- SEO helps solve the problem of a lengthy B2B sales cycle.
- Use SEO as an upstream insights engine to inform B2B lead generation strategies.
- SEO amplifies and extends B2B lead generation tactics.
- Leverage powerful tools to make your lead generation process more scalable and effective.
B2B marketing is all about the leads.
Those long sales cycles make nurturing relationships critical, to be sure. But without B2B lead generation, there are no relationships to nurture. Without leads, you’re dead in the water.
Do you want more qualified leads? Then SEO can be one of your most valuable marketing tactics. SEO is exceptional at capturing qualified traffic at the precise time of the need. What’s more, it also delivers relevant information aligned to the individual’s intent throughout the funnel.
In addition, SEO is an invaluable upstream insights engine. By capitalizing on these insights, you can strengthen all of your lead generation initiatives, including content, email, events, influencer marketing, strategic partnerships and more.
But before we dive into how to generate B2B leads online, we should clarify exactly what B2B lead gen is.
WHAT IS B2B LEAD GENERATION?
B2B lead generation is a collection of strategies you use to attract potential customers and move them through your sales funnel. That’s a broad definition, so let’s narrow it down by adding some key criteria.
First, to nurture a relationship with a lead, you actually have to have their contact information. Second, before you can consider the lead “warm,” they need to express interest in what you offer. That means:
- Individual website sessions aren’t leads — you don’t know anything about these visitors.
- A purchased email list isn’t a list of warm leads because these people haven’t expressed any interest in hearing from you. However, in some cases cold leads can become warm leads if your cold outreach is targeted and appropriate.
If someone comes to your website today looking for a particular resource, finds the exact white paper that would help them, and enters their contact information so they can download it? That’s a warm lead.
But what if you’re targeting enterprise companies and the person who downloaded the white paper is an entrepreneur? That brings us to a final distinction: qualified versus unqualified leads. For obvious reasons, you don’t want to waste resources on extensive conversations with unqualified leads.
B2C vs. B2B lead generation
Although the definition of lead generation seems simple, B2B lead generation is actually quite complicated. The products and services sold require stakeholder buy-in, which means engaging in conversations at multiple touchpoints. With a complex sale, you’re typically going to see an economic buyer, user buyer, technical buyer and an influencer. Prices are often high, leading to long sales cycles as potential leads compare their options.
And when they’re not expensive, you still fight an uphill battle compared to B2C products. Your project management software might cost $1,000 a month, but for your decision makers it’s not about only the price. It’s about the time investment. Does the software integrate with your other platforms and technologies? Is the product worth going through all the reviews and approvals needed to purchase it? Is it worth onboarding the team with a new system?
B2C leads are a comparatively easy bunch. If the products are consumer-friendly, the length of a B2C sales cycle can last as long as a browser session. And it can happen without any interaction between the sales team and the customer. The more expensive the product, the longer the sales cycle. That means more opportunities for the customer to interact with a sales person throughout the sales process).
WHAT’S DIFFERENT FOR B2B LEAD GENERATION IN 2020?
Historically, B2B businesses had eschewed digital marketing and focused on more direct lead generation tactics. As a result, those companies failed to develop their digital footprint.
However, there’s no longer a line in the sand between online and offline customer relationships. For instance, Ads on TV and direct mailers prompt customers to read online reviews. In other words, there are revenue-impacting consequences for neglecting a B2B company’s digital presence.
The funnel is no longer just a straight line. The customer journey is more of a zig zag through multiple touchpoints, often both online and offline. It’s not “either/or” anymore. Instead, it’s wholly integrated. B2B marketing lead generation in 2020 embraces and leverages this seamlessness.
As such, lead generation in 2020 requires a more holistic, integrated marketing approach. Customer decisions at each stage of the funnel (Tofu, Mofu, Bofu) are impacted by their experience with your search engine listings, website, landing pages, email, video, events, surveys and more. And to maximize your leads, you need to be just as focused on traffic acquisition as you do segmentation, lead nurturing, automation, conversion optimization and behavioral intelligence.
