What is B2B lead generation?
B2B lead generation is the process of attracting potential buyers from your target market to volunteer their contact information so you can start guiding them along their buying journey.
In 2021 it is now rare for technology leaders to think their innovations will simply sell themselves. No matter how brilliant your product, there is an understanding that you need to tell your chosen market about it.
The question then is how to best achieve this? How can you efficiently grow sales for your company?
This is a practical guide to the first part of the process: generating leads. We’ve attempted to answer most of the questions we’ve been asked, but would welcome yours if it’s not addressed below.
Wikipedia’s definition is ‘’ . . . the initiation of consumer interest or enquiry into products or services of a business.’’ Necessarily broad, this definition does capture that the definition of a lead can be very broad, but at its core, it is simply someone who has voluntarily indicated some interest in your product.
Leads are not one class of interested people, but a cover-all term for people as they go through a buying process. For B2B technology companies these buying cycles can be long and complex so it makes sense to break down the definition of lead into several stages:
The raw leads, MQLs and SQLs form your ‘sales funnel’. Sometimes firms make the mistake of only focussing on SQLs and ignoring the previous stages as not worthy of their effort. To be efficient about your selling however you need to be filling the top of this funnel with your lead generation activities so your sales team have plenty of MQLs to work through when SQLs start to dry up.
The other mistake tech firms make is expecting sales to do all of the work to generate raw leads and MQLs. We call it a ‘lone-wolf’ approach, where talented sales people are left to do it all, from finding new prospects right through to signing the deal. Many of them can achieve this, but it’s fundamentally inefficient.
What tech firms need is to focus on repeatable lead-generation programmes that develop raw leads and MQLs and nurture them to SQLs.
Like any good structure, a lead generation programme must be built on a solid foundation. Clarity around the following three questions is important before you start investing:
With this foundation in place you are ready to build a lead generation plan. This involves building a sustained ‘system’ of generating and nurturing buyer interest, which looks something like this:
Sales are what drives any tech business, and so your sales team is rightfully is seen as absolutely key. Marketing’s primary job is focus on producing leads for the sales team to work with, so sales people can spend more time on closing qualified opportunities than trying to prospect and cold call.
Too often teams end up talking past each other, with sales not seeing marketing as delivering the right quality of volume of leads, and marketing thinking that the sales team aren’t chasing the opportunities they’ve created efficiently enough.
Ideally, marketing and sales should formally agree their respective roles, even to the extent of agreeing a service level agreement. Marketing agrees what it commits to in terms of the volume and quality of leads on a monthly basis for instance. Sales, in turn, promise to respond to those leads in a certain time frame with the right level of effort.
Along with this alignment between marketing and sales, applying technology is what can really accelerate your lead generation. That starts with a CRM.
At the heart of your marketing and sales tech is a customer relationship management (CRM) system. It is the repository of all your ‘leads’, from the rawest through to your most loyal customers. It is essential for efficiently driving your B2B lead generation programme.
According to our Market Measures survey, only 16% of New Zealand tech companies don’t use a CRM. Of those that do, HubSpot (25%) is the most common choice, followed by Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
Primarily a CRM helps your track a prospect (i.e. a company and the associated contacts) through the buying process, from SQL through to closed deal. A good CRM also stores all the information about your leads, tracking your interactions with them (e.g. emails sent, meetings booked, calls made) and theirs with you (e.g. website visits, email opens, form completions). It also has a suite of tools to make a sales person’s life easier, whether it’s automated emails, calendar sharing or automated workflows to guide the selling process.
Marketing and sales teams who use technology like CRM effectively, drive growth at five times the rate of those that don’t.
Once your basic marketing technology systems are in place, you can start to extend your use of them. Marketing automation tools provide features like lead scoring for example, where you can manage a high volume of leads by automatically categorising how valuable they are.
New marketing technology and trends are always emerging, from conversational marketing to the much-hyped concept of artificial intelligence. Many have useful applications but should be considered once you have a strong foundation in place, and are generating a regular volume of leads with a nicely aligned sales and marketing team.
Concentrate is a HubSpot Diamond Partner, so our answer is going to be yes of course, but it’s also the choice of most Kiwi tech firms. According to Market Measures, 53% of Kiwi tech companies are using a marketing automation tool, with HubSpot being the platform of choice by 30% of them.
As we mentioned above, there are thousands of marketing technology tools. At Concentrate we originally used a ‘stack’ of tools, from Wordpress for websites to Mailchimp for email to Buffer for social media to Google Analytics for metrics. Eventually this become a cumbersome way to operate so chose HubSpot, as a platform that could offer all of the component parts.
A platform approach enabled us to become more efficient at managing marketing activity, while getting more visibility to what was happening with our lead generation efforts.
Learn about more marketing technology stacks here.
The modern buyer has all the power. They can research all of the solutions to a problem they have, evaluate them and compare pricing before even talking to you. If you are not engaging them digitally, you are increasingly invisible, especially as a tech company.
