What is Lead Generation: Strategy and Best Practices

September 12, 2018

lead generation b2b u

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.

Matching Against Buyer Personas

While somewhat similar to lead scoring, this approach is more cut-and-dried. You have a profile of what your ideal customer looks like — in terms of industry, company size, job function, etc. — and then you use the ideal customer profile as a baseline for assessing new prospects. If there are enough similarities, then you qualify the prospect as a lead.

Letting User Actions Dictate

Another way to go about lead qualification is simply basing your evaluation on the actions taken by the prospect in question. Some companies will consider any form-fill that yields contact information to be a qualified lead. Others might base it on the particular asset an individual wanted to view, or by what the individual selected on a drop-down menu during a form submission.  

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.

B2B Lead Generation Strategy

Let’s take a step-by-step look at how marketers can go about putting a B2B lead gen strategy into motion.

Step One: Determine a Plan for Lead Qualification

Before you start collecting leads, you’ll want to know what you’re going to do with them. Whether through lead scoring, matching against buyer personas, or determining which actions are most predictive of purchase, put a plan in place to segment your qualified leads.

Step Two: Choose Your Lead Generation Tactics

Based on your audience and your goals, select the channels and tools you’ll use for lead generation. Make sure you implement the means to collect necessary data so you can act upon leads once you’ve scored or qualified them. (How will information be submitted? Where will it live? How will it be organized?) At a minimum, you’ll need a way to reach out; the more information you can collect to assess the fit and personalize your approach, the better.

Step Three: Run B2B Lead Generation Campaigns

Campaigns come in many forms. Perhaps you’re simply using content marketing to attract visitors to your website, where they can fill out a form. Or maybe you’re running ads on LinkedIn with Lead Gen Forms (more on that shortly). Or it might be a PPC campaign that strikes your fancy. The best lead generation strategies often incorporate a combination of channels and tactics.

As always, it’s advisable to optimize your campaigns by testing different creative elements and investing more in those that produce.

B2B Lead Form Tips

Lead generation forms are frequently used to collect information for future outreach, consisting of fields where a user can enter their information. But of course, no one is obligated to provide these details. You can increase your chances by making it easy and worth their while.

Here are a few lead generation tips to help increase the likelihood of getting submissions from the prospects you value:

Use Fewer Form Fields

Many users will become intimidated or overwhelmed if they have to enter too much information. Be thoughtful about what you’re asking for and why. The ideal number of fields in a lead form is generally considered to be in the 3-5 range.

Offer Enticing Incentives

Requesting someone’s email address, phone number, or other contact information is a big ask. Make sure you’re offering something valuable in return. If that’s a gated content or webinar, you’ll want it to be ultra-useful for your audience. You could also consider providing a free assessment, demo, or trial of your solution.

Put Privacy Front-and-Center

People are more concerned than ever about their data privacy, and who could blame them? Build trust by making information about your privacy policy visible at the time of the form-fill.

LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms: What Can They Do for Me? 

LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms are designed to provide maximum convenience for both users and marketers. When these forms are presented to a LinkedIn member, the fields are pre-populated with their profile data, drastically cutting the effort needed to fill them out (we all know how annoying typing all the information in can be, especially on a mobile screen).

LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms feature large, dynamic, eye-catching calls-to-action. Because mobile lead gen proves to be one of the biggest challenges for marketers, every aspect of Lead Gen Forms has been optimized for presentation and user-friendliness on small displays.

Here’s how you can implement a strong B2B lead generation process on LinkedIn:

1. Create or Select a Lead Gen Form Template

While in Campaign Manager, navigate to the Account Assets tab and select “Lead Generation Forms.” You can then click “Create new form template.” Fill out fields for:

  • Form Name
  • Language
  • Offer Headline
  • Offer Detail
  • Privacy Policy URL

You can then choose which fields you’d like to include in the Lead Gen Form. You can pick up to seven, but remember: fewer fields usually means more conversions.

2. Create a Sponsored Content or Sponsored InMail Campaign

Lead Gen Forms are integrated with these two LinkedIn ad options. You can either serve the ad alongside content in member feeds (Sponsored Content) or directly to their LinkedIn inbox (Sponsored InMail). Both ad types will be available to select in Campaign Manager.

3. Write a Custom Thank You Message (Optional) and Enter a Destination URL

Where do you want the member to go after filling out the Lead Gen Form? In this space, you can include a URL to download your asset, or register for your webinar, or reach another destination. You can also use this opportunity to clearly outline when or how they might expect to hear from you. Transparency is always appreciated.

4. Select a CTA Button

Your final step is choosing the button members will click on in the thank you message in order to travel to the destination URL. Options include:

  • Visit Company Website
  • Learn More
  • Download Now
  • View Now
  • Try Now

Obviously you’ll want the CTA to correspond to the offer. That’s it! You’re now ready to generate leads on LinkedIn.

To kick your B2B lead generation into high gear, try creating an ad now and follow the guidance above. Your pipeline won’t know what hit it.

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