Sales are the life blood of every business. They are what keeps them alive and can see an organization blossom from a start-up, into an industry-leader and even go on to become a global enterprise. Without them, business will just dry up and the future can quickly become uncertain.
Vital to landing sales and securing that healthy balance sheet is the ability to produce a consistent supply of high quality leads. And the web is fast becoming an unstoppable force when it comes to generating them – and one that you simply cannot afford to miss out on.
Research consistently backs up the importance that online now plays in the B2B sales process. Buyers are heading online and researching solutions long before they ever contact a potential supplier.
Indeed, a whopping 94 percent of business buyers do some form of online research, according to a State of B2B Procurement study by the Acquity Group, and the time they are spending researching potential purchases is also increasing, according to DemandGen.
The good news is that by having a strong presence online; using marketing tactics that focus on providing targeted and interesting content; and overall enabling your company to be ‘found’ by the right type of people with the right type of need; you will be putting yourself in a great position to capitalise on it.
Before getting started with online B2B lead generation, there is some ground work that needs to be done to help ensure you are focused and as successful as possible.
One key question you need to answer is: What does a good lead look like?
At the heart of any marketing strategy is knowing very clearly who your target customer is and how they go about finding information. But this is often not as easy as it might sound.
You should begin by pulling together some detailed ‘buyer personas’. These will help you define who your specific target customers are and importantly, what may influence their purchasing decisions.
Work together as a team on this – both sales and marketing – to pool your knowledge and insights, and agree what your key customers types look like. This should go far beyond just job titles and company size. It’s about all the factors that may be at play in their decision making, from how they find information, to how they like it to be presented and what professional pressures they may be under.
(For more advice on creating personas, check out: ‘Why you need buyer personas for your B2B sales & marketing activities’). To create your own buyer personas, get our free buyer persona template below:
Armed with your buyer personas, you’ll know exactly what a good lead looks like and will be able to shape all your marketing plans with them in mind.
The next stage is to put together an online strategy and plan to deliver it.
Here is the typical process you may follow:
Phase 1: Start building your assets
Content is the main driver when it comes to generating sales leads online, but simply having a company blog you occasionally post on, with no real strategy behind it, is never going to work.
With your target customer in mind, begin by producing a few pieces of high quality content that are on a topic related to your product or service. Be very careful here, we’re not talking about a sales piece. It must be content that is designed to be interesting, informative and engaging to your target customer - NOT salesy.
For example, you may put together a couple of advice-based blogs that people can instantly access on your website.
You may then also produce a piece of gated content, which can only be seen if downloaded from your website in exchange for an email address. An example of this type of content would be a special guide, or whitepaper on an industry issue.
It should be a larger, far meatier document that will hold greater value for the reader – as after all, they must deem it worth handing over their contact details for.
(For more information about content marketing and how to put it into practice, see ‘Is content marketing the best B2B marketing strategy?)
To access the content, you need to set up a website form so that visitors can share their email address with you to access it. What this will create is an instant mechanism for capturing data from potential leads. Just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of asking too much too soon. Just go for name and email with this first form. The most you ask, the more chance you’ll put them off.
Phase 2: Fill out your offering
Now it’s time to start filling out your strategy with more content and also to make sure your website is fully optimised. That means enhancing it where you need to, so it’s working as effectively as possible.
As you’re going to be driving more web traffic, you need to ensure you’re geared up to make the most of it, grabbing every potential lead that comes your way.
Keep your target customer firmly in mind. Think what their experience will be like when they visit your website.
- How are they likely to move around your website? What journey might they take?
- Does it all flow clearly? Are you guiding them from one thing to the next?
- What information will they want to see? How well is it presented?
Your website should be all about the user experience - not the company. If your website is just a flashy digital version of your company brochure that shouts about the awards you’ve won and how great you are, then it’s not a customer-focused site. And that means it isn’t going to be very effective for B2B lead generation.
(See our blog: ‘How modern web design can increase B2B sales’ for more top tips on killer lead generation website design)
How well your website is working and any data you can gather about its performance should also form a key part of the process.
If you’re not already doing so then consider using analytics tools that will show you how your website is currently doing – from what’s working well, to what you should be doing more of, and where it may need more work and be losing you potential prospects.
Phase 3: Assess and refine
It is important to regularly analyze what you are doing and to really drill down to what’s worked so you can adjust your strategy and plans as needed.
Digital tools can help with this, for example by allowing you to track a sale back to its origin. You can see the journey that was taken, right from the point that the lead was generated, to how it was nurtured along the sales process, until finally being landed by the sales team.
By analyzing all the data, you will be giving yourself some fantastic insights, so you’re never working blind or relying on assumptions again.
You will also be able to check that every penny (and minute of time) that you’re investing is being spent in the right places. This will be especially important as you develop your online marketing activity and look to increase your budgets to invest more in it.
Phase 4: Eat, sleep, repeat
You are now in a great place to develop and expand your online lead generation activity even further. Keep reviewing, analyzing and improving what you’re doing. Continue with this process and keep optimizing your activities where ever you can, while analyzing what the real impact has been, so you can make informed decisions.
The better and more targeted your online marketing activity is, and the more time and effort you dedicate to doing it, the more results you will get. And it will get easier once you’re up and running and your bank of content has grown.
Other things to bear in mind
As with any marketing, there is no magic formula when it comes to finding and securing your ideal leads. It really is about playing the long game and not expecting one blog, or one download, to instantly bag you a sale.
Here are some other points to bear in mind when it comes to online sales lead generation.
- There is a lot of trial and error involved in the beginning
- The whole process needs constant analysis if it’s going to work effectively
- It takes around 6-12 months to set up an online lead generation strategy correctly and to fine tune it
- It is hard to prove content marketing ROI in the first year but not impossible and there will be invaluable lessons learned along the way
- It won't work if you don’t spend time getting a clear strategy in place from the beginning
- It takes a lot of understanding of your target customers and a strong customer-centric approach, for example in the way your website is set up and what content is produced
- Software is your friend and can support you and save you time at many stages of the process
- It may seem an expensive way to generate leads in the short term, but in the long run, it will be more affordable and will have a higher ROI than traditional non-website related lead generation methods
- Team work is vital and it will need marketing and sales to talk to each other, and perhaps customer services too, to make sure everyone is aiming for the same thing and sharing all their insights
- It takes at least one person who is dedicated to doing nothing else but concentrating on online lead generation if you’re going to give it a fair shot.
You only need to put yourself into the shoes of a buyer by searching some terms online and you’ll see online sales lead generation in action.
With the web being the main, and often first place, that potential prospects will go for information, you really cannot afford to ignore it.
Just having a website isn’t going to be enough. You need to be getting yourself in front of your target customers far earlier in the process and to help them find you. Online content marketing is a great way to do this. And if you’re not there getting yourself seen then the chances are one of your competitors will be.