One of the most common questions we hear from B2B companies is about timelines. “How long does it take for lead generation to produce results?” “When will we see sales from our lead generation activities?” And so on.
Most business owners and leaders want results yesterday from lead generation. We have bad news to share - it doesn’t really work that way. But we're glad that they ask the question because it means they want to understand timelines and realistic expectations before they start their lead generation journey.
That’s a good thing – because if they have realistic expectations at the start of the journey, they’re far more likely to stick with it. That’s vital because the worst thing a B2B company can do is start lead generation and then abandon it. They waste money and become skeptical as a result, and are far less likely to invest in lead generation in the future.
Here’s what we explain to B2B companies when it comes to timelines for getting results:
1. There is no cookie cutter timeline
To figure out a realistic timeline for getting lead generation results for your company, you have to start with your current situation. There isn’t a cookie cutter timeline that applies to every company. Some of the factors that make up your current situation are:
a. The nature of your services and products
Many B2B companies sell services and products that have a long sales cycle. B2B purchases typically involve multiple decision makers and a significant risk factor. As a result, they have timelines that can range from 6 months to 2 years, or more. It follows that companies with a long sales cycle will take longer to generate the full benefits from lead generation.
b. The level of your marketing experience
Are you a Kindergarten marketer or a Grade 11 marketer? There’s nothing right or wrong about either, they’re simply a reflection of where you’re at. Just like you don’t try to teach calculus to a kindergartner, you don’t try and run attribution campaigns through a marketing automation system in a company that doesn’t have a strong marketing background.
For those who are newer at marketing, it takes some initial time to establish the marketing foundation that will lead to results. This means a longer horizon before they get the revenue results they’re looking for.
2. There is a typical lead generation journey
While there isn’t a cookie cutter timeline, there is a typical journey that B2B companies go through with lead generation. Here’s the outline for what to expect and when:
a. Establishing a foundation (First 2–6 months)
The range in this phase accounts for your starting point. If you’re new to lead generation, your journey starts with confirming your strategy. This includes defining your value proposition, your messaging, and brand. This will take a few weeks or months, depending on how much time and attention you can give to lead generation, and whether you’re doing the process in-house or with an outsourced lead generation resource.
Once your strategy is defined, your foundation can be built. This includes a website and sales collateral that conveys what your business does and who it serves. It takes about 3 months for this work, depending on the size of your business and the number of people involved in the process.
b. Growing your pipeline (Next 6-12 months)
After you’ve built a lead generation foundation, you can start executing lead generation campaigns. This means communicating with your customers on a regular basis, publishing content that will raise awareness of your company, and hosting events, among others (there are dozens of tactical marketing options). The purpose of these activities is to generate leads, which is how you grow your pipeline.
One caveat – in order to measure the growth in your pipeline, you need a system that tracks your leads. If you don’t have a CRM already in place, you’ll need to implement a system that tracks your pipeline.
c. Generating positive ROI (Next 12-24 months)
In many cases for B2B companies, lead generation takes more than a year to deliver its value. This is the hard truth, and it’s better for you to know it early rather than late. Most B2B companies make a significant investment in lead generation in year one to build their foundation and generate a solid pipeline. But the increase in sales often doesn’t start to happen until the latter part of that year, which means that positive ROI is difficult to achieve.
That does not mean that lead generation isn’t working! When companies do a solid job of their lead generation foundation and year one activities, they are just at the start of realizing the best returns from lead generation, and it’s vital that they keep at it.
3. Patience pays off
The good news about being patient with lead generation is that you’ll be rewarded exponentially for your investment.
The vast majority of B2B companies that we’ve worked with see compelling, business-changing results from their strategic marketing in years 2 and 3.
The key to the success of these businesses’ marketing is two-fold. First, they undertook strategic marketing, not simply marketing. Most B2B companies are wary and skeptical about marketing, so they go about it in a tactical or ad-hoc way. That’s usually a recipe for spending money and getting some short-term results, but nothing that really alters their business performance for the long-term.
Strategic marketing is a longer-term view and is the difference between high performing B2B companies who have a sustainable competitive advantage, and those who don’t.
The second factor that leads to long-term success is the patience. I’ve had dozens of conversations with clients and prospects over the years who want results within 6 to 12 months from lead generation. And it’s possible (and necessary) to get some results within the first 6 to 12 months, but the bigger results come with time. When most B2B companies have sales cycles that are 6 months or more, it’s simple math that lead generation is going to take at least that long to grow the pipeline and convert leads to revenues. It’s years 2 and 3 when the big and exciting gains happen.
Patience is a virtue that leads to powerful results in B2B lead generation.
Contact us now to discuss your own lead generation timelines.