In this blog, Rianna Enahoro, Marketing Account Executive at The B2B Marketing Lab, talks about the history of B2B lead generation, including how it's changed over the years and what businesses should be doing now to find success.
What is lead generation?
Lead generation is the process of attracting and converting website visitors into someone with an interest in the product or service you are offering. The changing nature of how consumers make purchases has meant that marketers have had to develop strategies used to identify and develop leads. This blog will discuss the history of lead generation and how this has evolved over time.
The history of lead generation
A little over half a century ago, salespeople would go door-to-door telling people about the history of the brand they represent and the “amazing” product(s) it sells. They would speak at length about how that brand’s product could transform a person’s life, persuading the listener to part with their contact details (so they can send further information) or get them to make a purchase there and then.
This kind of sales lead generation was prevalent in the 1950s precisely because there was no way for consumers to research products or services extensively or find reviews. As a result, salespeople could (to an extent) say whatever they wanted to secure a sale. And the best part? It worked.
Then in the 80s we saw the birth of telemarketing. Telemarketing quickly became one of the most popular ways to sell products and services: marketers and salespeople could research potential leads (typically through the help of another company), contact them to gather more information and then persuade them (the lead) to buy a product of service.
Nowadays, telemarketing is far less effective (after all, how often do you answer telemarketing calls?). However, at a time when information was scarce, it was a great way for marketers and salespeople to engage with prospects on a personal level and get instant feedback.
The start of television advertising
Another method used in the 80s was direct response television (DRTV) advertising. Early DRTV advertisements involved “shouty” sales messaging, a mobile number or website link for the viewer to get in touch, and a massive call-to-action in block capitals. It was truly the age of yell-and-sell.
However, as DRTV expanded and evolved, marketers used it to understand and engage with consumer segments based on specific information, e.g. geographic location, age and psychographics. Reach and visibility also increased significantly and marketers could use the data obtained to measure results. But DRTV had its flaws: because marketers were getting used to segmentation, the extent to which these advertisements were seen by the right people was questionable.
Remember: just because a lot of prospects view your ads, that doesn’t mean they will convert into leads.
Lead generation today – what’s changed?
Though these methods are still used today, the strategies behind them have changed. The key factors that have contributed to this are technology and the changing role of consumers. Thanks to the World Wide Web, consumers are more informed than ever. Via the internet, they can access all the information they need on a product and/or service, e.g. online reviews, product/service forums, and ‘unboxing’ videos. As a result, consumers can do their own research and make purchases without relying on a salesperson.
Consumers are also more sceptical; many will not believe the advertising/marketing messages they are fed, especially in regards to new products without an established market presence or user base. According to Invespcro, 84% of people trust recommendations from those they know, and referral leads are 30% better (i.e. more qualified) than leads generated from other marketing channels.
Your prospects have all the power, not you
This shift in trust has meant that marketers have had to change the way they communicate with potential leads. Marketers must now acknowledge that consumers will be at different stages of the buyer journey and each one will have a different understanding of what’s on offer.
For example, those reading product reviews and case studies online may well be at the consideration stage of the buyer journey. At this stage they’re looking for content to help them evaluate what’s on offer. On the other hand, those at the awareness stage of the buyer journey will only just have realised a want or need for a product and/or service – but don’t know what’s available to them or what they should be looking for. As a result, different messages need to be delivered at each stage of the buyer journey to help develop relationships with potential prospects: this is known as lead nurturing.
As well as nurturing potential prospects, having multiple conversion points throughout the buyer journey is crucial. For instance, use calls-to-action (CTAs) in blogs to drive website visitors to relevant landing pages to encourage conversions. On these landing pages place specific gated assets, such as eBooks and white papers, tailored to the pain points/challenges of prospects. These assets will help increase lead generation activity.
Remember: you need to provide website visitors with other ways to engage with your business. A ‘contact us’ button alone is not enough.
The development of lead generation: being found online
With the Internet came websites and in the modern, digital first world your website meets your prospects before you do.
It’s a well-known statement but bears repeating whenever it comes to B2B lead generation. For most (if not all) B2B companies, being found online is essential: if their website cannot be found, how will they generate any new enquiries?
But to be found (and generate leads), marketers need effective search engine optimisation (SEO). This means optimising their websites for users and search engines to increase the quantity and quality of traffic it receives.
One method to increase the quality and quality of website traffic is to create topic clusters. A topic cluster is comprised of a central pillar page and 10-20 clusters of supporting content. The pillar page covers a specific topic in depth – this could be the business’ service offering or area of expertise – and the cluster content provides further detail on individual elements of that offering or area of expertise.
Each pillar page is optimised for a target keyword related to what the business does and so too is the cluster content. The pillar page links off to the cluster content and the cluster content links back to the pillar page. Due to internal links to and from the pillar page, search engines will see it as an important piece of content, giving it and the assets attached to it a boost in search engine rankings. As more and more people find the content (pillar page or cluster), the value attributed to any of the pages is shared amongst the cluster.
Over time, search engines and people will see that page as an authoritative piece of information and position the business as a thought leader for that particular topic. Its search rankings will improve, and so too its likelihood of being found by those searching for what it provides.
The role of social media in the development of lead generation
The way people use the internet has changed; social media platforms that were once intended for building relationships with others, have now become platforms for consumers to research products and services, as well as read up on companies before making a purchase.
Using social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, businesses can reach new audiences just by including industry-related keywords and hashtags. This is why so many businesses promote assets via LinkedIn articles and Twitter posts!
Furthermore, by using social media in a targeted manner and focusing on the platforms their target audience is active on, businesses can position themselves as industry leaders, capture interest and interact with potential leads. A key example of this is LinkedIn groups: B2B companies can share content directly with their ideal customers, in other words, those with similar pain points and objectives to their buyer personas. And, with 80% of B2B leads coming from LinkedIn, it is no surprise that 92% of marketers use this platform in their digital marketing mix.
Lead generation has changed... have you?
How businesses find, engage and convert potential prospects has changed drastically, creating opportunities for marketers to generate leads more efficiently and for salespeople to close more deals.
And while technology has played a key part, it’s constantly evolving. Marketers must, therefore, follow suit in order to remain competitive. However, it’s important to not overlook traditional lead generation methods. As it becomes harder to stand out from the competition, marketers need to utilise these methods in a way that the modern consumer can engage with. For instance, if you are running a networking event, promoting it on social media and posting live updates throughout can help start conversations and generate interest.
Ultimately, regardless of your industry or expertise, the most effective methods of lead generation (whether online or offline) are those which work best for your target audience. With the right strategy, every method can be effective.
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