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B2B lead generation for startups

For business-to-business (B2B) startups, B2B lead generation is a critical process to develop and ultimately grow their businesses—according to one study, 91% of marketers say that lead generation is their top goal. However, generating leads can be challenging for new businesses, especially if you don’t have an established customer base and have a limited budget.

In this article, we dive into essential B2B lead generation strategies that CEOs, startup executives, and business leaders should know about—including key tactics like using buyer personas for customer segmentation, leveraging social media platforms for targeted advertisements, optimizing content for SEO purposes, and more. These actionable steps will help any organization run effective lead campaigns that will build relationships with potential customers while increasing brand awareness at the same time.

What is B2B lead generation?

B2B lead generation is the process of identifying and cultivating potential customers (also known as “leads”) for B2B products or services. Lead generation campaigns are designed to generate leads that are turned over to sales and marketing teams to convert into paying customers. B2B lead generation campaigns are a cornerstone of any marketing strategy, as they help businesses attract prospective clients, nurture them through the sales funnel, and eventually convert them into paying customers.

For instance, a startup offering a project management tool could leverage B2B lead generation strategies to identify organizations that might benefit from their product. The startup might use strategies such as content marketing, social media marketing, or even paid advertising to raise awareness and attract potential customers. Once these leads are obtained, they can be nurtured with further targeted content, product demonstrations, and follow-up communications from a sales team or marketing emails until they are ready to make a purchase.

While B2B lead generation is often one of the early steps in gathering leads, the success of your B2B lead generation strategy is highly dependent on your startup marketing plan and how you nurture leads throughout your marketing and sales funnel.

B2B lead generation strategies

B2B lead generation, which is usually part of a larger demand generation strategy, is often seen as a paid activity requiring a company to invest money to obtain leads. Because of this, startups with small budgets may not see B2B lead generation as something they should invest in early on, but there are several B2B lead generation efforts that can be successful without any budget, as long as you have the right startup team in place.

Below are some of the most common strategies for both free and paid B2B lead generation campaigns.

Free B2B lead generation strategies

Content marketing

This involves creating and sharing valuable content designed to attract and engage a defined audience. Examples include blog posts, podcasts, ebooks, and webinars. Content marketing positions your business as a thought leader, builds trust with potential customers, and can significantly boost SEO efforts. Gated pieces of content, such as reports or guides, can be used to gather contact information and basic information about a lead through lead capture forms, which can be used to send them more marketing content or as an initial touchpoint from your sales team.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Closely linked to content marketing, SEO involves optimizing a website so that it ranks higher in search engine results pages. This increases the visibility of the business, attracting more potential customers. SEO can be used to attract potential leads to a webpage when they search—for example a customer relationship management tool may use SEO to rank number one in Google for the search term “Top CRM tools.” Once a potential lead lands on your website, you can convert them to a lead through newsletter sign-ups, gated content, and other strategies.

Exclusive discounts

Offering discounts when people sign up for newsletters, text messages, or other marketing communications can be an easy way to get B2B leads into your database. You can then add them to any email marketing campaigns you are running to convert them into customers.

Social media marketing

This strategy involves using social media platforms to promote a product or service. With the right messaging, targeting, and timing, startups can reach potential customers who may not be reachable through traditional marketing channels. Social media can be a valuable tool to promote the other B2B lead generation strategies on this list, such as recently published blog posts or upcoming webinars.

Webinars and virtual events

These online events provide an opportunity for startups to demonstrate their expertise, share valuable information, and interact directly with potential leads in a live setting. Leads will give their contact information in order to join a webinar, and marketing or sales teams can follow-up with leads after the event to give them more personalized recommendations.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising

PPC is a form of digital marketing where businesses pay a fee each time one of their ads is clicked. This strategy can be highly targeted, allowing businesses to reach potential customers who are actively searching for related products or services. PPC advertising efforts can drive B2B leads to pieces of content, webinars, or other landing pages that encourage a potential lead to fill out lead capture forms.

In addition to organic social media efforts, B2B lead generation can include paid social media advertising that is targeted to your business’s ideal customer profile. Conducting paid social media advertising through channels such as LinkedIn ads, Facebook lead ads, and Twitter ads allows you to expand your audience beyond those already following your business, bringing in a new wave of potential customers.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing involves recruiting “affiliates” who get a referral payment (which could be in the form of a credit to your product) in order to refer others to your service. An affiliate could be a popular blogger who already writes content in your space, a super user who wants to refer your business to others in their industry, or anyone else who wants to earn some money by getting qualified customers to sign-up for your product or speak with your sales team.

