Generating leads is critical for B2B businesses. More leads mean more and better customers, which in turn allows you to grow your business and make it more profitable and sustainable.
Research by Ruler Analytics found that 91% of B2B marketers say that lead generation is their most important marketing goal.
But the same study also found that 37% of marketers stated that generating high-quality leads was one of their biggest challenges.
The truth is, it’s tough to generate B2B leads that convert into sustainable customers.
This guide aims to help you by providing 12 ideas for generating B2B sales leads. For beginners, we’ll also explain the basics of generating high-quality B2B lead.
What Is a B2B Sales Lead?
B2B sales leads are individuals or companies that could convert into customers.
For a person to be considered a lead, you need them:
- To have engaged with your company and submitted some personal details to you. These days this is usually an email address. But depending on your sales and marketing tactics, it could also be a postal address or a phone number.
- To have reason to believe they need or want your product or service. This is usually decided based on how closely the lead matches your ideal customer profile.
Why Is it important to Generate B2B Leads?
Most businesses experience churn—this is when customers leave and they need to find new ones to replace them.
Your business needs to generate new leads constantly if it is to sustain itself and grow.
But the quantity of leads isn’t the only consideration. It’s also important to generate high-quality leads.
As mentioned in our intro, generating quality leads is one of the biggest challenges facing B2B sales and marketing teams.
But what makes a quality lead? According to Gartner, a high-quality lead:
- Has characteristics that align with your ICP.
- Has a high propensity for conversion.
- Is more likely to be well informed about your product or service.
- Is ready to make a purchase.
They’ll also usually have shown an interest in your company and its products or services.
Marketers need to create systems that draw high-quality prospects toward making a purchase decision while, at the same time, qualifying out low-quality leads.
How does lead qualification work?
To qualify leads involves two main activities:
- Collecting data to verify whether they fit your ICP.
- Tracking their engagement with your brand to verify their interest in and knowledge of your company.
The first is relatively simple. You can collect customer data by asking them to submit it to you when they sign up for something.
For example, you might ask that they submit their name, email address, industry, and job title in exchange for letting them download a useful guide.
Once you have the prospect’s email address, you can also begin to track their engagement.
For example, say one of your prospects downloads the guide, then signs up for your email newsletter, and then clicks through to sign up for a webinar.
You’ll be able to track all of this activity because every time, they would have submitted their email address and you’ll see it appear on your list of sign-ups.
You can then identify which prospects fit your ICP and show the most engagement, and hand these over to your sales team as high-quality leads. They will then seek to convert them—i.e., compel them to make a purchase.
Why are poorly qualified leads a problem?
Poorly quality leads are when the prospect doesn’t match your ICP closely enough, hasn’t shown enough interest in your company, doesn’t intend to make a purchase, or a combination of all three scenarios.
Three main problems arise when your marketing team passes poorly qualified leads on to the sales team.
- It wastes the sales team’s time when they could be pursuing leads that stand a good chance of converting.
- The prospect might be annoyed by the salesperson approaching them, which could damage your brand.
- If a poorly quality lead does convert, then they might prove unprofitable as a customer. For example, if they don’t match your ICP, then they might demand resources in excess of what you can provide or have budgets so low that they aren’t worth working with.
Focusing on high-quality leads reduces your sales cycle length and makes your overall business operations more efficient.
3 more reasons to generate high-quality leads
The main benefit of generating high-quality leads is that it makes your sales process and business operations more efficient.
But there are other benefits, including:
📈 It increases return on investment (ROI)
High-quality leads generally result in customers who spend more, are easier to service, and are more profitable. This means that you need to convert fewer leads to cover your sales and marketing investment. And because high-quality leads tend to lead to happier customers, it’s likely they’ll remain a customer for longer, which provides you with a sustainable source of revenue.
🚀 It boosts brand awareness
The first step to generating sales leads is making people aware of your brand, products, and services. This in itself is a valuable activity that will help increase trust in your brand, which in turn will attract more customers and increase customer retention.
🌱 It scales your customer acquisition strategies
Focusing on high-quality leads and developing an efficient lead generation process with automated elements allow you to scale up your sales and marketing efforts. This, in turn, allows you to scale up your business, too.