So let’s dive into some B2B lead generation best practices, tips and techniques, 2020-style.
16 BEST B2B LEAD GENERATION STRATEGIES
There’s no single best way to get b2b leads, but rather a collection of strategies that work together to drive results.
Want to master inbound marketing? No other marketing medium is so closely connected to every moving part at once as SEO. Therefore, we recommend using SEO as the keystone of your B2B lead generation strategy. Use organic search to simultaneously inform and integrate your marketing initiatives.
Because it’s founded on data and constant iteration, SEO lead generation forces you to remain aligned with your audience’s interests and needs. SEO enables you to know exactly which topics your prospective leads are most interested in at each stage of the funnel. From there you can dive into understanding search intent to engage more deeply with them and drive them to action.
By aligning so thoroughly with your target audience and exactly how they think, you attract qualified leads precisely at the time that they are most receptive to your message.
This tees up all of your other marketing for higher performance, as every marketing channel and vehicle will be in alignment based on the mind of your prospective customers. With B2B SEO, it truly is a case of a rising tide lifting all marketing boats.
2. Content marketing
Make “value” the keystone in your content marketing strategy. While you’re doing that, you strategically optimize for the questions your leads are most likely to ask, the pain points they’re most likely to experience and the subjects they’re most likely to care about. Eventually, your leads start a conversation and choose you over the competition.
Use your SEO research to guide your content strategy, topics, and content calendar. As a result, they’ll resonate more deeply with your audience, establishing a strong lead generation platform for your brand.
Inbound B2B lead generation formats
B2B content marketing is one of the best way to capture traffic and generate leads.
- Gated content: Write a white paper or detailed how-to and offer a free download of the content — pending the user’s contact information. Lead magnets are an excellent way to turn an interested visitor into a lead.
- Unique research: Conduct surveys and produce original research reports. This positions you as an expert and helps you to build trust with your audience. On the flip side, original research is highly shareable because people often cite the information (and its source) in their own work.
- Educational webinars: Take your leads through a webinar that addresses their pain points. Webinars are a great opportunity for deeper engagement with your audience, especially if you offer a Q&A session at the end.
- Blog: Developing a blog strategy that treats your own blog as a conversion platform instead of merely a place to write posts is another effective way to capture B2B leads.
- Content placements: Content placements on industry websites and blogs are another way to establish thought leadership and generate important social proof. They also increase brand awareness and expand your reach.
Discover even more benefits of content marketing in this post.
3. Email marketing
Email marketing has long been a B2B lead generation staple, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. That’s because email marketing fills a gap: you can’t expect your lead to follow your company enough to catch every offer or read every blog post. But you also can’t harass them with sales calls every day. So you use email marketing to plug content, offers and services in a way that’s visible and consistent, but unobtrusive.
Make your email marketing more impactful by segmenting your audience into separate email lists. The content you produce won’t always be relevant to every buyer persona at once, so generalized emails can overwhelm your audience with information they don’t need. And that’s a fast track to the “Unsubscribe” button. But, by curating content for each persona and sending them only the messages that are useful, your emails will stand out as consistently helpful. Check out these buyer persona examples for tips to build your own.
Use your upstream SEO insights to help guide your email calendar and automations. You can then, in turn, use your email insights to help refine your SEO, content, video marketing and other initiatives.
4. Video marketing
Aberdeen Group reports that video marketers generate 66% more qualified leads than those who don’t use video. According to a recent Wyzowl state of video marketing survey, 83% of video marketers say video has helped them generate leads while 80% say video has directly helped increase sales. In addition, 66% of your leads are more likely to watch a video than read to learn about a product or service.
Add video to your menu of content and you’ve just expanded your reach. This isn’t about video versus text; it’s simply about maximizing your odds by catering to as many format preferences as possible. After all, YouTube is the second most popular search engine after Google. But the value goes far beyond improved visibility in YouTube alone. An effective video SEO strategy also helps your content to gain real estate in the Google SERPs.
