What is B2B lead generation? 15 proven strategies for growth
Learn how to generate more B2B leads with strategies that actually work in 2022. More leads, more prospects, more revenue.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated November 7, 2022
The sales industry can’t stop talking about lead generation. Unfortunately, that’s not because it’s popular—it’s because it’s impossible to nail down a formula.
Lead generation is the one aspect of business that we may never fully understand. There are hundreds of successful lead nurturing and sales plan templates once a lead is found, but even the most successful companies struggle with gathering leads in the first place.
Though there may never be a single foolproof formula to generate leads for your business, there are certainly proven strategies you can use in the 2022 market. In this piece, we’ll give you 15 B2B lead generation strategies you can start implementing today.
B2B lead generation might not be simple, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it easier. Let’s dive in.
What is B2B lead generation?
B2B lead generation is the process of identifying ideal potential buyers for your product or service and enticing them to purchase. Sales and marketing teams use a variety of lead gen strategies to attract interest from this target audience and guide prospects into the sales funnel. Because future success depends on generating interest from the right sources, B2B lead generation is a critical first step.
Although lead generation has traditionally been considered part of a company’s advertising efforts, it’s not limited to paid advertising channels. Most businesses utilize a cocktail of:
- Social media outreach
- Email marketing
- Content marketing
- Event marketing
- Pay-per-click advertising
- Cold calling
- Website optimization
Types of B2B leads
B2B leads are people, organizations, or businesses that have the potential to become customers for B2B (business-to-business) products or services. Unlike business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, generally these leads are other companies rather than individuals. However, occasionally certain personal contacts and self-led small businesses can also be B2B buyers.
B2B sales leads aren’t necessarily harder to find than B2C leads, but they can be much harder to qualify and convert. While B2C leads will always be individual people, B2B leads can be somewhat of a mystery. Most traditional B2B lead generation tactics only lead to general contact emails, and let’s face it, no one responds to anything sent to an email@example.com address.
Your sales team can only work with B2B leads that have a person at the other end of the line. That’s why generating leads isn’t enough—you need qualified leads from promising sources.
Marketing qualified leads
Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are potential leads identified by the marketing team as likely to purchase a product or service based on key target criteria. They are typically not quite ready to buy just yet but have shown interest in the company. Perhaps they’ve subscribed to your website or downloaded gated content.
MQLs are passive leads (or outbound leads) that should be passed down the lead funnel for a bit of nurturing to see if they’re ready for a sales representative.
Sales qualified leads
A sales qualified lead (or SQL) is an active lead (or inbound lead) that has directly engaged with your company and your sales team in some capacity. They may have requested a demo, called your sales department, or sent an email/message indicating their interest in a particular product or service.
These leads are essential for B2B lead generation and must be followed up with. Any lead that reaches out to you before you reach out to them should be fast-tracked through your sales funnel. Treat your SQLs as a top priority and your sales statistics will soar.
Why is B2B lead generation important?
B2B lead generation matters for both sales and marketing teams, as well as to the business on a fundamental level. Without lead generation, there are no leads to flow through the sales pipeline, no conversions, no customers, and no more business.
In addition to operating as the beating heart of a company, B2B lead gen also provides key information to marketing reps, sales reps, and—the folks deep behind the scenes—sales development reps (SDRs). Focusing on a solid lead generation strategy can help your business:
- Identify ideal customers
- Provide guidance on content creation
- Build brand awareness and visibility
- Cultivate solid marketing practices and strategy
- Discover a broader addressable market
- Provide accurate, up-to-date contact info for leads
- Increase conversion rates
- Optimize your sales cadence
- Improve sales pipeline flow
- Generate higher revenues
B2B lead generation process
The process of generating leads ultimately begins with marketing channels—how your potential audience can find you and vice versa. These channels fall into two categories: inbound and outbound marketing.
Inbound marketing platforms generate leads who approach the company, usually through sources like social media, online advertising, or search engines. Inbound leads typically have a shorter sales cycle and higher conversion rates.
Outbound marketing generates leads through outreach like cold calls, email, or social media prospecting. These leads generally require more nurturing and engagement and have longer sales cycles.
Generating B2B leads is always a puzzle, so we’ve broken down exactly how to generate these tricky sales leads into three steps.