4 Types of Qualified Leads
Marketers can break down leads into subcategories that help them identify the level of qualification. These are:
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs): Someone who has engaged with your marketing channels.
- Sales qualified leads (SQLs): Someone who has indicated that they are interested in making a purchase.
- Product qualified leads (PQLs): This is someone who used a free version of your product—like a limited free trial—and has expressed interest in a paid version, service, or add-on.
- Service qualified leads: This is when a customer tells a member of your customer service or customer success team that they are interested in making a purchase. The team member usually passes the prospect on to a salesperson.
What are cold leads?
Cold leads are prospects who aren’t familiar with your business or product. You might think this makes them poor quality leads but that’s not always the case.
If you have a very detailed ICP and a list of prospects that perfectly matches it, then there’s a good chance some will be looking for a solution like yours.
To find out more, check out our article on cold outreach.
6-Step Process to Generate B2B Leads
As mentioned earlier, B2B marketers aim to gradually move prospects through various stages of brand awareness and engagement to the point where they are ready to make a purchase.
There are two names for this:
- Marketers call it the marketing funnel
- Salespeople call it the sales pipeline
The marketing funnel usually covers everyone who interacts with a brand. It’s non-linear, in other words, people are likely to read a blog post one day, sign up for a mailing list the next, and then not interact with the brand for months, before then signing up for a webinar.
The sales pipeline, on the other hand, focuses on processing leads. It’s therefore more linear. Prospects are moved along the pipeline and if they say they aren’t interested, then they are removed.
Many B2B businesses with sales and marketing funnels use a hybrid where the marketing funnel produces MQLs that are fed into the sales pipeline.
We’ve used this structure in the process outlined below. You can follow this process in your own lead generation strategy:
The aim of marketing activities at this stage of the process is to raise awareness of your products and services.
A good way to do this is by providing useful information that benefits people who match your ICP.
For example, if you provide search engine optimization (SEO) services to accountants, you might write a complete guide to SEO for accountants and publish it on your blog.
Accountancy firms that need SEO services will likely type related keywords into Google and find your guide.
If you produce enough useful content like this, the customer will begin to trust your brand and view you as an expert in your field. This makes them more likely to approach you if they need SEO services.
As mentioned earlier, your marketing efforts have two aims:
- Capture data.
- Determine who shows interest in your service.
A good way to do this is by adding a call to action at the end of each piece of useful content you publish. This encourages readers to sign up for a webinar where you explain how you helped your customers solve common SEO problems and answer their questions.
This allows you to engage further with your prospects and tell them about your products and services. But it also gets you face-to-face with them, which is invaluable for building a trusting relationship and gauging their level of interest.
Not everyone who joined the webinar will be interested in buying your services. For example, some might just be looking for information.
At this stage, you need to work out who is most interested in your services so you can pass the best leads on to the sales team.
A simple way to do this is to follow up—either with a phone call or an email—and ask them:
- What they thought of the webinar
- If they have any further questions
- What about your service interested them
- Would they like a free proposal on how you can help their business
- OR would they like a free trial of your service
Prospects that respond and ask questions are probably still interested but may need further nurturing.
However, those who say yes to a free trial or the proposal are qualified leads and should be handed over to the sales team.
At this stage, it can be useful to use lead scoring to help you decide which prospects are worth pursuing.
It involves assigning points to a lead each time they do something that makes them a better prospect.
This can include:
- Engaging with your marketing channels
- Signing up to one of your events
- Expressing interest in your products or services
Your lead scoring system can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be and should be tailored to suit your company.
For example, you might decide to also score leads based on how they match your ICP. Or you might find you experience greater conversions from leads that come in from social media—in this case, you might decide to give social media links a higher score.
Here’s where your team needs to convert the lead into a sale. At this stage, the prospect should be ready to buy, they just need to be prompted to do so.
There are several ways to do this and the most effective one depends on your business and sales style.
Some suggestions include:
- Email or phone them with a special introductory offer.
- Send them customer testimonials from businesses you’ve been successful with—ask if they’d like you to do the same for them.
- Send a personalized message to ask the prospect to join you on a sales call.
Use software and automation
This isn’t a stage, but more of a general rule. Today’s B2B lead generation software is incredibly advanced.
