (long-tail) keywords, that what they would have garnered individually. In other words, the sum is larger than its parts, and that is a key reason why a single long form content of 2000-3000 words is much better than 2 or 3 smaller versions of just 400-700 words that have limited capacity to attract long tail keywords and rank for them.

User testing for landing pages
The marketing team is good at drawing estimations on what works and what doesn’t, but when it comes to concrete estimations on critical user conversion assets like landing pages, a user test is very beneficial. A well deployed user test will be a conclusive evidence on estimations Vs real life page experience by various users.

Retargeting
One of the best ways to utilize existing visitors to your landing page or website pages - is to target them via retargeting display advertisements. Unlike typical ads that focus on new user acquisition, retargeting ads focus on converting users who have already visited a particular site. Retargeting is possible for your own site, and also for sponsored 3rd party content.

For example, if you have a deal with a 3rd website to host an article or asset, your retargeting tool will ask you to pass on a code to the webmaster of the 3rd site. Once this code is added to your page, you will be able to retarget users who read that particular article or visit the asset page even on this 3rd party website.

Audience segmentation for lead nurture drip campaigns
Audience segmentation requires you to segregate your existing target list of B2B contacts based on the stage of conversion funnel for leads. Particularly when it comes to contacts for whom you have an email address, but cannot be called as sales ready leads. These may be a cold stage lead like a blog subscriber, to a warm-stage lead like a free license account user (since they are already using your product).

Every such user for whom you have an email address (the most basic contact), needs to be part of a particular segment based on their readiness to be passed as qualified leads for sales. You would not send the same pitch to a free account user, that you would to someone who just downloaded an ebook and shared the email. 

Audience segmentation ensures that you have the right content for the right audience to move them along the conversion funnel. 

Promote recorded events
If you are investing in webinars/ seminars, you should ensure to record the key discussions and speeches to ensure that you can utilize them for branding and promotions later. For instance, a webinar can be used as an asset to get users to share their email addresses, where the asset/ asset link will be mailed to them.

You can also use bits and snippets of the webinar to promote recording on social media or email, like a ‘watch the full video here’ hyperlink. You can even play the full recording in snippets to your social media audience as a bonus that strengthens social media following and conversions. 

LinkedIn advanced filtration and lead generation
One on one contacts are a worthy investment when the fish is big, meaning that high profile clients can be targeted through well crafted personalized LinkedIn messages. To make the first contact, you will require to make your way through LinkedIn's advanced search, and to connect with users directly. Once connected, it is important to understand the user's professional experience and to personalize your pitch to the extent possible while remaining very professional and courteous.

This process is much simpler if the person being contacted is already familiar with your brand with a positive experience, but may not have made a purchase.