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B2B lead generation isn’t a walk in the park.
Establishing and growing a sustainable pipeline of leads is something that keeps the best B2B marketers and business owners up at night (our team included). Leads are the lifeblood, engine, and fuel that drive your company’s health. Without leads, there are no sales, no profit, and no business growth.
Every “marketing expert” out there has an opinion on how to get B2B leads. While some ideas out there are good (looking at you, Neil Patel), most are either expensive or require an entire specialized staff.
Good news: I’m here to tell you that growing your B2B leads isn’t as hard or as expensive as you think it is—if you pick the right strategies.
Three years ago, Blue Corona began to overhaul our lead generation strategy. We devote most of our cash to our client services, so we had a shoestring marketing budget and (at most) three people solely dedicated to our marketing efforts.
Despite those hurdles, we still grew B2B leads by a total of 314%.
These weren’t run-of-the-mill, low-quality leads either—over those three years, we saw a 218% growth in sales.
This article will show you exactly how we did it, and how you can use the same strategies to skyrocket your own leads. Questions at the end? We’re a contact form away.
Inbound Marketing: The Most Reliable B2B Lead Generation Strategy
Picture this: You’re going on a long road trip on a shoestring budget. You have two options—choose a solar-powered electric car that runs itself or a diesel engine one that needs gas every two hours.
I’d choose the car that runs itself, and you probably would, too.
Inbound marketing is like a solar-powered electric car. You get a big return on a little budget. Outbound marketing is more like the diesel engine—you have to put in a lot in order to get a little.
Inbound marketing is how we accomplished a 314% growth in B2B leads without breaking the bank.
Inbound Vs. Outbound Marketing
First question: what’s the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?
In a nutshell, inbound marketing pulls people in with content they want to see, read, and act on. Outbound marketing pushes products or services on consumers with interruptive advertisements.
Here’s why inbound marketing is the best B2B lead generation strategy:
- Inbound marketing generates 3x more leads per dollar than traditional methods
- There are over 300,000,000 people in the National Do Not Call Registry (DNCR)
- 81% of consumers have closed a browser or exited a webpage because of a pop-up ad
- More than half of all B2B buyers view at least eight pieces of content during the purchase process, and 82% of them view at least 5 pieces of content from the vendor prior to purchase
- 80% of business decision makers favor getting brand information via an article series more than ads
Step 1: Map Your B2B Buyer’s Journey and Customer Personas
The first thing we did to increase B2B leads was to analyze our target audience’s buyer personas and map their customer journey. It’s an important step you can’t skip, for three reasons:
- Millennials now make up more than half of all B2B buyers, and they’ve driven a sharp change in the way B2B business is done
- The digital transformation has enabled access to information, eliminating the need for sales team-driven strategies focused on one main buyer
- The average B2B buyer—regardless of age—now expects the same purchase experience the modern B2C consumer expects
The modern B2B buyer’s journey has multiple informed stakeholders. The typical buying group includes six to 10 members and each one does their own research. Instead of following a predictable, linear path, 90% of them twist and turn through the sales funnel, looping back and repeating at least one or more task.
Most are already 57% of the way through the funnel before they want to speak with a sales representative, so you need to convince them you’re their best choice before they even call you.
How to Map Your Company’s Buyer’s Journey
Who are your customers?
When I ask this question to B2B marketers, 9 times out of 10 they will rattle off industries, company names, job titles. Great—but that’s not who your target audience is. An industry, title, or job role doesn’t tell you how they behave, what motivates them to purchase, and how they react to marketing content.
You need to document your buyer personas so everyone involved in your marketing campaigns has a clear picture of who they’re targeting.
Here’s how to do it: To be sure your marketing strategy connects with all decision makers, create customer avatars for each decision maker in your target audience. Then document:
- Their demographics
- Their general common interests
- Their motivations for using your product
- Their pain points that your product or service solves
- Their preferred method of communication (Do they use email more than social media? Do they watch more videos on YouTube or Facebook? Are they more likely to read an infographic or a white paper?)
Once you’ve done that, you can dig more into their specific needs and wants to provide the materials they’ll find most valuable. See examples and download buyer persona templates for your own company on Hubspot (registration required).
Step 2: Tune Up Your Website. It Will Be Your Biggest B2B Lead Generator
Once you have full customer profiles, dig into how your website could better serve those personas.
We looked at our website from the customer’s perspective and picked out where our website could cause friction in the customer experience. That included upgrading our website’s technical capabilities, focusing on mobile site speed, making our website secure, incorporating instant chat, and adding calls to action that resonated with our audience.
To do the same for your website, check off all these boxes:
- Your web pages should load in under 3 seconds – 40% of users (53% on mobile) will abandon a webpage if it takes longer than three seconds to load.
