The process that business-to-business (B2B) buyers, including those in manufacturing, go through to find new products, services and vendors has changed. Buyers are much more likely to do their own research before approaching a business for further information. This means B2B companies must adapt how they sell and focus on effective lead generation to draw potential buyers in.
Lead generation has always been at the top of the to-do list for B2B sales leaders, and we will cover some B2B lead generation basics, and tips on what you need to do to master it in today’s online world.
What is Lead Generation?
Before we dive into how to help your B2B company master lead generation, let's define what lead generation means. The term can have different meanings to different people across your business. Here's how we define lead generation for B2B companies:
Lead generation is the process of identifying and connecting with potential customers for your products or services. It involves raising awareness of your company to potential customers and prompting them to connect with your company through digital or in-person channels.
In practice, this means offering information a prospect might find helpful such as a fact sheet or pricing list, in exchange for their business name and e-mail. It could include promoting a webinar that they must register for. It might evolve into them following your company on LinkedIn or signing up for your company newsletter. These offers are designed with the intent of providing valuable information that you expect your target audience would be interested in.
Your valuable materials (aka content) could come in the form of an eBook, videos (webinars and/or product demos), whitepapers, fact sheets, pricing information, podcasts, templates, guides, or a discount among other opportunities.
For your B2B company to excel in lead generation, you need to capture potential customers’ attention in the awareness stage of their buyer journey and create opportunities for your company to begin to build a relationship with them. As they learn more about your business and you learn more about how they interact with your company, prospects can be more seamlessly marked as a marketing qualified lead and sales qualified lead as they travel through their buyer journey.
Though creating amazing content is at the heart of your lead generation efforts, what makes lead generation strategy effective is your ability to attract valuable leads, ones that will move from being a visitor, to a marketing qualified lead to a sales qualified lead much faster.
The value of B2B lead generation
Information that is valued by your ideal customers answers their questions, or delights them with the information they did not even know they needed, results in their willingness to exchange their data for your content. In turn, your company earns two big wins:
- Your company can use this new lead’s contact data for continued marketing and relationship building
- The opportunity to collect data on your prospects for ongoing marketing, sales and support. Though this approach may seem different to your past strategies, it opens opportunities to reach more businesses that are interested in your brand or have been helped by the information you provide. So much so, that they are open to connecting with your company.
The difference between your previous lead generation strategies (which probably included trade shows and sales calls) is that relationships today most often start online, through your content, and not by chance encounters or cold calls.
What it takes to master lead generation
There are two critical tools that you need to develop successful lead generation campaigns. If you start without these two elements, your efforts to build an effective lead generation engine will fail, or at best will have a 'false start.'
What are the two key tools? Solid buyer personas and an effective CRM.
Buyer Personas help you target your lead generation efforts. They clarify who your ideal customers are, so you can create effective content and campaigns that speak to the unique needs of your target audience. This is important because it means prospects will be more likely to engage with your content, resulting in the willingness to exchange their information for your offer - moving them more quickly through their buyer journey. It also benefits your business to keep these profiles up to date, so your marketing strategies target specific content at the most valuable of your contacts.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) yystem
A CRM is another essential tool in your marketing toolkit. Its effectiveness can be one of the make-or-break elements in your lead generation efforts.
The best CRM tool will not only house your contacts' information but will also help store data on these prospects as soon as they start interacting with your business. You can later use this data to segment and create lists for your different buyer personas and better understand your prospects and build-out personalized lead nurturing campaigns that target these specific audiences, at various stages of their buying journey.
Buyer beware - you get what you pay for in CRMs. Learn more about selecting the right CRM tools for your business in 5 Things to Consider Before Selecting a CRM System.
Why start here for effective lead generation?
Buyer personas and CRMs are so important because they will be used to manage ALL your future lead generation efforts. One of your goals may be developing effective website landing pages. It will need to collect the right information from your prospect, so they follow your intended path and exchange the requested data for the content you provide. Another goal could be better directing leads through your website, so they subscribe to your newsletter.
Whatever your goals, creating solid buyer personas will help develop useful contact lists. And, if you have an effective CRM tool, you will be able to segment, automate and target the right people with the right messages. Together, these two elements will help build campaigns and distribute content that your buyer personas will appreciate. In turn, your efforts will attract more prospects with similar interests or needs as your current customers.
A lot goes into getting lead generation right, and mastering it takes time, strategy, effort, and the willingness to experiment. Getting these two tools right are the best place for B2B businesses to start.
- Three lead generation essentials for manufacturers
- How can buyer personas generate more leads?
- How to prevent 3 common lead generation mistakes
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Originally published in 2020, this post has been updated to add new guidance and more information that was not included in the original post.