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Business-to-business (B2B) lead generation is the act of sourcing quality leads within other companies in order to sell them business products and services. Effective B2B salespeople or marketers first identify the correct company to sell to and then contact and build a relationship with the correct person within that organization who can make a purchase decision.
B2B lead generation is unique in that you’re not looking for individual consumers to sell to, but rather other businesses. This means that B2B salespeople often have to “swim upstream”, first finding the right companies that fit their ideal customer profile and then identifying the right person within those companies to contact. Sometimes this requires you to reach out to multiple people within the same organization to find that right person.
To do so, B2B salespeople follow a standard lead generation process of identifying your ideal businesses and then, through both inbound and outbound strategies, getting people with decision-making power to express interest in your product or service. Interested leads are marked as prospects and advance to the next stage of your sales process for B2B lead nurturing.
The general B2B lead generation process is as follows:
While the overall process of B2B lead generation is standard, the strategies used to source and engage with B2B leads differs based on your product, service, industry, or process. Common B2B lead generation tactics often include manual sales prospecting such as cold calling, cold emailing, networking, and more. However, it’s also possible to generate inbound B2B leads with the help of a marketing team through efforts like paid social ads and more.
The people and departments involved in B2B lead generation differ based on the organization. Typically, it falls under the domain of either the sales and marketing departments, or both. The salesperson or team usually focuses on outbound lead generation or manual sales prospecting, while the marketing person or team handles inbound lead generation.
Let’s take a look at how both are involved in the B2B lead generation process:
Through inbound marketing efforts like organic and paid social media, B2B marketers generate inbound leads by sending relevant traffic to a website or landing page. There, marketers offer a high-value lead magnet in return for the lead’s contact information. Those who give their contact information are marked as marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and passed to the sales team for further lead qualification and nurturing.
Here’s a look at the type of marketing positions involved in B2B lead generation:
Salespeople serve one of two roles in B2B lead generation. First, they might actively source and contact B2B leads through sales prospecting methods like cold emailing or calling. Second, they might act as the lead qualifier for MQLs generated by the marketing team. In both cases, the goal is to qualify the lead as a sales qualified lead (SQL) or prospect worthy of lead nurturing using a needs assessment or discovery call.
Here’s a look at the types of sales roles involved in B2B lead generation:
Of course, at some companies, upper management gets involved. For example, a VP of sales might leverage their network to add leads into the funnel. And a CEO might ask for referrals. It’s a team effort, even though smaller organizations may only have one salesperson or marketer.
There are many high-level and granular lead generation strategies for both outbound and inbound lead generation. Big picture, these strategies include things like cold calling or cold emailing as well as generating online leads through free and paid strategies. However, for each of these high-level strategies, there are many strategies for optimizing each method.
To help, let's go over each big picture B2B lead generation strategy. From there, we have detailed articles on each method, which include more granular strategies for your chosen approach:
Outbound B2B sales prospecting — or outbound B2B lead generation — is the act of manually sourcing and reaching out to leads who match your ideal customer profile. The most common strategies include cold calling and cold emailing, but can also include networking, referrals, and more. Sales prospecting is typically carried out exclusively by a B2B salesperson or team.
Outbound B2B sales prospecting follows a standard process:
For more information on the sales prospecting process, check out our article on the lead generation processes. Otherwise, keep reading for a list of the top outbound B2B sales prospecting strategies for sourcing quality business leads:
Check out this list of the top sales prospecting strategies for B2B lead generation. For more information on each, you can read our overarching guide on sales prospecting below as well as our individual articles on each strategy:
Next, let’s look at the top inbound lead generation strategies for B2B leads.
Inbound (or online) B2B lead generation is the act of generating online traffic and capturing lead contact information through the use of a relevant lead magnet like a content upgrade, free trial, free consultation, and more. Inbound leads are usually generated by a marketing person or team, who then passes them along to a salesperson for further lead qualification and nurturing.