It can help you manage and track your leads, as well as automate many basic tasks. This allows you to generate leads and scale your sales and marketing.
There’s a huge range of software available to suit any budget and it’s worth doing some research to find the best one for you. However, some well-known examples include:
12 Proven Ways to Generate B2B Leads
Here are 12 proven ways to effectively generate high-quality B2B sales leads. We’ve divided them into the top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and bottom of the funnel.
Top of the funnel
Get your company noticed with directory listings
Business directories are web portals that index companies based on various factors that include their location, category, industry, size, and customer rating.
Customers use them to search for businesses that will solve an issue they currently face.
Examples for popular in B2B sectors include:
Being listed on these directories gives you credibility, visibility, and helps drive qualified leads to you. It also improves your SEO rankings and helps customers find out about your offerings.
2. Capture new subscribers with pop-ups
Pop-ups are windows that appear over your website when a user clicks to leave it. They usually present the user with an offer and ask them to enter their details to get it.
They are usually triggered by the mouse being moved toward the top of the page.
Here’s a good example on HubSpot’s website:
Pop-ups allow you to gather new leads from your existing website traffic. They are especially useful for adding subscribers to your email list or tempting customers with special offers to increase sales.
An effective pop-up should:
✔️ Match your website’s design.
✔️ Have a compelling call to action.
✔️ Communicate clearly and succinctly.
✔️ Send an instant acknowledgment to any sign-ups.
3. Use social media outreach
Social media outreach involves the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter to contact potential customers and ask them to do something.
This could include reading an article, signing up for a webinar, or joining a sales call.
Here’s a good example from LinkedIn:
You can use cold outreach on social media. However, social media is about building relationships and the best approach is to grow a following by engaging with others in your industry and providing them with useful or enjoyable content.
This way, when you reach out to them, they will be more likely to follow your call to action.
It’s important to consider which platform suits your business best when performing outreach.
- Which platform your target demographic uses the most.
- Which medium best shows off your products and services.
For example, LinkedIn was designed to help professionals network online and is likely to be the best platform for most B2B businesses to perform outreach. There is also a range of LinkedIn automation tools that can make this process more efficient.
But if you’re a photographer who specializes in e-sports events, then you might target a platform with a more visual focus and a younger demographic—like Instagram or Pinterest.
4. Align videos with your sales pipeline
The good news is you don’t need to hire a professional or buy lots of expensive equipment. These days, you can make good quality videos using:
- Your cellphone
- A tripod
- Basic video editing software
You can use videos across your lead generation funnel. For example, here are two examples from SalesForce’s YouTube channels:
The first is part of a series that explains in detail what Salesforce is, including what a CRM is and what problems it solves. This is perfect for the awareness stages of your campaigns. The aim of the video is to get the viewer to watch another video and engage with the brand further.
The second is a product video that talks you through the different features and benefits of Salesforce. This would be more suited to prospects at the consideration phase. This video doesn’t have a CTA, so it’s likely that a salesperson would show it to a customer during a meeting.
5. Join conversations on Quora
Quora is a popular online forum. People often use it to ask questions and get a broad range of answers or opinions from others.
It’s against Quora’s rules to market to people in the forums. However, it’s a great place to:
✔️ Engage with your target audience.
✔️ Understand them better.
✔️ Perform research.
✔️ Raise your profile.
✔️ Educate people about your product or service.
✔️ Engage in public debate.
The main rule for any forum is to be genuine. If your contribution is just a veiled sales pitch, then people will be able to tell and you’ll be ignored. You could even get booted from some conversations!
6. Create a compelling lead magnet
A lead magnet is when you give something away for free in exchange for the prospect’s personal data. The most common exchange is a free downloadable guide where the customer needs to submit their email address to access it.
Other examples include:
✔️ Sample products.
✔️ White papers.
✔️ Free trials.
A good lead magnet should:
✔️ Be genuinely valuable.
✔️ Have high-quality production values.
✔️ Help qualify your leads.
The last point means that by accepting your lead magnet, the audience is showing an interest in your services.
In the example below, SmartBlogger has written a cheat sheet for writing blog posts. The chances are, anyone downloading this is trying to write blog posts but finding it difficult.