Use the content you’re already producing to further fuel your video production. For example, for every product description on your site, add a video demo. With every written testimonial, include a video interview so people can actually see the customer’s face. For every blog post or how-to piece, reformat the information for video. And of course video is excellent for interviews or content pieces that evoke an emotional response.
5. Social media marketing
There’s an oddly persistent myth that social media marketing isn’t effective for B2B companies, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. We use social media channels to create and nurture relationships. And what’s B2B lead generation all about? Exactly that.
Treat people respectfully, truly engage with them and offer value. Don’t sell to them.
Know where your leads hang out and understand the appropriate way to connect with them on each platform. Start with LinkedIn, the most popular platform for B2B marketers, and assess the viability of other social platforms by talking with your audience members and running targeted ads. And while cold messaging on LinkedIn is common, form relationships and establish rapport before you make the ask whenever you can.
Social media is an excellent medium through which to amplify your content. It’s also great for video, with engagement often 3-5X higher for natively uploaded video.
Cross reference your social data with your SEO data for even greater results.
- Where are the overlaps?
- What search data is pointing to opportunities yet untapped on social media?
- Where are search trends indicating how you might adjust your social marketing moving forward?
- What are the linking relationships where you can focus outreach efforts and engage in online discussions?
6. Event marketing
While we have more ways than ever to build relationships, there’s no getting around the power of in-person interactions. Industry events and conferences provide a major opportunity to generate leads in person, no matter where they’re located. And you just might find some old-school holdouts attending a trade show or conference that you wouldn’t have reached online.
Host or sponsor events, speak at conferences or send your whole team to network at trade shows. As for b2b lead generation tactics, trade as many business cards as you can. Host a happy hour. Raffle off a product or service for free. Add these names and contacts to your outreach strategy.
When Salesforce started holding events in its early days as a company, only a handful of people showed up. But they knew the power of event marketing and persisted. Fast-forward to today, and the company’s Dreamforce annual conference attracts 171,000 people from 120+ countries. Event marketing works!
7. Influencer marketing
If you hear the word “influencer” and think Kim Kardashian, there’s never been a better time to update your understanding of influencer marketing. Every industry has influencers. And those influencers are a valuable way to reach new markets and establish credibility. Consider the amount of time and content it took your influencer to grow their audience. When you work with them, they’re giving you a shortcut to the same audience and earned trust.
Influencers tend to have highly passionate and loyal audiences. While they may not have Kardashian-level follower counts, they make up for it in spades in community engagement.
Who are the experts in your field? Who is blogging about your industry? Writing books? Driving cheers on Instagram? Posting regularly on LinkedIn? Participating or hosting Twitter chats? Use competitive analysis and keyword research to find the creatives who address what your audience cares about, and focus on building strong, long-term relationships.
When your target audience makes high-intent, high-value search queries, your website should be there to meet them. SEO is critical for long-term success in this arena, but PPC is a powerful supplement as part of the B2B lead generation process. With SEO, it takes time to achieve results, but the results don’t have an expiration date. (In fact, they only compound with time.)
With PPC, your up-front investment is fairly balanced out by the swift return you’ll see. The catch? Acquisition costs are higher than with SEO, and when you stop paying, the results stop too.
That’s why PPC and SEO campaigns work well together.
Capitalizing on the speed of PPC, it’s useful for testing new topics, categories and keywords. It’s also helpful for testing new messaging. Adwords campaigns get traffic jump-started, especially when you are entering a new niche.
SEO delivers better business value over the long term. It enables you to target the top of the funnel effectively, while also sustainably achieving a lower acquisition cost and higher ROI throughout the funnel.
9. Strategic partnerships
Develop a list of businesses that offer non-competing, complementary products or services to the same audience. Through your SEO research, identify those that have a strong domain and SEO profile. Got it? Now reach out to these companies and build strategic partnerships together.
Business partnerships are only one option.
You can also form content and lead gen partnerships, collaborating with other businesses to produce heavy-hitting content pieces or run a webinar together. You and your partner will be able to cross-promote, translating into access to a new audience. Or you can produce high-quality content for their blog or resource section of their website. The mentions and links from each partner can deliver valuable, qualified website visitors to your site, while also reinforcing your SEO.
If your company has existing business partners, consider these a low-hanging fruit opportunity for partnerships.
10. Polls and surveys
Looking for more accurate segmentation of your leads? Wondering why a lead downloaded that white paper? Want to explore your leads’ pain points and preferences in more detail? There’s a simple solution: ask!
Polls and surveys enhance your lead generation strategy on three levels.
First, understanding more about your lead helps you segment and market to them more effectively.
Second, questions lead to engagement, create a memorable interaction and can even get your leads thinking critically about what they want. Used strategically, a survey can be used to guide your prospective lead further down the funnel and to even customize your sales follow-up.
Third, you can aggregate the data from your surveys and use it to support original research. Include takeaways that are actionable for your entire industry, then get the word out to industry publications, news sites and blogs. Unique research is one of the most effective forms of content for generating media and blog interest, buzz, social sharing, mentions and backlinks, potentially delivering a tremendous amount of exposure, traffic, leads and SEO equity for your brand.
With B2B online lead generation, you already know that your traffic is unlikely to convert on their first visit. Remind them you exist with remarketing. Using Google Ads or a third-party platform, set different ads to trigger when visitors take certain actions or visit certain pages without converting. If you sell products, your remarketing ads can promote the specific products a user viewed. The ads will reappear for the user over time, keeping your brand top-of-mind.
This is a great way to engage with your top-of-funnel leads, as it’s one of the only strategies on the list that doesn’t require a lead’s contact information before you can call them a lead.
12. Referral and affiliate programs
Sandwiched between influencers and business partners, affiliate partnerships can have huge payoff for B2B companies. Using the same set of criteria you used to identify your influencers, form strategic relationships with the affiliates that reach your target audience. Track your ROI carefully and invest in only the relationships that send you qualified leads.
Referral programs are similar to affiliate programs in their incentive-based structure, but referral programs leverage your actual customers or partners. Incentivize referrals by offering hefty discounts, offering your customers unique referral codes to make leads from referrals easier to track. Not only will your best customers appreciate the chance to get a kickback, but they’re also highly capable of finding the exact targets you’re looking for. And on top of that, their personal experience carries weight. It makes them trustworthy and empowers them to sell your services with a depth of knowledge that your other networkers may not have.
13. CTAs and landing pages
A well-placed CTA can turn traffic to leads or move leads down the funnel. Define what each page should produce in the way of user actions. Use short, strong, clear messaging. A/B test different CTA messages and button styles until you find the combination that works best.
Stick to a single CTA for each lead generation landing page, driving them towards the point of conversion. Many CTAs can confuse and overwhelm the reader, and it can make the entire goal of the landing page less clear. One CTA; one page goal.
In contrast, try incorporating various CTAs on your regular web pages and blog posts as there will be a broader range of traffic sources.
To increase the effectiveness of your pages, use SEO to truly capture search intent. It’s one thing to create pages that you know certain audience personas will find useful. It’s quite another to capture the exact people who are searching for that type of page precisely at that moment and directly taking them to the information and experience they are seeking. That’s the power of SEO, helping all of your pages perform better.
14. Marketing automation
The need to capture leads and maintain relationships has long made software like Pardot, Adobe Marketing Cloud or HubSpot Marketing Hub a B2B staple. With marketing automation software, you can not only capture new leads, but also build landing pages and digital marketing campaigns for each stage of the funnel, configure lead scoring, manage contacts, set up automation for personalized engagement and track analytics through the funnel for higher ROI and tighter sales alignment.
In other words, with marketing automation software you can get more leads, get to know them better, deliver personalized content and build relationships. With marketing automation, you build scale into your marketing engine.