- Your website must be secure – 85% of consumers won’t browse an unsecured site. Make your website HTTPs by purchasing an SSL certificate.
- Your website must be mobile-friendly – 90% of buyers say they’re likely to buy again from a vendor that had a superior mobile experience. Mobile also drives or influences an average of over 40% of revenue in leading B2B organizations.
- Your website must be actionable, with messaging that resonates – Your website needs to incorporate “nudges” that encourage prospects to take action, including contact info and forms front and center.
- Your website needs to be professionally designed – 37% of buyers will leave a website because of poor design or navigation, and 46% will leave a website because of a lack of message (it’s not clear what the company does).
Learn more about website design »
Step 3: Leverage SEO to Focus on the Right B2B Leads
Hooray! You increased leads!
Ooof… but the leads are poor-quality.
Sound familiar? Prevent this scenario with highly controllable search engine optimization (SEO).
What Is SEO?
Search engine optimization is the process of altering your website’s code and content in order to rank higher in search engines (like Google), for specific keywords and phrases.
Here’s how SEO works: Google and other search engines crawl pages on the web, categorizing them and indexing them in what would be the universe’s biggest library. When you search for something, you’re putting in a request to the library. Google then deciphers your search term and spits out web pages you’ll find useful.
However, search crawlers—the librarians in our fictional library—speak a different language than we do—HTML. So, they need some extra help to determine what a web page is about so they can correctly index it.
SEO is like adding subtitles the search crawlers can understand.
SEO is one of the best B2B lead generation campaigns because:
- You can control what search phrases and keywords you appear for, so you can eliminate poor-quality leads.
- 71% of B2B researchers begin their research with generic Google searches.
- The average B2B buyer makes 12 online searches before they contact a potential vendor.
- 59% of B2B marketers say SEO has the biggest impact on their lead generation goals.
Take a look at the image below:
Over the past three years, 73% of all our leads have come from SEO efforts alone, and it cost us next to nothing.
How We Did It
After cleaning up our website and taking care of the technical SEO bits, our first mission was to get on the first page of Google for all our highest-converting target keywords—19.3% of clicks go to the first listing of Google, and over 90% of clicks happen on the first page.
To do that, we built out and optimized all of our service pages by checking off all of Google’s ranking factors, including:
- Adding correct schema markup (a type of website code)
- Bumping up our quality level (more on quality content further down)
- Covering topics more in-depth
- Increasing quality backlinks that pointed back to our website by creating great content (more on that further down)
- Optimizing all images on our web pages
- Carefully selecting the right keywords, key phrases, and key questions with SEO software like Google Search Console and Moz. We screened for volume, competition, average CTR, and, commercial intent
We then ramped up our content marketing efforts to create extremely in-depth, high-quality pieces that matched our buyers’ needs (more on the further down).
One of the best things about SEO is that once you get the ball rolling, you see exponential growth in leads:
Here’s a secret (okay, it isn’t a secret. It’s a widely known fact in the marketing and SEO world): To get compounding SEO results, continually update and optimize all of your content.
We split our time between updating/optimizing old content and creating new content, and then we waited. SEO typically takes between 4-12 months to show results, and in the image above you can actually see the results from our efforts really take root in Q4 of year one—nine months after we officially began.
You can’t just re-optimize something once, either—I’m talking about consistent re-optimizations. We try and optimize our best pieces of content at least once a year, sometimes more. Check out how that’s worked out for us:
Step 4: Execute a High-Quality B2B Content Marketing Plan
Want more B2B leads? Create better content. That’s what we did.
Above I mentioned that after cleaning up our technical SEO, content marketing was our next priority. We created high-quality content our target audience wanted to see, read, and watch. A large part of that effort was overhauling our blog.
I’ll admit it—prior to the first year of our new strategy, blogs were one of our worst sources of quality leads. After three years, we flipped our blog from the worst lead-generator to one of our best. Take a look—over the past three years, 60% of all our SEO leads have come from blogs:
There are two concrete reasons this strategy worked:
- More and more buyers are relying on digital content to make decisions. A full 75% of buyers say content significantly impacts their buying decision, and 62% say they can finalize their purchase selection criteria based on digital content alone.
- High-quality content is a HUGE ranking factor in search algorithms. The better-quality content you have, the higher you will rank, the more leads you will get, and the more sales you will (hopefully) close.
How We Did It
First, we identified the six jobs, or tasks, that all B2B customers must complete over the course of any B2B purchase. Then, we published high-quality, search-engine-optimized content that addresses and facilitates each stage:
- Problem identification – Isolate every single question your audience asks that would lead them to discover a need for your services.
- Solution exploration – Identify all the questions and concerns buyers have while searching for solutions to an identified problem.
