B2B lead generation: Why it’s hard and what the future holds.

As marketers, we simply can’t put enough focus on lead generation. While there are always other objectives to measure—traffic, engagement, clicks—the one that is closest to the bottom line is leads. Lead generation is at once the primary function of the B2B marketer, as well as one of the largest points of contention between marketing and sales. Common points of contention include:

  • Too few leads (according to sales)
  • Not enough follow-up with leads (according to marketing)
  • The wrong types of leads (according to sales)
  • Leads that fall into a “black hole” (according to marketing)
  • No truly “new” leads (according to sales)
  • Too much/too aggressive follow-up (according to marketing)

But who is right? After all, marketing’s job is to deliver leads to sales, and sales’ job is to close those leads. To figure out where the wheels are falling off, we have to look at today’s B2B marketing environment.

The increasing complexity of B2B solutions.

It used to be that B2B salespeople sold products that solved a well-defined business issue. As business processes grow in complexity and scope, B2B salespeople are tasked with selling solution sets—which are often customized products directly targeted to a business need.

While these solutions provide greater satisfaction among customers, architecting and selling these solutions is more challenging than ever. A recent CEB report noted that salespeople need to consult with more than four people internally over the course of each sale. If you multiply that number by the number of leads in the pipeline (say, 20 per salesperson), you can see that sales is overtasked with internal conversations and solution architecture.

Plus, the move from product to solution set has led to an influx of soft leads in the B2B space—that is, leads that may need a single product offering, but whose broader needs are not in line with a company’s solution set (this can be due to price, technology or simply sophistication).

It’s this combination of poorly qualified B2B sales leads and salespeople who are burdened with the creation of custom solutions that leads us to many of the primary complaints from sales about the quality of B2B leads generated via digital means.

The increasing complexity of the B2B buying process.

Things on the other side of the table aren’t much better.

B2B solutions are broader-reaching than ever before, which has led to a sharp increase in the number of decision-makers involved in any individual sale. Today, research estimates that 6.8 individuals are consulted to some extent before a buying decision is made by a company.

This lengthening roster of influencers, along with a longer sales cycle, can lead sales and marketing teams to become frustrated with the lack of truly “new” leads in the pipeline. Often, leads generated by digital media are already accounted for under some other company umbrella and only indicate the entrance of a new researcher or influencer in the sales process.

However, the right tactic here isn’t to retreat into the logical, rational, cold and calculated marketing messaging that can pervade B2B sales strategies. Instead, it’s important to recall that all six of the influencers in your deal are people—and people are emotional decision-makers.

This is a bright spot in the world of B2B lead-generation tactics. We (as marketers) don’t have to rely solely on static, rational messaging points like features, benefits and calculators. There is still opportunity to win new business with great products, great service and great people.

Three B2B lead-generation strategies to try.

1. Build content for everyone involved in the purchasing decision.

As previously noted, today’s B2B purchasing decision includes more than 6 people—who each come to the table with their own goals, objectives and assumptions about your product. By understanding where everyone stands (in terms of priorities and ultimate authority), you can positively affect the internal conversation that is had around your solution.

In the simplest terms, you might try mapping content offers for researchers, influencers and decision-makers based on what each needs:

Decision-makers: Education on the newest approaches, industry trends hyperfocused on their business and conceptualization of what an ideal solution can bring to their business.

Researchers: Comparison tools of you and other vendors, deep product information, and demos that showcase the specifics of your solution.

Influencers: Position the overall solution set positively, provide case studies relevant to a specific industry and challenge, and proactively combat common objections

2. Over-index on optimization around a single term.

One of the best sources for new leads in the B2B space is none other than organic search. Whether you are in a digitally mature or immature industry, finding a term that you can compete on and then building out a comprehensive optimization effort around it can help you draw traffic specifically toward a single offering.

If you choose to give this strategy a try, start by finding the right term. Your key phrase (or set of phrases) should be:

  •  Extremely relevant to your business. (You’re going to be talking about it on your site … a lot.)
  •  Broad enough that you can come up with lots of content specifically for it.
  •  Lacking competitors that are out of your league. (You’re probably not going to catch up to Skype when it comes to video chat.)

Once you’ve got a winning phrase selected, start optimizing! Here’s a few tactics to start with:

  •  Build a blog, and get writing!
  •  Create an amazing premium content piece or two for your key term.
  •  Infuse your site with the key term, especially your homepage and the primary service page.
  •  Determine if there’s a play for your key phrase in social. How can you start a larger conversation around it?

3. Nurture the leads you are already creating (from tradeshows, email lists, telemarketing).

Chances are that your B2B marketing strategy includes quite a few “quantity” lead-generation tactics. (If it doesn’t, check out the most recent State of Inbound report to see what others are doing to generate leads.) However, leads generated in this manner are generally not even “marketing-qualified,” let along qualified to get pushed to the sales team.

In this case, try a re-engagement and lead-nurturing strategy that can be mutually beneficial in educating your prospects about solutions available to them, as well as qualifying and gathering information. Since you know nearly nothing about these leads and what they’re looking for, it’s best to serve them with helpful content for each stage of the buyer’s journey.

Even if you get little to no engagement from a lead, you’ll be able to effectively clean your contact list and make sure that your marketing efforts are spent with prospects who have some intent to buy.

The future of B2B lead generation

As marketers, we can’t realistically expect the B2B (or B2C) lead generation process to get easier over time. As more of our competition floods the marketplace with better and more effective content and solutions grow in capability to serve broader business needs, we’ll need to sharpen our strategic thinking in how we can be the best allies for our sales teams.

If you’re interested in creating a demand generation program that drives sales and marketing alignment, contact us for a free consultation to see how we can help.

Leanne Prewitt

President & Chief Executive Officer

Shaped by her background in creative direction, Leanne leads the agency’s culture and creative vision and also oversees the operations that allow a team of marketing, design and media specialists to create powerful and effective work for their client partners.

Leanne began her professional career in New York City working for some of the nation’s leading agencies. In 2016, after a five-month sabbatical around the world, she returned to her hometown and joined Ervin & Smith. Her global perspective and expanded professional experience influence the work she does today.