The way to engage them is with content. That is, useful information that helps at different stages of their journey, from doing initial research right through to buying. By being genuinely helpful you can earn trust and generate qualified leads for your sales team.
By providing audience members with useful content to help them explore and clarify their business problems, show them how to effectively solve their pain points and challenges, and then get them interested in something you sell, you can increase conversions, improve brand awareness, boost revenue, and more. For tech companies especially, content marketing provides the opportunity to explain often complex solutions, and their benefits, to an audience in multiple ways.
Here are some starter ideas on content you can produce to drive your lead generation programme.
Buyers of technology solutions expect useful information to help them all the way along their buying journey, not just product data. Kiwi tech firms have embraced content marketing, with the majority doing some form of it.
The key questions to think about when producing content are:
A B2B tech website should be on average converting between 1-3% of its traffic to (raw) leads, with the best lead generators achieving a 4-5% conversion rate.
Clean, functional design focussed on user experience: a website must be of good quality, and consistent with your brand, but the most important aspect is how functional it is for the user.
Winning design awards for your website is irrelevant if you are not delivering qualified leads to sales.
User friendly CMS that marketing can drive: too often marketing doesn’t have enough control over their website.
Effective lead generating websites are live, dynamic platforms, constantly being updated with relevant information for buyers. If updating content is slow and difficult your effectiveness is highly restricted.
Regular blogging and content production schedule: according to HubSpot data, B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost three times more traffic than those blogging 0-1 times per month.
Review your metrics monthly: you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
Any marketers must track some base information about your website – volume of traffic where it is coming from and how much is converting are three high level ones to start with. Bounce rates, time on page etc aren’t irrelevant but focus on the most important data points first. Here’s six you can track.
Is social media the most over-hyped tactic in the generally over-hyped history of marketing? Is all this tweeting, facebooking and linkedining as pointless as it sometimes seems?
Mostly yes, because too many firms look at social media in completely the wrong way. Social media works best when it is used to pull people in to listen to your company’s story, rather than treated as yet another channel to push your message on potential customers. Carefully used, social media channels should drive traffic to all the valuable content on your website, turning that interest into leads.
The other aspect to consider is that organic (i.e. non-paid) social media accounts for only about 5% of the average B2B website traffic. So while important, it’s not the core of your lead generation strategy.
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest and the myriad of smaller niche social media channels are all potentially good channels for your lead generation. Different platforms work differently for different industries and personas. We’ve found Twitter great for communicating with Salesforce developers, LinkedIn brilliant for CXOs in a US-industry, and Pinterest useful for HR software promotion. The key is trying them and measuring the result.
Don’t forget, channels like LinkedIn can also be excellent tools in the sales process, once leads are generated.
Paid social media (e.g. boosting posts on Facebook, sponsored posts on LinkedIn) offers some exciting opportunities for hyper-targeted advertising spend.
Paid search and other online advertising channels are powerful lead generators, especially when you are trying to quickly build website traffic, or introduce a new product to a market.
Google offers a broad range of advertising options but need to be carefully targeted and closely managed to get good lead generation results. Niche online advertising, for example in an industry specific online magazine, can also be a cost-effective way of reaching new prospects and driving them back to content offers on your website.
Offline lead generation tactics continue to play a key role in tech company lead generation. Trade shows alone represent on average 27% of tech company marketing spend. Other tactics such as direct ‘snail’ mail and telemarketing also offer value.
Key to leveraging offline tactics is ensuring they are aligned with your digital system. That is, any trade show activity should be about generating leads that go into your CRM for digital nurturing.
Here’s six ideas for running a great trade show.
Driving lead generation internally can be an effective approach, but sometimes you are limited by size. Typically you will need skills across inbound marketing strategy, SEO and SEM, email marketing, content production, graphic design, social media, conversion rate optimization, event marketing, data and analytics.
You can either hire someone with specific skills, and then complement them with contracted resource, or consider options like a full-service agency that can deliver all the marketing ‘flavours’ you need.
For example, one year you may be refreshing your website design and structure so require SEO and design-savvy marketing roles, whereas the following year you may be looking to ramp up your content strategy with an eBook campaign so need excellent writers, and inbound marketing expertise.
Outsourcing your marketing to an agency is an alternative to hiring an in-house marketing role or roles. For the price of a mid-level employee, you get access to a ‘pick and mix’ of the marketing roles mentioned above, when you need them, as you need them.
The beauty of the mostly digital act of lead generation is that it is very visible and measurable, but some tech companies don’t put in place the basic measures of success, or measure the wrong or inconsequential data points. These four basics are key to have in place as a start.
Once you have good measurement in place, you can start connecting lead generation activity to closed sales, and therefore assessing whether specific investments are paying off. You need an integrated marketing automation and CRM platform to do this without huge effort and complexity.
Kiwi tech firms need to be more focussed on measuring their lead gen, given only 15% of Kiwi tech companies put ‘proving the ROI of marketing activities’ as a top priority, compared to 42% in the US.
Here’s 15 quick ideas for improving your B2B tech lead generation, in completely random order: