In the not-so-distant past, a significant portion of a typical business-to-business (B2B) sales professional’s life revolved around in-person meetings with key prospects and high-value clients.
But the long-running effects of digital disruption, coupled with the sudden shock of COVID-driven remote work, have changed the game. Today, as much as 80% of B2B decision-makers prefer remote or even fully self-serve sales interactions.
Whether you’re managing this pivot within your existing sales and marketing teams or are in the process of building a digital-first go-to-market (GTM) operation from the ground up, there are a few strategic pillars that every business leader must address:
- The business value behind investing in contemporary B2B lead generation
- How to divide B2B lead generation duties between sales and marketing teams
- Top B2B lead generation strategies, and the tools that make them possible
What is B2B Lead Generation?
B2B lead generation, often shortened to lead gen, is the lifeblood of a healthy business.
A typical definition of a lead is any potential customer who has expressed interest in a company’s goods or services. And while the precise definition can vary by team, GTM teams often have two high-level ways of categorizing leads:
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs), who are early in the journey but have interacted in a way that indicates they could be ready for sales.
- Sales qualified leads (SQLs), who are further on their journey and have engaged in a way that indicates readiness for the purchasing discussion.
Because awareness has already been established, lead generation strategies typically are activated in the second stage of the sales funnel — interest. At this point, the B2B buyer knows their pain points and is actively seeking a solution. If they’re not already aware of your specific offering, they are at least aware of the category.
Sales and marketing work to build on existing interest by identifying key customer profiles and selling the right value proposition to each of them through various strategies. The goal is to make such a strong impression and business case that B2B leads show high purchasing intent, and sales can engage and eventually convert them.
Why Invest in B2B Lead Generation?
From sales to marketing to overall business benefits, there are many reasons to invest in B2B lead generation tools and strategies.
Boost Revenue & Bottom Line
Measuring B2B lead gen success is a powerful way to track and improve your marketing and sales processes.
This creates efficiencies and keeps morale high by informing which just-right leads to target with just-right messaging. All of this culminates in time and money savings to boost your bottom line and more closed sales to boost revenue.
More Predictable Sales Pipeline
A laser focus on generating high-quality new leads means you’ll be able to build a more reliable pipeline, creating a predictable workflow for your sales reps as well as more stable revenue for the rest of your business.
Tighten Up Your TAM
Part of the B2B lead generation process is getting to know the audience profiles and behaviors that correlate with sales — more on that in a little bit.
When you start narrowing down the entire market to focus on your desired characteristics, you’ll be able to develop a tighter understanding of your total addressable market (TAM) and waste fewer resources going after leads that won’t pan out.
Create More Effective Messaging
Developing ideal customer profiles (ICPs) to fuel your B2B lead gen strategy gives you all the information you need to create accurate and highly personalized sales and marketing communication.
Increase Conversion Rates
Of course, the more spot-on your sales and marketing messaging and offers are, the higher your chances are of moving leads through the funnel and eventually converting them. Your products and services themselves can even be shaped by this information to ensure you’re always offering exactly what your TAM wants and expects — and staying one step ahead of the competition.
Establish Brand Awareness
A foundational component of B2B lead generation goes back to one simple idea: getting your brand in front of the right people so potential leads who are interested in your offerings will make contact, and you can begin to nurture them. Awareness is made even more potent by creating and distributing content that speaks directly to the one or more ICPs you’ve identified as part of the B2B lead generation process.
Who Handles B2B Lead Generation?
In a company that has modernized its GTM strategy, sales and marketing experts will work together to align on and oversee the process of generating B2B leads.
Large sales teams are typically divided into several sub-categories. Here’s how two of these purpose-built sales teams contribute to B2B lead gen:
- Sales development reps (SDRs) or business development reps (BDRs) are the first element of the equation — making contact with leads, evaluating them, and making the call on whether there is sufficient purchasing intent.
- Business development managers (BDMs) or account executives (AEs) act on useful leads from the SDR/BDR team to close the sale through demos, discovery sessions, and follow-up. They’re typically credited with creating revenue, but it’s important to remember the B2B lead generation cycle couldn’t be completed without SDR/BDRs doing the up-front work.
Even if your sales team isn’t split up exactly like this, giving certain salespeople instructions on which specific part of the B2B lead generation process they’re responsible for is beneficial to creating a steady pipeline and keeping leads flowing.
Similar to sales, there are two main types of marketing professionals who focus on different paths toward generating B2B leads:
- Demand generation marketers identify a target audience, assess its familiarity with their company’s offerings, find ways to create interest, and nurture leads to move them toward conversion.
- Growth marketing is a newer concept that can supplement demand gen marketing by seeing acquisition as the first stage instead of the last stage of the funnel. That means they’re nurturing B2B customers to increase their product use, grow their spending, boost their frequency, retain longer, and make more referrals. In this way, growth marketing has evolved beyond its one-off “growth hack” origins and can contribute to sustained growth.
7 B2B Lead Generation Strategies & Tools
Here are some of the most valuable strategies and tools your GTM teams can deploy to identify and begin the path toward converting valuable B2B leads.
Develop Your Ideal Customer Profile
An ICP is a buyer persona that combines firmographic and behavioral data, usually based on your best accounts, to create a description of the perfect lead. You may want to create multiple ICPs if your offering appeals to different types of B2B buyers, as well as if you offer different pricing tiers or multiple products.
With your ICP(s) created, sales and marketing both know what type of leads they’re looking for and working with. This provides a helpful starting point when sourcing, creating campaigns for, communicating with, and qualifying leads.
Defining your ICP is essential, but it can also be time consuming. With ZoomInfo’s MarketingOS, you can automatically target accounts that fit your ICP. Select firmographic data points, such as industry, geography, and revenue, and demographic data points, such as job title and location to narrow down your total addressable market. Layer intent data on top of this view to find prospects in your ICP that are actively searching for your product or a similar solution.