Step 1: Identify your ideal buyer
Finding sales leads boils down to finding contact information for a specific prospect—but who is that prospect you want to get in touch with?
Start by creating a buyer persona. This is an ideal customer for your service or product. What industry are they in? What’s their job title? Where do they go for information and media? And perhaps most importantly, what concerns or pain points do they have that you have a solution for?
To capture the most effective buyer persona, try to delineate the following:
- Company attributes (e.g., size, location, organization structure)
- Job title and decision-making authority
- Pain points
- Barriers to doing business
- Purchase criteria
You’ll often need to create multiple personas, especially if your products or services are geared towards different buyers. Once you have your ideal buyers in mind, you can begin to create customized content for each one.
Step 2: Choose strategy
Now that you have a crystal clear picture of your ideal customer, it’s time to figure out how to find the real-life version. There’s no single one-size-fits-all solution for B2B sales leads. Instead, you’ll choose from a buffet of tools and strategies (we’ve compiled 15 of them below) for catching the interest of that perfect customer.
You may drive interest through SEO and content marketing, paid advertising, cold calls and emails, community building, or social media. Consider utilizing landing page builders to easily publish new website pages, which can capture leads and transport their data directly into your CRM.
A plethora of sales enablement and lead generation software tools are available on the market. These provide tools for finding emails, cold calling, email marketing, and sales engagement. Keep your strategies focused on the persona(s) you’ve created and always be prepared to refine and tweak as you go.
Step 3: Qualifying and prospecting
As you begin interacting with leads, it’s important to gauge how likely they are to buy. This comes from understanding what stage the lead is at in their buying process: awareness, consideration, or decision.
In the awareness stage, a potential buyer recognizes they have an issue that requires a solution. They’re possibly reading blog posts, maybe downloading a white paper, or performing web searches. They may be learning about your brand for the first time.
When a buyer reaches the consideration phase, they have a clearer picture of their problem and the solution to it. They’re starting to evaluate possible products or services, but aren’t quite ready to make a purchasing decision just yet.
In the decision phase, a customer has done most of their research and is close to conversion. They are likely meeting with vendors, booking demos, and checking in with decision-makers in their organization.
Depending on which phase a lead is in, you will focus your efforts differently. Creating targeted content like a social media campaign or blog post is great for buyers in the awareness phase but won’t help prospects about to make a decision. A product demo or free trial will be much more effective for those prospects.
If you feel overwhelmed with the number of leads pouring into your funnel (what a great problem to have), you can focus your efforts by assigning values to each lead. Focus on the ones with the highest value who are the most likely to convert.
B2B lead generation strategies
MQLs and SQLs are fantastic, but they don’t fall out of the sky. Sure, you can generate B2B sales leads through the traditional methods of door-to-door sales or cold calling, but there are strategic ways in 2022 to find the same people more efficiently. Below, we share 15 proven techniques for B2B lead generation alongside prospecting tools that will give your sales team a serious boost.
1. Use ongoing content campaigns that outmatch your competition
Your content marketing campaigns to attract outbound leads are only as good as their practical search value. You might have the No. 1 spot on Google for “super special ooey gooey cheese fries” when typed in that exact order, but if your target audience and your competitors are focused on searches for “best french fry creations,” then you’re not really winning the competition.
Even if your company only sells cheese fries, invest in optimizing your content about general french fry creations. Write white papers as a lead magnet, create videos, and publish blogs—then continue to track clicks, and optimize accordingly. You don’t have to have the most unique content out of your competitors: it just has to be the most clicked-on.
2. Run an A/B test
You don’t have to get marketing and outreach perfect on the first try. Most companies don’t. That’s where A/B tests come in. Experiment with different formats, colors, and messages on your webpage and marketing materials to see what generates the most traction.
B2B contacts might be on the hunt for the best products, but they’re also humans with specific (if sometimes odd) preferences. Even something as simple as a button change can make a massive impact on visitor engagement—and therefore boost your B2B lead generation rates. You just have to track the numbers and see what sticks.
Examples abound: in 2007, an A/B test increased the Obama campaign’s donation rate by 18.6 percent simply by changing their “Sign Up Now” button to read “Learn More.” Follow the data. It’s the small changes that make the difference.
