Whether you’re a startup in the B2B industry or you’re stepping into sales, lead generation is an important part of any marketing strategy. But you might be surprised to learn that lead generation is not quite the same for B2B companies as it is for B2C. While the overall approach might be similar, there are nuances in how you should incorporate lead gen into your marketing strategy. In this article, we explore exactly what is lead generation in B2B marketing, and how you can use it in your content marketing strategy.
What is lead generation in B2B marketing?
Firstly, over to dictionary corner for a definition of lead generation in B2B marketing:
A lead is a person or company that might be interested in buying your product. If you’re marketing in the B2B industry, then these leads are the decision-makers in a company who buy from other businesses like yours. For example, they might be business owners, sales managers or department heads.
When you generate a lead it means you’ve attracted them to pay attention to what you have to offer. In a nutshell, when a marketing campaign produces ‘qualified leads’ for sales reps to follow up on (known as lead generation), those ‘leads’ who eventually buy then become customers (i.e they have converted into sales).
Lead generation is integral to both B2B and B2C industries, but its mechanics tend to be more visible in the B2B industry where purchases amongst businesses are often necessary and more considered, as opposed to the often impulsive and quick transactions of individual consumers.
So, how does lead generation work?
It’s important to know how lead generation works in order to know how to use it in your marketing strategy. In the B2B world, lead generation involves a multi-step process.
The 3 steps to generate leads are:
1. Generate interest
This is where you create and output marketing material that finds potential customers who might be interested in your product or service. This can involve content marketing techniques like social media, blogging and an SEO-backed web page strategy. It should identify a clear action you wish them to take, such as registering their details with you.
You may also choose to identify potential long-term customers, called ‘prospects’, and market to them directly, using emails, sales letters, cold calling or direct messaging. You can find out more about prospecting here.
2. Qualifying leads
Once a lead is interested enough in what you have to offer them, you will need to ‘qualify’ them. This means assessing how far they meet your buyer persona requirements and whether they are a worthwhile acquisition to your company. The result of a successful qualifying process is you spend less time (and money) chasing the leads that don’t contribute much to your overall KPIs.
Any leads you have already identified and targeted directly should already be qualified as ‘prospects’.
3. Nurture your prospects
Once you have identified the most viable prospects, you will want to nurture them right the way through to conversion. This can be done with phone/video calls, meetings, email campaigns and other useful content.
We can’t stress enough the importance of conversations and relationship-building to B2B lead generation, perhaps more so than B2C. That’s because happier clients are more likely to turn into repeat customers and this is crucial when you’re operating in a niche B2B field with a narrower customer base.
How do B2B companies generate leads? Creating a lead generation content marketing strategy
In the digital world, it’s not just individual consumers who hold the upper hand. B2B consumers are getting savvier by the day thanks to increasing globalisation. Now those key decision-makers can compare business solutions and professional services in markets around the world, and they have more information than ever at their disposal.
Traditional sales tactics such as cold calls and sales letters are no longer as powerful as they once were – leads no longer feel obliged to respond to them. And nor should they. You might think this makes a sales rep’s job harder, but in reality, with targeted and insightful inbound marketing, you can make your leads do most of the work for you.
That said, in an age where everyone can be an expert, you do need to shout about your own industry expertise and above all show why they need to buy from you, specifically. And that is where great content marketing can help you stand out from the crowd.
There are several different approaches to lead generation that you can use in your content marketing strategy, and these can be combined for the best results. Let’s explore some now:
Landing page content writing
Firstly, you need to have a high-converting and user-friendly website. In tandem, you need to create a path for searchers to find you easily. This is where keyword research comes in using data from Google Analytics (if you already have this set up) or tools like SEMrush, Moz and Ahrefs (if you’re starting from zero).
Once you know what keywords you want to be found for, you’ll want to create a landing page strategy that targets each of these in the meta content, page title, URL and copy body. These may be a mix of navigational keywords (branded) and generic (unbranded/service-based) to ensure you cast a wide net and capture those who are intentionally looking for you or who may be interested in a competitor.
Above all, your landing page content needs to understand the intent of the reader at the point of searching. It should provide a clear answer to their problem with all the information they need and signpost them to the action you want them to take. For lead generation, the call to action will likely be to enter their details into your contact form to trial your service, be contacted for a consultation or receive marketing comms.