Sponsored content can include partnering with influencers in your space or media publications to create sponsored posts or articles that can boost your brand’s exposure and provide you with new leads. For example, a developer tools business could sponsor a segment with a video streamer or podcast host talking about the latest trends in developer productivity, which encourages their audience to visit a webpage with a specific discount code.

Attending and sponsoring events

Conferences and other networking events can be a valuable source of new leads, as they enable your business to both increase your brand visibility and talk directly to your potential customers. Sponsoring events often includes a booth for you to connect with new leads, and may even include access to a list of conference attendees. These activities can be beneficial especially when first building your brand, but also have some of the highest upfront costs of all the B2B lead generation strategies mentioned above, so take the time to ensure you’re investing your money in the right event.

It’s important to remember that free and paid B2B lead generation as tools that often work well together—for example, a piece of content can benefit from having some paid promotion to get a higher number of leads. While you may start by using free lead generation strategies, as they pay off you’ll have more data to support the return on investment (ROI) of including ad money or event budget into your B2B lead generation strategy. Intelligent lead generation campaigns use multiple types of lead generation to capture leads at various points in the marketing funnel.

Steps to create an effective B2B lead generation strategy

Now that you’re familiar with several paid and free B2B lead generation methods, here are some tips that marketing teams looking to implement B2B lead generation can use to ensure their lead generation efforts are successful in bringing in more sales leads that convert to customers.

1. Define your target audience

Understanding who you’re trying to reach is the first critical step in a successful B2B lead generation strategy. This involves identifying the industries, job titles, and characteristics of your ideal leads. By being specific about your target audience, you’ll ensure that you bring in high quality leads that can be passed on to your sales reps or put into a marketing automation flow.

2. Choose your B2B lead generation methods

Based on your understanding of your target audience, select the appropriate paid and free B2B lead generation strategies. This might be a mix of content marketing, SEO, PPC advertising, social media marketing, or other tactics that resonate with your audience.

3. Create engaging content

No matter what lead generation strategies you choose, high-quality content is key. This could be blog articles, white papers, case studies, video marketing, or social media posts. Remember, the goal is to provide value to your audience in order to encourage them to give you their contact information.

4. Implement a lead capture system

Once you’ve attracted potential leads, you’ll need a system to capture their information. Capturing leads can be done through a form on your website, a subscription to your email newsletter, or a registration for a webinar. Lead capture forms are the most common way to gather information about your leads, with 84% of marketers saying they use forms over calls and live chat. Add tracking parameters to your form so you can track which of your lead generation strategies have been most successful.

5. Move leads down the funnel

Once you have a lead, you’ll need to move them through the sales or marketing funnel to convert them to marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads, and ultimately paying customers. Depending on your products and sales process, leads could convert quickly or over a long period of time. Strategies to encourage leads to convert can include email marketing with marketing automation systems, sales calls, time-bound offers, and more.

6. Measure and adjust

Finally, use analytics to measure the success of your B2B lead generation efforts. Look at OKRs like leads generated, conversion rates, and cost per lead. Use this data to adjust your strategy as needed and invest more heavily in the B2B lead generation efforts that are paying off the most so you can gather more leads in the future.

Real-life examples of successful lead generation campaigns

Companies have been using various lead generation tactics to reach their target audience for many years. Here are some examples of companies excelling at lead generation.

Hubspot: A leader in inbound lead generation through content marketing

Hubspot, an inbound marketing automation tool and CRM, is known for its strength in content marketing for B2B lead generation. In addition to blog posts, they produce regular reports and gated content for their readers, such as this State of Marketing 2023 report which is available to download.

Dropbox: Finding success with referral marketing

Dropbox has successfully leveraged a referral or affiliate marketing program to deliver a 3900% registered user growth in 15 months. They did this by providing users with an easy way to invite their friends in exchange for free storage space—as an added bonus, the invited user also got given bonus storage space when they signed up.

Templafy: Leveraging LinkedIn ads to build their sales pipeline

IT company Templafy used sponsored content on LinkedIn along with an account based marketing campaign to generate high quality leads for their sales teams. This lead generation strategy enabled them to target their specific audience, conduct personalized follow-ups, and reduce their cost per Marketing Qualified Leads by 55%.

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