Sophisticated B2B lead generation campaigns deliver far greater returns than old school ‘one and done’ approaches. Here, we outline exactly why some lead gen strategies are so much more profitable than others.
So, you can trust us when we say lead generation is about a lot more than simply convincing prospects to hand over their contact details. That initial interaction is just the first step in a journey that often lasts several weeks before the prospect is ready to buy something from you.
The right lead generation strategy can vastly improve your marketing’s ROI. In fact, we’ll look at one B2B company that generated a 5,100% ROI from a single digital marketing campaign in this very post.
But you can only hope to generate huge returns like that if your marketing team is providing your target audience with genuinely valuable content and optimising every stage of the marketing process.
Demand generation is about helping customers find the best solutions for their needs
Content has become a powerful lead generation tool in recent years, as a result of dramatic changes in the B2B sales cycle.
Customers once depended on salespeople to propose the best solutions to the challenges they face. But today, 89 per cent of buyers prefer to research their needs independently online.
As the power of sales to influence potential customers early in the buying process diminishes, the marketing funnel has evolved and new B2B lead generation strategies have emerged.
It now falls to marketing to provide quality content that plugs many of the gaps in an audience’s knowledge that were once filled by sales.
B2B healthcare giant Optum is a glowing example of this idea in practice. By transitioning from old fashioned ‘one and done’ campaigns to a content‐first marketing model, the company has transformed itself into an award‐winning lead generation machine.
That’s a huge result, and there are three clear factors that underpin the brand’s success. Optum treats its prospects as more than just names in a spreadsheet. It provides them with genuinely useful content. And it has a clear strategy for nurturing leads through the customer journey.
Not all marketing leads are created equal
It should be no surprise that companies with mature lead generation strategies generate significantly more revenue than their competitors.
Salespeople at companies with a mature process for generating qualified leads typically spend less time prospecting and 28 per cent more time actively pitching their products or services.
At the same time, the right B2B content marketing strategy will ensure your salespeople are contacting better quality leads.
The challenge is that some leads are hotter than others. Only a fraction of the people your campaigns reach will be in a position to buy from you, and most of them won’t be ready to buy from you right away.
Companies like Optum realise this and work closely with their sales teams to define exactly what counts as an ideal prospect and what will be considered a sales‐qualified lead before they create a single piece of content.
Then, they’ll develop detailed audience personas to guide their content creation and ensure they can deliver real value to prospects at each stage of the lead generation process.
“As marketers, the traditional role is, ‘Let’s build a campaign’,” explains Karen Thomas‐Smith, Optum’s VP of provider marketing and reference management. “I’ve switched it to, ‘Let’s understand the market before we build a campaign’.”
B2B lead generation depends on quality content
Selling to B2B buyers involves a series of ‘value exchanges’.
For example, someone who gets value from your free top‐of‐funnel content will consider exchanging their contact details for a gated white paper.
If that paper proves valuable, they might be open to spending time talking to your sales team – and if those sales conversations prove valuable, they’ll probably decide to do business with you.
Of course, the B2B sales cycle usually spans many more touchpoints than that. What’s more, prospects often won’t move through the buying process in the same linear or predictable fashion. (They might go back and read more content after their first sales conversation, for example.)
The crucial thing to realise is that a disappointing experience at any stage of the process will derail the whole operation.
So, it honestly pains me to see a household name like HP publishing a train wreck of a white paper like this one. It’s called IT Professional’s Guide to Colour Imaging and Printing, and it breaks pretty much every rule in the book when it comes to creating effective lead generation content.
Imagine deciding to ignore the boring title and sharing your contact details to get hold of it, only to discover that this guide to colour imaging contains no images at all beyond the company logo.
Worse yet, it doesn’t show any interest in improving your knowledge or aiding your research. It’s basically a sales pitch in disguise. You’re certainly not going to be eager to work with HP after reading it.
By contrast, successful lead generation campaigns are grounded in authoritative content that demonstrates the brand’s expertise and genuinely helps prospects understand the issues that matter.
As you’re about to see, that’s exactly how Optum designed the campaign that won it the Best in Show award at MarketingSherpa Summit 2016.
How to turn new prospects into qualified leads
To get the most out of your lead generation strategy, you need a process for turning new prospects into sales‐qualified leads.
So, for its award‐winning 2016 campaign, Optum created a whole suite of content over a period of 18 months to engage its audience and nurture relationships with key prospects.
First, its marketers created a flagship ebook to help healthcare businesses understand the potential of big data analytics. Then, they went on to create more than 1,000 pieces of unique content – including infographics, videos, white papers, podcasts, blog posts, direct mail pieces and more.
Repurposing content in this way can be an efficient way to flesh out your brand’s editorial calendar and engage your audience all year round. But it’s equally important to plan the ‘onward journey’ you want potential leads to take once they discover your brand.
“Consider what you want prospects to do after engaging with each content piece and include clear ‘signposts’ to point them in the right direction”
If you want prospects to sign up to your newsletter, send them to a landing page. If you think they should download some research after reading a blog post, close that post with a call to action. If you believe prospects that read your case studies are ready to speak with sales, make sure a link to your contact form is there on the page.
Creating natural paths from your lead generation content to those crucial sales conversations and making it easy for prospects to follow those paths is the key to delivering effective B2B lead generation campaigns.
“We knew [the ebook] was our first piece of content,” explains Thomas‐Smith. “We couldn’t put it out there and not have something next to tell our prospects and clients.”
To date, Optum has used these techniques to generate hundreds of millions of pounds in pipeline revenue – and they can work for you, too. Simply build these ideas into your marketing programme and you could soon be reaping the rewards of a superior lead generation strategy.
- Provide prospects with high‐quality, relevant content. Buyers view the content you produce as a proxy for your industry expertise.
- Not all marketing leads are created equal. Define who your ideal prospects are and what counts as a sales‐qualified lead.
- Build relationships with ideal prospects over time and include clear signposts to guide them through the nurturing process.