One of the most popular pieces of marketing jargon is “lead generation”, particularly when it comes to B2B marketing. It’s usually taken as the main measure for success, or KPI (key performance indicator), for the majority of B2B marketing activities.

Marketing tech will announce its usefulness based on how it will help you generate leads. Marketers themselves will cite themselves as lead generation experts on their resumes and CVs. Campaigns can be judged on the number of leads generated.

But like all pieces of jargon, it’s a term that gets thrown around a lot without ever really being explained. And when you hear stats like companies with mature, sophisticated lead generation processes generate on average 133% more revenue than companies without them, you start to realise “maybe I should get involved in this lead generation stuff…”

So what are leads, and how the heck do you generate them?

Defining leads

At its most basic level, leads are people and businesses who have shown enough interest in your brand that they’re likely to buy from you. The way they show this interest is they provide you with contact details and information about themselves so you can produce more targeted, custom marketing directed at them.

When it comes to B2B marketing, this is essential. It’s very rare that purchases are made in a snap decision when it comes to B2B. Usually, there are multiple decision-makers involved and they’ll require more materials and persuading to get them from the interested stage to becoming your customers. If you’ve got their details, then you can send them those materials directly and your sales team can get to work.

What do leads look like?

First, gather round, for we shall tell you a tale of ancient times, a tale from the far off misty days of… the 20th century. Before social media, before email, before the internet, before the world knew the name Kim Kardashian.

Leads were literally a list of contacts which was given to the sales team. They’d generate these leads by meeting people in person at events like tradeshows, referrals from other companies, cold calling, or hoping that someone at the companies in their target market would come across an ad on a billboard, poster, tv, radio, or in print.

Salespeople would literally have a rolodex of contacts and business cards which they’d then contact to try and make sales.

In these modern digital-driven times (where lots of people know who Kim Kardashian is), when you get right down to the essence, things haven’t changed that much when it comes to leads. It’s about building up a bank of contacts so that you can target them with sales driven marketing materials.

What has changed is that you’re likely to have multiple banks of contacts in different mediums and channels. Here are examples of digital leads:

  • Email subscribers: People who have signed up to your email mailing list.
  • Social media followers: People who follow you on social media.
  • Regular website visitors: Repeat visitors to your website.

Of these examples, the first two are the best kind of leads and easiest to target with further marketing, as they’ll have provided you with more information.

Email subscribers will have provided you with an email address and, depending on how much information you ask for as part of the sign-up process, their name, the company they work at and their position in that company (even if they don’t, if they use a work email, as often happens in B2B, you can work it out. Usually work email addresses go [name]@[company name].com).

When it comes to social media, most people will provide all the information you need in their profiles, particularly when it comes to professional social media networks like LinkedIn.

Regular website visitors are trickier. Without sophisticated tracking software on your website, you probably won’t know too much about them.

What they all have in common is they’ve shown enough interest in your brand and products that they’re likely to be susceptible to further marketing. It’s rare that someone would sign up for emails, follow a brand on social media, or visit a website over and over if they weren’t considering purchasing from or enlisting your services.

Once you’ve got those leads (“generated” them), you move onto lead nurturing. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, now that we’ve defined lead generation, it’s time to take a look at some of the main strategies you can utilize for lead generation in B2B marketing.

Your website

Having an attractive, professional looking website is pretty much the bread and butter of B2B marketing lead generation. It might seem obvious, but having a site that shows your products and services clearly is essential. If the site doesn’t function well, if you aren’t clear about your products and services, hell if your website isn’t attractive (shallow, but that’s life), then visitors to the site are less likely to become leads, which means they’re less likely to become your customers.

Your website is also likely to generate email leads, as this will probably be where people sign-up to your mailing list. And if people don’t like your website, they’ll probably assume they won’t like your emails (even if they’re amazing compared to your website).

But there’s more you can do with your website if you want to generate leads. Analytics tools can be useful both in terms of getting some idea of who is visiting your site, and to track their progress through your site and which landing pages they’re visiting. If you can see where visitors are looking and where they’re leaving the site you can optimize it to funnel them towards becoming leads and eventually customers.

And wait, there’s more! Your website can’t just be an attractive catalogue of your goods and services if you want to generate leads. There’s more stuff you can put on a website. But stuff doesn’t sound like the right word. Things? Objects? MacGuffins? None of them seems right… Let’s go with “content”, that’s a perfectly cromulent word. Which leads us to...