Inbound B2B lead generation follows a slightly different process than outbound:
For more information on the inbound lead generation process, check out our article on the lead generation processes. Otherwise, keep reading for a list of the top online B2B lead generation strategies for sourcing quality inbound business leads:
Here’s a list of the top inbound or online lead generation strategies, along with links to detailed articles on each strategy. For a more robust overview of the online lead generation steps or strategies, you can also read our ultimate guide on online lead generation below:
Now that you understand the inbound and outbound B2B lead generation strategies, let’s check out the tools and tips to optimize your results.
There are plenty of software companies and tools that can help you meet your lead generation goals. They can enhance your LinkedIn social selling, capture more website visitors, or give you lists of quality B2B leads to reach out to. Here are four of the best lead generation tools. If your inner techie is unsatisfied, check out our list of the best lead generation software and tools.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a must for anyone social selling on LinkedIn. Use their filtering technology to generate lists of users who fit your buyer persona. Then send them messages, even if you are not their connection. LinkedIn claims that sellers see 15% more pipeline when using Sales Navigator to find customers.
Hunter.io is an email finding service that lets you search a database of active emails as well as validate existing emails you have. It also offers a Chrome plugin that allows you to search for people's emails when you're on their website. They offer a limited free tier as well as paid tiers starting at around $50 per month.
This software helps you connect with more of your website visitors — the ones who run away. Visitor Queue claims that 98% of your website visitors leave without saying hello. And many of them are qualified leads. Visitor Queue solves this dilemma by giving you the name, location, and contact information of the businesses that left your site. It’s easy to set up, and they offer a free 14-day trial.
Soleadify is a B2B lead database that uses data science to help you build targeted lists for sales outreach. All you do is describe your ideal customer profile using their many filters such as company size, technology used, and location. There are plenty more. Then Soleadify sends you a list of companies, associated employees, and their contact information. Their free plan gives you 100 companies a month, like this card below.
B2B CRM software are CRM tools with features built specifically for B2B salespeople. All CRM software for B2B businesses includes core CRM functions like pipeline and deal management. However, they also offer advanced automations like lead routing and robust contact management features for long-term relationship building.
Fortunately, you don’t have to do this all alone. There are companies out there dedicated to helping businesses create and enact B2B lead generation strategies. You pay them and they send you leads. Easy. Using one is great if you want to skip out on financing a lead gen team, or if you want your sellers to spend their time on talking to leads, not finding them. Here are two of the best B2B lead generation companies.
Cience is a lead gen company that helps B2B brands generate leads using their in-house SDRs. This is great for those who want to leverage outbound prospecting but don’t want to train, manage, and financially support their own BDR team. Cience is known for its speed — within ten business days, clients start to see results. Lastly, the team takes a scientific approach to lead gen. They continuously measure and refine their approaches, improving results over time.
Striventa focuses more on the inbound side of B2B lead generation. They specialize in devising SEO content marketing strategies that attract quality leads to your business. Striventa acts more like an agency than a set-it-forget-it option. They work hand-in-hand with you to develop and optimize the inbound strategy. Midsize to enterprise-level businesses looking to ramp up their content marketing should reach out.
The main difference between the two is that B2C lead generation caters to individual consumers, while B2B lead generation caters to other businesses and companies. Unlike in B2C, where everyone has purchasing power, in B2B this power usually resides in upper management. The market is, therefore, narrower. Plus, it can be tricky to find the right decision maker(s) at each new company.
The buyers in the B2B space just care about improving their business. They listen for terms like “higher profit margins” and “efficiency.” Meanwhile, B2C buyers care about improving their personal lives. They are also more impulsive.
Also, since the price points trend higher in B2B sales and the implementation is a big time commitment, B2B buyers are usually more rational when deciding whether to enter into a sales cycle. So B2B lead generators have to do a better job of educating and nurturing the lead before they are ready to move into the next phase.
Learning how to generate leads through B2B methods can be overwhelming. You have to find people (often strangers), engage them, and get them interested in your product or service. Luckily, there are various strategies for doing so, from outbound ones like cold calling to inbound ones like content marketing. Most of all, remember, if you provided value throughout their lead gen experience, potential buyers will be more open to sitting down with you for a meeting.