11 B2B Lead Generation Ideas Ranked
I’ve heard dozens of lead generation ideas from my colleagues over the past decade. Some of them have been creative new ideas that really work—the interview series that I’ve ranked at #5, for example. Others, much less so. (Please do not send your marketing team to a CEO’s home to sing Christmas carols that promote your services.)
Below are the 11 ideas that I think are the best for generating qualified leads, ranked by their overall effectiveness and cost to implement. I’ve taken the quality and value of the leads generated into account meaning that while some are expensive to execute, they’re effective enough at securing high-value clients that they deserve their high ranking.
B2B Lead Generation Idea #1: Speaking Engagements at Industry Events
Speaking engagements are my #1 recommendation for two reasons. First, they establish your credibility as an industry leading voice, and second, you have an hour or more of your target audience’s undivided attention. They give you a better opportunity to make a strong impression than publishing a blog post or a white paper, as a great presentation can be remembered for years afterward. One drawback, however, is that unlike a white paper or blog post, the experience is ephemeral so you really do need to make a lasting impression.
To start using this idea, you’ll need someone on your team who is a charismatic speaker and is comfortable presenting to a crowd. You’ll also need to do the legwork to book the speaking engagements, which means researching which events your audience will be attending and getting accepted as a speaker. When you first start, you’ll either be asked to (a) present a convincing case as to why you should be given the stage, or (b) pay for your speaking slot. With time and talent, however, event organizers will start reaching out to you instead.
|Speaking Engagements at Industry Events|
|Pros: You have your audience’s undivided attention; speaking is prestigious and confers authority.||Cons: You need a great speaker and solid research on which events to attend; the experience is ephemeral.|
|Bottom Line: The most effective B2B lead generation tactic if you have a charismatic speaker, especially when you do it consistently.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #2: Account-Based Marketing (ABM)
The classic example of ABM is finding a prospect’s favorite bottle of wine and gifting it to them. This kind of personal touch is very effective at generating leads and closing sales, but it hinges on 3 things:
- Finding the kind of schmoozer who knows how to win over cold leads
- Getting all relevant contact information on your high-level targets
- Thoroughly researching your prospects
These steps take a great deal of time and effort, and their execution depends heavily on the individual you hire (who is no doubt highly paid as well). That’s why this kind of traditional ABM works best when you’re in an industry where a few, highly valuable accounts are much more important than finding a great deal of lower-value leads. But if you have the above ingredients, there’s few better methods in which to invest.
|Account Based Marketing (ABM)|
|Pros: Highly effective for targeting specific individuals; leads are extremely qualified||Cons: Resource-intensive; depends heavily on the charisma of your sales team|
|Bottom Line: Particularly effective for firms trying to land a handful of big contracts per year, but overrelies on attracting and retaining a talented salesperson.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #3: Thought Leadership Content Marketing
In the B2B realm, prospects need to see your firm as a thought leader before they’re ready to buy. They also must see your business as a solution to their problem.
Great thought leadership content marketing does more than establish your reputation as an industry leader. It’s a highly targeted approach that attracts leads based on search intent, which helps to pre-qualify them. It also brings a consistent stream of leads to your website for years at a time. In order to achieve success at SEO, you’ll want to ensure that your content contains the following hallmarks:
- Focuses on sharing original insights on the problems and areas of interest of your target audience
- Optimized for the keywords your target audience types into Google when they are researching their problem
- Published to your website at least twice weekly, demonstrating your commitment to being a true resource to your industry
When you publish thought leadership as described above, Google awards you the ‘News Website’ Bonus, allowing you to own more real estate in the search results, see up-and-to-the-right organic traffic, and automate lead generation via SEO. Because it ensures a continuous stream of leads well into the future, thought leadership content marketing is the best long-term lead generation strategy.
It does, however, have two main downsides. The first is that it takes 4-6 months of consistent publishing before you can expect a dependable stream of leads. The second downside is that in order to produce truly excellent content, you need a team whose expertise spans strategic planning, transactional keyword research, SME interviews, conversion rate optimization, and development.
|Thought Leadership Content Marketing|
|Pros: Sustainable, long-term lead generation; establishes trust with potential customers; increases search visibility; positions your website to receive Google’s ‘News Website’ Bonus.||Cons: Must invest 4-6 months of effort before seeing leads; requires a specialized team to implement.|
|Bottom Line: Overall the highest-ROI lead gen strategy, but it requires disciplined work from a specialized team for ~6 months before it begins to pay off.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #4: PR
Getting other people to say nice things about you is a strong lead generation strategy, and it’s exactly what PR firms do. There are few things as powerful as hearing from an authoritative news source that a company is worth knowing. Those same news sources also have a much greater reach than all but the largest B2B firms, so your message will reach many more people than if you published it on your own.
Good press also means more than just new leads. It validates your current clients’ decision to work with you, and gives your employees a reason to be proud of their work. Adding press logos of outlets you’ve been featured in on your website is another trust-building element that adds to your reputation.