Content Marketing

Content marketing is pretty hot in the B2B marketing world right now. It’s become relatively essential in the wake of the COVID pandemic, which has obviously seen a massive reduction in trade shows and person-to-person events. In fact 73% of the most successful B2B companies used content marketing in generating and nurturing leads in 2020.

There’s a lot that fits under the content marketing umbrella so it’s tough to define it. It’s pretty much anything your company or brand produces that’s related to your industry which you then publish for people to see. This acts as a way of establishing your brand as a “thought-leader”, which basically means you’re showing how much you and the rest of the company knows about the industry it’s selling too. It can take many forms, so we’re just going to give a few examples:

  • Blogs and articles.
  • Videos.
  • Whitepapers.
  • Infographics.
  • Podcasts.

There’s plenty more ways of going about it, but it’s really just a chance to show your knowledge. Ideally you want your content to be answering the questions your target audience might have. If you show visitors you can answer those questions, they’ll be more likely to trust your products and services.

Content marketing is also one of the main ways to engage with SEO (search engine optimization), but more on that later.

Another plus with content marketing: if it’s useful and enjoyable enough, people will want to share it with others (which gives you more of an audience to turn into leads). Wouldn’t it be great if there were websites where people can maintain connections with like-minded people that makes it easy to share content? “But wait there are such websites! They’re called social media!” we hear you cry. Well, we did know that, which is why next we’re going to talk about…

Social media

Social media is a good way of finding people who could be interested in your brand, and doing it well is important when 75% of B2B buyers use social media to help make purchasing decisions.

The very fact that a person or business is following you on social media qualifies them as leads. Getting them to follow you is pretty simple in theory. Just post stuff on your channels that’s interesting to them (like links to the content we were talking about earlier). If they like it enough, they’ll follow you, opening the way to more direct conversations.

Similar people and businesses in their network might see that they’re following you and decide you’re worth a follow as well. If they like your social media enough they could even go as far as sharing your content on their own channels, basically turning themselves into lead generation machines for you.

But building up an audience of decent leads on social media organically can be a pretty slow process, unless you strike gold with some viral content (which isn’t a very sophisticated social media lead generation strategy). You can start building a network, and therefore a bank of leads, quicker with paid social media.

It’s not even that expensive if you’re specific enough with your targeting metrics (which you really should be with B2B marketing). Many social media paid advertising platforms actually let you set up a campaign with lead generation as the goal, making the process even simpler. You’ll still need a decent ad to make sure you’re not wasting your cash, but at least your ads will be in front of the right people.

So you’ve got a good website. You’ve filled it with content. You’re distributing your content through social media channels. You’re a lean mean, lead generating machine. But how the dickens are your potential leads going to find you in the first place?

Good thing there’s a place where people can find the products and services they’re looking for just by typing them in. You might have heard of them, they’re called “search engines”.

SEO and PPC

We’re gonna lump these together because they boil down to one thing: getting your brand’s website, and the products and services you provide as high as possible when people search for stuff related to it on a search engine (we’re just gonna use “google” as both a noun and a verb because it’s easier and more recognisable, from now on, but this applies to the majority of search engines). Why is this important?

The number 1 organic search result gets 31.7% of the clicks, with it dropping off sharply when you get down to the bottom of the page. If you’ve wound up on the second page, you might as well forget about it: multiple studies have shown that only 25% of people will even go to the second page of Google, let alone click on links there. So it pays to get your brand as high up the list of results as possible.

This is all pretty easy if your products/services are extremely specific to what people are searching for and they’re utterly unique to the marketplace. There aren’t many B2B marketers lucky enough to be in that situation (in fact, the profession probably wouldn’t exist if this was the case), usually you’re operating against competitors with similar products and services, so how do you go about google results related specifically to your brand to appear higher?

Let's start with a relatively quick and easy way: you pay for it. By this, we mean a form of marketing called pay-per-click (PPC). At its most basic, you create an ad, tell google certain keywords it’s connected to and then you pay them every time someone clicks on the ad. The most popular method for setting this up is (if you haven’t guessed by the fact we’re using a certain search engine’s name so liberally) is Google Ads.

You bid on keywords and search terms, saying how much you’re willing to pay to be linked to that search term. Whenever someone searches for that term or keyword, Google chooses from the pool of people bidding on it and puts their results at the top of the page.