3. Collect buyer reviews
It doesn’t matter how honest your marketing department is, buyers will always trust fellow buyers before they trust you. B2B lead generation still relies on finding influential individuals, and those individuals are reading buyer reviews. 95 percent of consumers say they read reviews before buying anything, and 94 percent of consumers say they’ve avoided businesses due to negative reviews.
Since reviews have such an enormous influence on lead engagement, you need to ensure they’re there in the first place. These days, no reviews can be just as harmful as negative reviews. Make solicitation for feedback, reviews, and testimonials a regular part of your sales process.
These days, no reviews can be just as harmful as negative reviews.
If you’ve had a long-term relationship with a client, they’re usually more than happy to give a testimonial. Take those positive reviews and display them front and center on your marketing materials to lure in new opportunities.
4. Get survey results
Most companies see surveys as a way to judge current customer satisfaction, but they’re also indispensable tools for B2B lead generation. If your customers are reporting that it takes too long to get in contact with a representative, you shouldn’t just be addressing that concern in your customer service department.
Look at other places where you can increase communication so that leads are never stuck waiting. There are so many ways you can improve: install a chat bot, increase email automation, or simply expand your personnel. When you look at your company holistically, you can solve problems for current and future clients at the same time.
5. Embrace case studies
Case studies are on the rise in B2B marketing and B2B lead generation. Previously kept to the dark corners of company websites, case studies now rank third in the top-used content types in B2B sales (behind email newsletters and blog posts, and tied with pre-produced short videos).
Case studies now rank third in the top-used content types in B2B sales.
Case studies are usually only pulled out in the middle and bottom of the funnel to convince buyers to complete their journey, but the fact is that B2B buyers love hard facts. B2B sales don’t just impact one person—they’re made to benefit an entire business. So if you have cold, hard evidence, make sure people are seeing it.
6. Don’t let leads escape your landing page
People are naturally drawn to interactive content. In fact, 81 percent of marketers agree that interactive content is more effective at grabbing people’s attention than static content. So, why are most landing pages still static?
81% of marketers agree that interactive content is more effective at grabbing people’s attention than static content.
When leads click on your landing page, you have to work fast to grab their attention. Catchy headlines, clear CTAs, and large-font statistics help, but pop-up boxes do more.
When you use a contact pop-up box on top of your landing page, you are forcing your prospect to engage with your content. Even if they simply close out the pop-up box, their attention is more specifically drawn to your site than to whatever else is going on around them. And that’s the worst case scenario.
The best case scenario is that you grab an email from a lead by simply creating a box with a subscription entry form.
7. Personalize your web content for your B2B lead personas
B2B sales and marketing can no longer afford to be generalized. While mass emails and marketing automation are useful tactics, personalization is a secret weapon. B2B lead generation tactics are always evolving, and 2022 is the year of ABM (account-based marketing). With ABM, you can tailor your website and marketing materials to more personally appeal to individual leads or segments that you find the most promising.
You can also code your website to key in on a visitor’s location via their IP address, which enables you to create different content for different geographical demographics.
Personalization is always more effort, but since more than 70 percent of B2B marketers are doing it, you can’t really afford not to.
8. Learn the savvy side of social selling
Social media isn’t just for companies targeting B2C consumers. As more and more businesses move into the social selling sphere, B2B lead generation now extends to B2B connections that are available on different platforms.
You’re likely already posting and interacting on LinkedIn (and if you’re not, you should be: 55 percent of decision-makers use LinkedIn to vet other companies). But don’t stop there. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all provide unique and casual B2B lead generation and interaction opportunities for your team. Making your company appealing on social media doesn’t just attract amused scrollers—it also attracts other businesses who see that you know how to market.
9. Try your hand at video content
You don’t need to be an expert editor to create lead-generating videos. Even if all you put together is a video of different marketing graphics with a bit of smooth jazz behind it, you’ll still have video content to put out online. And that’s essential.
After Google, YouTube is the second-largest search engine on the web. Depending on the demographics of the businesses you want to work with, it might actually be the first place they turn to.
Video content on YouTube can impact B2B lead generation in several ways. YouTube is a popular platform for detailed criticism and analysis videos of different products, courtesy of individual users. But you’ll also find in-depth product videos and instruction guides produced by your competition. If your video content isn’t equally high quality, you’re falling behind.
Let’s say a potential prospect is interested in accounting software, but they need to make sure there’s an online tutorial. If they search on Google, they’ll get a mixed set of results, but if they search on YouTube, the companies with filmed tutorials will be prioritized. Videos let you stay at the top of the search no matter what platform your leads are on.