When sales and marketing aren’t in alignment on what makes a good lead, it can slow down and even derail your B2B lead generation efforts.
This is why lead scoring exists. With the right lead scoring framework, sales and marketing teams work together to determine which criteria leads must meet to be considered ready for sales involvement. Each element of a lead-scoring model is assigned a value, and as leads hit more and more criteria, they rack up points. This helps make sure sales can prioritize and go after the biggest opportunities.
Let’s say the ultimate score for a lead is 100 points. Signing up for a demo is a serious indicator of interest — depending on your average conversion rate for that product, the signup alone might win them 100 points. If signing up to receive marketing emails still leads to conversion but more slowly, that action may get them 25 points, indicating the lead needs more time in the funnel before sales becomes involved.
Typically, this function will live within a larger marketing automation platform, which helps to manage manual elements of marketing — running lead generation campaigns, scoring the leads they generate, and so on — so marketers can get back to higher-order tasks.
You may think of the term “cold calling” and get a little squeamish, but there are plenty of benefits to this method of B2B lead generation.
Cold calling typically refers to reaching out to prospects before they’ve engaged with your brand at all. Warm calling means touching base with someone who has shared their information with your brand.
For B2B lead-generation purposes, we propose something in the middle — a cold-ish calling method. This is when your sales team makes contact with leads in the second stage of the funnel, when they’re aware of your brand or your category. This can be paired with clever, personalized marketing to continue to increase their interest and move them further along in their engagement with your brand.
With this strategy, you want to call leads who have shown interest as website visitors, through somewhat regular interactions on social media, by engaging with content, and other activities that fall into your lead scoring rubric.
Even though “cold” is in the name of the strategy, you want to go into this practice as anything but.
That means getting the best possible B2B contact data. ZoomInfo’s SalesOS platform is the clear leader, supplying GTM teams with over 80 million direct dial contacts, 140 million email addresses, and millions of intent signals across more than 11,000 topics.
Your content marketing strategy can include many formats:
- On-site blogs
- Guest blogs
- White papers
- Original research
- Press releases
- Social media
No matter the format, content marketing can only live up to its fullest potential if it’s pertinent to your target demographic — and if they can find it.
Findability is key to content marketing success. And since nearly 70% of people find brand content via search engines, the best tool for content marketing that can reach a mass audience is a search engine optimization (SEO) platform.
SEO can pull buyers who are actively researching your market niche into your brand sphere and start to influence their purchasing decisions.
Any of these tools will help you enhance your content so it reaches the right people:
Landing Pages with Gated Content
Speaking of content marketing, a common tactic is to “gate” such content behind a landing page. This gated content serves as a lead magnet — a valuable asset that creates an incentive for leads to share their contact information in order to access it.
These pages are key to the B2B lead gen process, as they’re one of the central methods of lead capture during the buyer’s journey. Landing pages and gated content are also powerful for the leads themselves, as they provide people access to super high-value content and make sure the sales and marketing follow-up they receive from brands is on point.
Any modern web content management system (CMS) makes it easy for non-technical marketers to build landing pages as well as websites, forms, and CTA elements that can be tuned to their specific needs.
Once your page is built, the name of the game is optimization. For B2B lead generation campaigns, marketers need to balance the ability to collect accurate, rich data with the simple fact that too many form fields will drive down completion rates.
The ZoomInfo platform offers an elegant solution to this conundrum with FormComplete — a tool that marries the data you can capture with just a few short fields to the powerful, insight-rich ZoomInfo data layer, allowing GTM teams to drive up conversions without sacrificing important, actionable data.
Once you’ve gathered interested and high-quality leads via your landing pages, you can funnel their contact information right into an email marketing campaign to further engage them.
The 2023 CMO’s Guide to Email Marketing from Litmus shows that the return on investment when it comes to email marketing is 36:1.
That makes email a mighty B2B lead generation method when used in conjunction with ICPs, marketing automation, and SEO content to deliver smart, fast, and tailored emails that capture and nurture lead attention.
Large companies need multifaceted email marketing software. Look for an email automation platform that makes it easy to manage lead information, design emails, connect forms, and measure performance. Bonus points for email solutions that provide APIs that allow your business to build custom, reliable and scalable email into any app.
One final B2B lead generation strategy, which is also related to content marketing and should be used in combination with SEO for maximum effect is digital advertising.
With digital ads, you can crank up the number of visits to your content by serving ads on Google and other search engines as well as any social media platforms that your buying audience uses.
A big advantage with today’s digital ads is the ability to target your TAM, meaning you only pay for impressions from the right people. Plus, they’re more trackable, and more easily tweakable, when compared to other advertising platforms like print ads, billboards, and TV commercials.
For a thorough list of options, check out this guide to ad types and formats from WordStream.
The traditional ad campaign approach would require managing ads within each platform. For example, you would have to create LinkedIn ads from the LinkedIn Ads platform and ads for Bing through the Microsoft Ads platform.
However, there is a better, more modern way for streamlining how you launch targeted display ads across websites, apps and social media: MarketingOS from ZoomInfo. ZoomInfo’s integrated account-based marketing (ABM) platform includes a cross-channel advertising feature that can target specific audiences thanks to the 300+ attributes and buying signals ZoomInfo tracks.
Power a Modern B2B Lead Gen Program with ZoomInfo
ZoomInfo’s integrated go-to-market platform helps B2B teams find, acquire, and grow customers by combining cutting-edge software tools and automation workflows with the best data and signals available for any modern B2B lead generation program.
Sign up for a free trial today and help your GTM team uncover insights, engage customers, and win faster.