The more you’re bidding and the more relevant it is to the keyword, the more likely you are to be at the top of the page. There’s still a bit of creative work done, as the better your ad, the more likely it is to get clicked.

Any results placed by Google Ads and other PPC services will be clearly labelled as ads, but that isn’t really too much of a detriment so long as your ad and link is relevant to what people are searching for.

But there’s a potentially free way of getting things to the top of Google results (we say “potentially” has it can get quite complicated and time consuming, so it might be easier to hire an expert, but if you’ve got the time to learn and do what’s required, it’s free).

There’s certain things that the great and mighty Google likes to have at the top of their results, and you can fine tune your content so that Google likes it best. In other words, you can optimize it for search engines. We call this process search engine optimization (SEO).

As we said, this can be pretty complicated (which is why there are people whose entire job is SEO), and we’re not going to go into all the nitty gritty details (as we said, watch this space!). But here are some quick basics:

Keyword relevance and search satisfaction

Google likes results to be relevant to the search result. It does this by looking at the amount of words on your web pages that match the words in a search term. This is a great chance for your content marketing to shine, because you can occupy your content with keywords related to the industry and search term you’re trying to target.

There is an upper limit to this, as Google will score content and pages poorly if they appear to be just spamming the same words over and over. We call the words you’re trying to match with search terms “keywords”. The amount you should have on a given page is called “keyword density” and it varies in proportion to the amount of other text on the page.

To make things even more complicated, Google likes to tweak and alter their algorithms to judge what’s a good keyword density on a regular basis, so it’s worth doing frequent research.

Google also keeps track of how happy people are with results they click as a means of measuring how high a page should be ranked. If you’ve jammed a page full of keywords and someone has clicked on it, seen it’s just a load of repeated keywords and not answering their query, they’ll head back to Google, who will have kept track of this.

Page layout optimization

Google likes web pages and content to look and be laid out a certain way. This isn’t the time or the place to dig into the homogenization of the internet or the ethics of a single tech giant having so much control over creativity (head to the article writer’s local pub on a Friday night when he’s on about pint number three and he’ll happily get into it at length). Instead, let’s take a look at how you can optimize your content so Google will like it.

Let’s start with the layout. You might have noticed we’ve used lot’s of headers to break up this article. There’s a few reasons for this.

Firstly, it makes it a bit easier for you, the reader, to keep track of what’s being covered and navigate through the article (as much as the article writer wants to use an ancient Greek Homeric epic poem form, or Joycian stream of consciousness automatic writing. Can you tell he’s a literature nerd?).

Secondly, it’s because Google likes this because it’s a standard HTML format. Basically you have different sized headers to show a logical progression. H1 is your title or headline, and it should be the largest text on the page. H2 are the main sections, and should be the second largest. H3 can be subheadings within sections and will be the third largest, etc., etc.

Example:

H1

H2

H3

This structure suits the logic of the search engine algorithms that companies like Google use to analyse and categorize your content.

Back-end optimization

Back-end optimization isn’t another word for squats at the gym (badum-tish🥁). It’s the process when you’re actually uploading the page to your website. You’ll probably do this with a content management system (CMS), which usually gives you a tool bar down the side of the text editor.

Here you can do a few things:

  • Make sure the url is clear. In most cases this is edited with the “slug” which is the section that comes after your usual page url. So if it’s companyname.com/this-is-the-slug, the bit in bold is the slug. Most CMS will pull the slug directly from what you’ve set as the title, but it’s worth double checking. Google won’t like it if the slug is a load of nonsense like companyname.com/xnskjbdheb212%wqu.
  • Meta title and description. You know when you do a google search and the results are a title and a short description of the content underneath it? This is pulled from the metadata which you set. The meta title should include the main keyword you’re targeting, and be catchy and appealing enough to get clicks (the meta title is also what shows up on browser tabs). The meta description should summarize what’s on the page accurately and be intriguing to your target audience.

There’s loads more we could go into in regards to SEO, but these are a good starting point.

And there you have it, getting those four strategies in place should be the foundation of B2B digital lead generation. Once you’ve got that going, it’s time to engage in some lead nurturing (another watch this space!).

Do you have any top tips for B2B lead generation? Or maybe you’ve got questions about any of the different basic strategies. Let us know!