What is Lead Generation: Strategy and Best Practices

Lead generation is a central focus for any B2B organization that’s interested in driving consistent and reliable revenue. It’s an extremely important topic with vital implications, so we’re giving it the attention it deserves.

Read on to learn about all things B2B lead generation — what it is, why it matters, and how to get it right in the modern digital marketplace.

What is Lead Generation?

Lead generation encompasses all activities relating to the identification and cultivation of potential customers. Companies use a variety of sales and marketing tactics to generate leads (as we’ll cover shortly), but one way or the other, it is essential to have well defined processes in place.

Relative to the B2C version, B2B lead generation tends to be more acutely targeted. If you sell tennis shoes, almost anyone could be a viable lead. If you sell content management software, the market is decidedly more distinct.

High levels of competition and crowded marketplaces have made B2B lead generation a major challenge for today’s companies. Those that consistently generate quality leads gain a clear competitive advantage.

Why are Leads Important?

They fuel your sales pipeline, and thus, your business. Some percentage of leads will convert into paying customers. When that percentage is too small, however, it can be a struggle to find positive ROI with lead gen efforts.

For this reason, lead generation strategies need to balance quantity and quality. More leads theoretically means more customers, but when only a small fraction are converting, the methods probably require some adjustment. It’s more efficient — in terms of time and cost — to develop 10 leads with a high likelihood of conversion, rather than 50 with an extremely low likelihood.

This brings us to the critical subject of lead qualification.

How to Qualify B2B Leads?

The lead qualification process has been a point of contention for companies of all stripes. The primary issue is a lack of agreement on what constitutes a “qualified lead.” Marketing has one definition, while sales has another. We mean that literally: Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) and Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) are two disparate terms used in metrics and attribution.

But should they be?

As sales and marketing alignment becomes an increasingly prevalent business priority, many organizations are moving toward a unified definition that all parties can get behind. This, in turn, helps remedy one of the most divisive aspects of the sales/marketing relationship: “marketing isn’t giving us good enough leads,” or “sales isn’t doing enough with the leads we’re giving them.”

At a high level, a prospect becomes a lead when they take a defined action to enter your sales funnel (downloading a content asset, filling a form on your website, etc.). That lead becomes a “qualified lead” by surpassing another threshold. Here are a few commonly used techniques for establishing a qualified lead threshold:

Lead Scoring

This refers to a system that assigns values or rankings to prospects based on their likelihood of converting into a customer, or their readiness to make a purchase. The specifics of this methodology can vary depending on the company and industry.

Lead scoring can involve the usage of numbers (such as a 1-10 scale) or words (such as hot or cold). Many factors go into this calculation, such as demographic details, online activities, actions taken, and past engagements.

Because of its tiered prioritization, lead scoring can be helpful when it comes to customizing your marketing or sales approach with specific prospects. For instance, a moderately warm lead that’s merely researching solutions would merit a different approach than a hot lead that’s ready to make a purchase.

In the past, lead scoring was a manual process, but these days more companies are incorporating AI and automation to streamline it. Predictive scoring is one modern technique gaining popularity.

How to Generate B2B Leads?

So, we know why B2B lead generation is important. And we have a better idea of how to separate qualified leads from non-qualified ones. But this brings us to the crucial matter at hand: how to get said leads.

Here are some of the most prevalent lead generation tactics marketers use:

  • Social media: Attracting prospects through organic and paid social media marketing activities, often involving the use of lead generation forms or other data collection methods. For B2B organizations, LinkedIn lead generation is popular and effective.
  • Webinars: Creating educational and informative sessions that people can register for by providing contact information. Webinars cross over with the previous item, because you can and should promote webinars on social media.
  • Gated assets: Similar to webinars, except the prospect is exchanging contact information for a downloadable content asset (often an ebook or whitepaper). Also commonly promoted through social media.
  • Videos: Marketers will often include a call-to-action at the end of video marketing content that allows a viewer to take the next step. Videos to tend to get a ton of reach on social media, making them a strong channel for top of funnel lead gen.
  • Email: A mainstay for marketers everywhere, but keep in mind that it’s most effective with a highly targeted and opted-in list.
  • Website forms: Inviting website visitors to fill out a contact form in order to learn more.
  • Search pay-per-click (PPC): Running paid ads on search engines targeting specific keywords that coorelate to purchase intent.
  • Customer referrals: One of the most valuable types of leads a company can hope to receive, because they are almost always qualified, and bolstered by the recommendation of a trusted friend or colleague. Some organizations put referral programs in place to encourage these.
  • Direct mail: It’s old-school, to be sure, but it can still work in certain situations. Many have actually noticed a resurgence in effectiveness for direct mail in the digital age, as it now stands out more (when done well).
  • Lead databases: Drawing leads from pre-existing lists that are often purchased. This is somewhat archaic and not generally recommended, because the data tends to be outdated and records can include leads that have not opted into receiving communications from your business.

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