- Requirements building – Identify the requirements needed for your buyer to choose your services. Make sure you have content on your landing pages that communicates this effectively. This could be anything from low prices to technical capabilities.
- Supplier selection – Create content that answers the question “Why choose your company over the competition?” This can be anything from long-form content that proves your authority to validation materials like case studies, associations, endorsements, awards, and notable mentions.
- Validation – Create content that validates the buyer has made the right choice. This includes testimonials, case studies, and content that communicates the “Why.”
- Consensus creation – The modern buyer can’t just say “Yup. I like them. Sold.” They have to get buy-in from other stakeholders. Make this job easier for them by creating content that they can easily share like PDFs, infographics, easy-to-read landing pages, and videos.
What Does High-Quality B2B Content Look Like?
Currently, 57% of buyers say much of the B2B content out there is crap.
B2B companies must create “buyer enablement” content—content that facilitates the completion of critical buying tasks. To build this type of content, marketing leaders must:
- Understand the six specific tasks we mentioned above that THEIR SPECIFIC buyers need to perform through the purchase
- Provide information and tools that target these specific tasks
- Make the information available to buyers through their preferred channels
Right now, only about 20% of the information on B2B websites out there display characteristics of buyer enablement—which means you have a big opportunity to pull ahead of your competitor.
Here’s what buyers want: customer/peer examples, content from credible sources, and short, digestible content.
Avoid product features, articles written by unseasoned pros, and long content.
On top of that, it needs to meet Google’s standard for high-quality pages, as listed in Google’s webmaster quality guidelines:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
Learn more about How Google Recognizes and Rewards Quality Content
Side Note: Social Media for B2B Lead Generation
While it was not one of our main strategies, you can use social media for B2B lead generation. Specifically, you can use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the social media channel we are most active on, and the one you should be most active on, too. Here’s why:
- 80% LinkedIn members drive business decisions, and LinkedIn’s audience has 2x the buying power of the average web audience
- 91% of executives rate LinkedIn as their fist choice for relevant content
- 80% of B2B leads from social media come from LinkedIn
- 59% of B2B marketers say LinkedIn generates leads for their business
Step 5: Track Everything and Pivot Your Lead Gen Strategy When Necessary
Above in the SEO section, I showed you how our continual optimization process drastically increased web traffic (and as a result, leads.)
We couldn’t have done this without the right tracking and analytics in place.
For example, we track every single optimization we’ve done, and when traffic goes down, we find out why and re-optimize.
In general, there are two camps when it comes to B2B analytics and tracking—those business owners and managers that don’t fully utilize analytics, and those that are drowning in data and confuse metrics with key performance indicators (KPIs).
I’ll make it simple.
Metric: A metric is a number that provides context into your KPIs.
KPI: A KPI is a metric that is most closely tied to the overall business success.
While metrics are helpful in forming specific campaigns, only certain ones can help you refine and tailor your business strategy.
Bounce rates, page views, time on page, new visitors, and search rankings are all metrics. You should monitor them, but don’t make business decisions based on one.
These are the KPIs that really matter to your digital marketing strategy:
- Total sales
- MQLs (marketing qualified leads)
- Return on marketing investment (ROMI)
- Lead-to-sale conversion rate
- Cost per MQL
Here’s the difference between leads and MQLs: someone downloading a resource is considered a lead. They filled out a download form on your website, and now you have their contact info. Boom. Lead.
A marketing qualified lead is one that actually has a good chance of closing. They filled out a contact form on your home page or service page or called you directly, and they are a good fit for your company.
You can get thousands of people to download a resource. We do. Are they all businesses that want our services? No—and we are fine with that. Our mission is to provide value, and overall leads can indicate your content is valuable. High leads and low MQLs, however—that can indicate your content isn’t attracting the right kind of people, which you can fix by altering your keywords, changing how you present your services, or even adding qualifiers like a minimum budget to your contact forms.
Once you’ve got all this in place, you can start making better decisions on things like B2B lead generation software, platforms, and tools.
Need Help Generating More B2B Leads? We Got This.
It can take a minute to see momentum with your B2B lead generation efforts but don’t get discouraged. If we can do this with a skeleton crew and a tiny budget, you can do the same—I believe in you!
If you do need help, however, we are more than happy to give you a hand. We have extensive experience helping B2B companies generate thousands of high-quality leads, and we are a veritable B2B lead generation agency. Learn more on our B2B marketing blog, or contact us here.
Best of luck on your B2B lead generation campaigns!
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About The Author: Betsy is Blue Corona's in-house Digital Marketing Specialist. When she’s not directing Blue Corona's corporate digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring with her wife, diving into the latest marketing trends, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
View more blogs by Betsy McLeod