10. Optimize B2B lead generation through SEO
You’re likely already looking at SEO for your long-form written content, but did you know you can optimize any company content? From your website to your press releases, SEO lets your company cut to the front of the line.
If you’re struggling with finding the right SEO angle, take a look at your competitors’ webpages and look at what words they repeat. Additionally, you can reexamine your target personas and try and match your SEO to their specific interests.
For instance, if we look back at accounting software, one of your demographics might be independent small businesses. Crafting content with that specific group in mind may help you identify more targeted SEO questions and keywords to focus on when you implement B2B lead generation strategies.
11. Entice B2B leads to click the subscribe button
Having a subscribe button on your website is a great start, but you need potential leads to actually click it. One of the easiest ways to increase your subscriptions is by adding incentives. A lot of B2C sites use discount offers, but B2B companies looking to up their B2B lead generation game can also try offering anything from a free consultation to an extended demo. These types of lead magnet strategies translate well into the B2B arena.
Remember, your subscription button is for gathering lead emails, so making offers is a means to an end. It’s unlikely that you’ll get overwhelmed with actual requests for the offers, but if you do, that’s a good thing. Interest in the product means a qualified inbound lead. Embrace it.
12. Ensure all of your content is optimized for mobile viewing
An alarming 40 percent of consumers will turn to a competitor site after a poor mobile experience. That should be more than enough to motivate you to optimize your content for mobile viewing, but here are a few more numbers to persuade you:
- 73 percent of mobile search devices trigger additional action and conversation.
- Mobile commerce in 2021 accounted for 23 percent of online sales.
- Only 35 percent of businesses have a mobile-optimized site.
That last statistic is especially important. If customers are paying attention to which companies cared to optimize for mobile, and only 35 percent of businesses are optimized, that means your company has a wide open window to make an impact on traffic and B2B lead generation.
13. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals
If you play your cards right and build successful relationships with your clients, a fair number of qualified leads should fall right into your lap. Just like with reviews, your leads care what other buyers think. A full 92 percent of consumers trust referrals from friends. Not only that, but customers referred by a friend have a 16 percent higher lifetime value than non-referred ones.
A full 92% of consumers trust referrals from friends.
Despite this, only 11 percent of sales professionals ask for referrals. This commonly missed opportunity can greatly affect your lead quality and frequency. When you provide a quality product or service, you likely have a slew of repeat or favorite customers—so don’t be afraid to reach out. Be specific and personal in your request, and provide detailed supplemental material for them to forward to their suitable contacts. If they truly love your services, they’ll be game.
14. Invite guests to help with your marketing materials
Nothing makes your company stand out like expert testimony. If you have big names in your field or in your target audience who are willing to put their name on your marketing content, take advantage of this built-in demand generation potential.
Expert guests add credibility to your products and your brand. They also make you far more searchable. Anyone in your target audience who searches for that expert will also find you under that expert’s recommendations. It’s the B2B equivalent of social media influencing.
15. Organize times for dedicated lead gathering
One of the biggest traps with B2B lead generation is that companies think they have to do it year round. Your company should always be advertising, but not every day needs to be dedicated to B2B lead gathering. Some days are better than others for your sales team to reach out to prospects.
If prospects are the most open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, leave those days dedicated to active sales. You have three other days of the week to look at B2B lead generating strategies when your sales team doesn’t have other commitments it needs to focus on.
If you’re not sure when your best sales days are, you can always use a sales tracker platform to zero in on low productivity times.
How to do B2B lead generation better than your competitors
The best way to grab the leads before your competition does is with a fast B2B lead gen platform and an exceptional CRM strategy. Zendesk offers a unique package of different sales software abilities with the award-winning Zendesk Sell.
Zendesk Sell includes our state-of-the-art CRM software along with a large collection of features including:
- Sales funnel software
- Power dialer for sales
- Sales engagement platform
- SFA (sales force automation)
- Mobile sales app
Generating leads is only half the battle. Once found, you still need to have smart segmentation strategies and align your sales and marketing tactics to turn prospects into customers. Zendesk is the powerful all-in-one tool that allows you to do all of that, while giving you all the benefits of pipeline software: speed, efficiency, and a clear trajectory.
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