Some of the people who download this will be impressed by the company’s knowledge and will hire them to write blog posts for them.
7. Personalize cold emails
Cold emailing can be surprisingly effective as long as you do it right.
There are three main rules to follow:
- Target customers that perfectly match your ICP.
- Write a snappy, compelling subject line and email.
- Personalize the content.
There are several ways to personalize an email, including:
✔️ Use their name and company name.
✔️ Show you understand the company.
✔️ Research and refer to the company’s recent business activities.
✔️ Add personalized images, GIFs, and videos.
Middle of the funnel
8. Convert prospects with effective landing pages
A landing page is a special web page designed to convert prospects who arrive from other marketing channels.
A good example of landing pages is when you click on the sponsored links at the top of Google search result pages.
You see these because companies have paid to appear on top for the search term you have typed in. Because the company knows the search term you typed in, they have an idea of your needs. The landing page’s job is to show you the company has the perfect solution to meet those needs.
For example, when I type “best CRM for small business,” one of the sponsored results is for Hubspot. It takes you to a landing page that encourages you to sign up for its freemium service—a perfect solution for businesses on a budget.
9. Use remarketing campaigns
When someone visits your website, it will usually leave a cookie on their browser. This is a small piece of code that lets you track their behavior online.
It allows you to show them ads in certain online contexts. These ads form the basis of remarketing campaigns.
As the name suggests, a remarketing campaign is when a customer who has already engaged with your marketing is shown an ad from you.
These campaigns are hugely effective and can increase the number of repeat visits to your website by about 50%. They’re also great for improving your brand recognition.
10. Host a webinar
Webinars are a really good source of hot leads. Your prospects agree to sit and listen to you impart your expertise for between 20 minutes and 1 hour. This is an incredible opportunity to impress them.
Here’s a good example from IP Australia, a law firm that deals with intellectual property. The webinar teaches the basics of IP law. It’s nearly an hour long, so you know anyone who sat through the whole thing is very interested in their services.
During the webinar, bring in your own customers to tell people about their experiences and what they did to achieve success. Don’t go for the hard sell—let your knowledge and your customers’ success speak for themselves.
To convert your webinar visitors, send a follow-up email to each, asking them:
✔️ What they thought of the webinar.
✔️ Do they have any further questions.
✔️ What problems they are facing at their business.
✔️ Would they like a free trial.
Bottom of the funnel
11. Live chat
If a visitor to your website can’t find what they’re looking for within a few seconds, then they are likely to look elsewhere. Having a live chat function on your website reduces the number of people who leave your website and helps capture their details.
The idea is that the live chat will briefly address their questions before they get passed on to someone who can tell them more—i.e., a salesperson.
And the best thing is you don’t need to have tons of staff to respond to live chats. Two good options include:
- Outsource your live chat.
- Use automation software like ProProfs, for example.
12. Referral marketing
Referrals are when your customers recommend your products and services to their friends, family, and colleagues—in other words, word-of-mouth.
You can encourage referrals by offering discounts or freebies to your existing customers if they get someone else to sign up.
How does it work? You give each existing customer a unique referral link that they pass on to others.
The referred customer types that link into a prompt when they sign up for your service so you know who should get the referral prize.
A good example of this is Mainstreet, a SaaS that helps start-ups automatically find and claim tax credits.
The company gives customers a $200 Visa gift card for every referral they give. The customer can easily find their referral link and manage the referral by using an intuitive interface on their account.
Final Tip: Personalize Your Campaigns
We’ve mentioned a few times in this article that personalization is critical to the success of your B2B lead generation.
If people know that an email, video, or social media message was intended for them, then they are more likely to open it. In fact, 72% of people say that they only respond to messages that are specifically for them.
Personalization works across the sales pipeline and marketing funnel, so use it wherever you can to increase your response rate.
One of the best tools to add personalization is Hyperise.
It allows you to add personalized elements to images, GIFs, and videos.
Here’s an example of what you can do with it on social media:
In fact, using this kind of personalization has been proven to increase response rates by up to three times! Even if the prospect doesn’t buy from you, they’re sure to remember your brand.
If you want to see how Hyperise can help you generate B2B leads, sign up for a free trial today.