In the early stages, you may even want to capitalise on a landing page lead gen strategy with a PPC ad campaign that helps you gain visibility and traffic for these keywords to filter leads to your landing page(s). Once you’ve gained some traction you can scale this back or use it only when you need a boost.
Blogging and article writing
Long-form content writing is the best way to showcase your industry expertise, create need in your reader and deliver leads. Blogging allows you to talk directly about your product, offering tips on usage, as well as discuss topics more broadly around your target customer’s experiences.
For instance, if you sell a document management solution that integrates with Microsoft or accounting software, you may want to write about topics in this area. When you target your posts around the right long-tail keywords, you can get found for search terms that will not only demonstrate your depth of knowledge while subtly placing your product, but identify you as a trustworthy solution and translate into leads.
Other topics can include news/discussion of trends, recent economic or industry developments (and your response), how-tos/guides, reviews and listicles. For your blogging to work as a lead generation tool, it needs to link back to a landing page with more information about your product/service or straight through to your contact page.
Case studies are a great way to show how you are already excelling in your field. They are a chance to explain to leads what sort of problems you can tackle and help them put themselves into those shoes, as well as get a better idea about the process of working with you. It also speaks volumes about you reputationally if other businesses are willing to stand by their experience and provide a testimonial. Make sure that any case studies link to your contact page for leads to get in touch.
A lead magnet is a free resource that encourages your prospects to part with their contact details in exchange for access to your content. Your lead magnet could be a downloadable whitepaper or report, eBook, free consultation call or even an online course on the topic of your product/service. You can also use infographics to highlight relevant data points and provide links back to more in-depth articles on your site. There are more examples of lead magnets in this HubSpot post.
Because you want customers to give up their details in exchange, what you offer has to represent real value and insight.
You may want to create a mini campaign specific to your lead magnet, such as one or more landing pages and possibly ads delivering traffic to your lead magnet to generate interest (and, of course, leads). You will also want to make this visible on your website and share this across other platforms such as your blog and social media.
Social media is just as important for B2B companies as it is for B2C. It not only offers an opportunity to network with other professionals but to position your product to the right audience. You can do this with a mix of content aimed at informing and selling. There are some channels that are better suited to B2B purposes, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, so make sure you do your research. With all posts, you should include a trackable link back to your landing page, blog post, lead magnet or contact page.
As well as general posts, you can also use channels’ direct messaging features to reach out to B2B prospects. LinkedIn is particularly useful for this as you can see exactly what company a decision-maker works for, see who else is in their network, and know whether they are likely to be a viable lead before you even approach them. According to Neil Patel, “LinkedIn is responsible for 97% of a business’s social media leads”. You can read more about his suggested B2B LinkedIn strategies here.
A note on language with B2B lead gen
Remember that with B2B content you will be writing to a certain type of customer, usually in a higher role within an organisation. This is where a well-researched buyer persona will come in handy.
You may want to use industry language and discuss topics from a more corporate angle. Your reader is also more likely to be interested in costs and efficiencies so refer to these where relevant.
Whatever your content, your copy should also include a mix of transactional and informational keywords.
Transactional keywords are those that are value-based, such as ‘free’, ‘cheap’ and ‘buy’. They convey the sales messages you’re looking to impart.
Informational keywords are those that are query-based and insightful, such as ‘tips’, ‘best practice’, ‘guide’, ‘earn’, ‘how/what/why’. They signal to the reader (and Google) that you are offering insight.
Lead nurturing with emails
A key stage of any lead generation content strategy is using email campaigns, particularly to nurture prospects and clients before, during and after the sales process. This should ideally be linked with your CRM (customer relationship management software) and can be automated to save time.
However, you need to make sure you comply with GDPR and are only contacting those who have already opted in to receiving your newsletter and communications.
Because these leads are already at some stage of your sales funnel, you need to alter your approach in your email campaigns so that you straddle a fine line between sales content and informational content. You should be careful with the number of emails you send and they should always offer value by providing useful information relevant to your company’s product or service. You can see an example from Currys PC World in our previous post on how content marketing builds trust.
A final word
Content marketing is central to B2B lead generation and has the potential to help you stand out, showcase your credibility and deliver meaningful prospects who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer and can provide long-term sustenance to help your company grow.
The backbone of any lead generation strategy is a solid content marketing plan that knows what your prospects want to read, and expert sales writing that will attract, persuade and ultimately convert readers. When you’ve ticked those boxes, you’ll be on your way to bringing in not just more leads, but the right leads.
Header image: Peggy Anke