15. Conversion optimization
When you optimize a page for certain keywords, what is it you want users to do once they get to the page? For every search query you target, consider the goal of the page the user will land on. Then optimize the page for that conversion goal.
With SEO, you’ll be driving the right traffic to the right page at the right time if you are capturing search intent effectively. Assuming so, though, doesn’t necessarily guarantee a high conversion rate. It’s possible that what’s on the page just doesn’t convince them to convert no matter how effective your SEO.
That’s where A/B testing comes in. Test different layouts and images, messaging, page length, forms, CTAs among various other options.
A/B test different versions of your pages to see which changes lead to higher conversions. Change/test one element at a time so you’ll be able to definitively link the change and its outcome. Sites with larger organic traffic can explore multivariate testing for more scalable results across a deeper data set.
Then, based on what you learn through conversion optimization, you can feed back into your search optimization efforts. For example, learning your site visitors’ preference for certain messaging or CTAs may influence your title tags, meta descriptions, page headings and even offerings on the page.
16. Behavioral analysis
Behavioral analysis of your site visitors gives you insight into your different lead segments and their behaviors and preferences. The analysis reveals what’s working well in your website vs. what’s presenting roadblocks for your visitors.
With behavioral analysis, you can use heat maps, click maps, scroll maps, form analytics and funnel analytics to uncover the digital body language of your visitors on your most important pages. Then, you can combine this quantitative data with session recordings (video of actual visits) for deeper behavioral insights.
B2B LEAD GENERATION TOOLS
Marketing tools can assist you at every stage of the lead generation process. For SEO, look to a popular all-in-one SEO tool like Ahrefs, Majestic or Moz Pro. With YouTube SEO, try YT Cockpit, TubeBuddy or vidIQ. For conversion optimization and A/B testing, try Optimizely, Omniconvert, Convert or VWO. In the area of behavioral analysis, check out Decibel, Clicktale, Mouseflow, Smartlook or Hotjar.
For end-to-end lead generation, consider:
- Salesforce and Pardot: With this CRM and marketing automation combination, you can engage with your audience, generate more pipeline and empower sales to close more deals.
- Adobe: With the Adobe Marketing Cloud, you can manage, personalize, optimize and orchestrate cross-channel lead generation campaigns.
- HubSpot: The HubSpot Marketing Hub makes it a breeze to capture and nurture leads. It includes forms, live chat software and pop-ups. HubSpot helps your team grow your traffic, convert leads and track the entire funnel in one place.
- Intercom: This software delivers a scalable messaging platform to better engage with site visitors, automatically route leads and qualify leads 24/7.
- Act-On: You can use this software to configure lead nurturing, segment lists, score and distribute leads, and trigger offers based on user actions.
INTEGRATING YOUR B2B LEAD GENERATION CHANNELS
As you can see, there are many marketing vehicles that can drive quality leads for your business as part of your overarching marketing strategy. And that’s precisely why it’s important to find that lever that improves the performance of every component in your mix. That glue that ties everything together into a concentrated funnel. That fuel that powers a well-oiled B2B lead generating engine.
SEO is that strategic lever in your lead generation process.
SEO is unique in capturing the intent of the individual, and its ability to then direct the individual to a targeted destination aligned with such intent. And it’s also unique in that it can do this 24/7, capturing prospective leads at the precise time that they are most interested and would be most receptive to your message.
Use SEO strategically, by positioning it as an upstream insights engine to strengthen all lead generation strategies and activities through coordinated planning. SEO insights and tactics should be considered throughout the lengthy B2B sales cycle so that execution of each marketing vehicle is a collaborative exercise and aligned to each respective stage of the funnel.
It’s when all of your B2B lead generation initiatives are aligned throughout the funnel that you’ll achieve the best results.
B2B lead generation is a collection of strategies you use to attract potential customers and move them through your sales funnel.
B2C lead gen usually involves only one buyer. B2B lead generation, on the other hand, targets multiple decision makers across several departments at different stages of the buyer’s journey.