PR’s downside is that it’s very expensive—more so than any of the other ideas here. Working with a good PR firm can cost anywhere from $10k to $50k each month. It’s also difficult to tell if your investment is justified; beyond asking each new client “Where did you hear about us?”, it’s impossible to attribute.
|Hire a PR Firm|
|Pros: Good press will generate new leads, and can help with client and employee retention.||Cons: Expensive; results are hard to measure and not guaranteed.|
|Bottom Line: Pricey, but distinctly effective when combined with other sales & marketing tactics due to the high value of third party validation.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #5: Interview Series for Successful CEOs / Executives
If you have someone on your team who can ask insightful questions, starting an interview series with potential clients or referrers is a creative way to do business development. The advantages are plentiful. First, you get to develop rapport with a valuable business contact in a way that positions you as an authority in their minds. Second, when you publish, your interviewee will often distribute the content to their network, which means that you get further exposure among potential new sales leads.
Of course, quality is very important. It’s hard to find new insights that a person hasn’t had published about themselves before, and it’s even more challenging to package it in a way that appeals to the interests of your audience. An average interview will do nothing to further your relationship.
|Start An Interview Series For Successful Executives|
|Pros: Positions you as a thought leader; allows you to build relationships with potential clients and referrers and gain access to their networks.||Cons: High quality is a must, and the skills required for interviewing and packaging the content may not exist on your marketing team.|
|Bottom Line: An obliquely valuable strategy that can function as a more valuable form of networking at its best, helping you build relationships and gain access to the networks of your interviewees.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #6: Strategic PPC Advertising
PPC campaigns have become a default lead generation method for many online companies, and with good reason. You get results fast, you can craft your campaign to target a very specific audience, and Google makes it easy to see exactly what is and isn’t working. Because of the fast turnaround time, it’s particularly valuable for testing out a new market or application for your products.
At the same time, you’ll be paying for each and every lead you acquire, so your costs will scale directly with your lead generation success. Google also knows which industries rely the most on PPC and increases prices for any keywords or niches that are exceeding expectations, which leads to decreasing ROI every year. Overall, this shouldn’t be your go-to for lead generation, but it’s a valuable tool to have.
|Pros: You get leads, fast. Great for testing new markets.||Cons: Expensive and getting more so each year. Doesn’t scale well.|
|Bottom Line: PPC is a sinkhole if you don’t know how and when to use it, but when used with precision rather than abandon, it can net a healthy ROI.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #7: High Level Reports
For the past 67 years, Axalta has published an annual Global Color Popularity Report that tracks trends in car colors. Every year, the car manufacturing industry relies on this report to accurately project what colors they will need to produce in next year’s models to match consumer demand.
This is a great example of high-level thought leadership in the form of a really interesting report that the industry tunes into every year. In order to execute this type of strategy well, you’ll need to combine a clever idea with quality writing, and create a distribution plan through PR or a large email list. This is also a multi-year approach, as the report needs time to gain traction in your industry. As with any form of branding or pure thought leadership, it can be difficult to measure the success of high level reports, but it will be obvious when you have a hit on your hands.
|Big Picture Reports|
|Pros: Positions you as a thought leader and the industry begins to rely on your analysis.||Cons: Multi-year approach; need to use other campaigns to distribute.|
|Bottom Line: Excellent in concert with other lead generation methods like e-mail marketing, social, and conference marketing.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #8: Sponsored News Website
Another way to ensure that your audience is paying attention to what you have to say is starting a news website for your niche or industry. The website should not be directly linked to your company so that it has credibility as an objective source of information. News websites require frequent content publishing, which is also great for SEO, so your site is certain to rise in search rankings more rapidly than a normal site. It’s also likely to be accepted by Google News, which further increases your reach.
Once the site is established, you can begin sponsoring posts every so often that reflect positively on your brand—essentially advertising on your own news site.
This idea falls relatively low on my list because, as with PR, you’ll be playing a relatively passive role in your lead generation, relying on outside factors and a little bit of luck for its success. It’s also a lot of work for your team and you do need to maintain relative objectivity to be taken seriously: an obviously biased news site can do as much to harm your company’s reputation as help it.
|Create A Sponsored News Website|
|Pros: Can become a trusted news source for your entire industry.||Cons: Passive and requires an investment from your team.|
|Bottom Line: Owning the news is a powerful tool for those ambitious enough to want to substantively influence their niche or industry.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #9: Email Marketing Campaigns
The amount of spam that exists in the world of email means that most people are habituated to ignoring cold messages. This state of affairs creates enormous pressure on email marketers to capture people’s attention in creative ways. In order to be effective with this strategy, it’s imperative to craft language that really speaks to the problems and areas of interests of your target audience.
The main drawback with email marketing campaigns is the element of list building. Finding reliable lists of your target audience or building them yourself can be difficult. Buying lists means you’re reaching out to completely cold leads, and building a list from scratch is a multi-year process.
Like thought leadership marketing, email marketing is best executed by an experienced team. At the very least, you’ll need a writer to create compelling marketing copy; a campaign manager to establish the calendar and list-building methodologies; and an analyst to manage the CRM, analyze metrics, and suggest improvements.
|Email Marketing Campaigns|
|Pros: Effective tactic when paired with the right messaging, you can reach out completely cold.||Cons: List building is difficult; buying lists means cold leads; high quality messaging is imperative to avoid the spam folder.|
|Bottom Line: Once you’ve built a contact list, e-mail marketing is a phenomenal value-add to any content marketing campaign.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #10: LinkedIn Advertising
LinkedIn is the only form of social media advertising that I recommend for B2B lead generation—it’s the one social network that people visit when they have business on their mind. It’s also the only social network where users have detailed information about their current job position, company, and career experience. These details allow your marketing team to target ads precisely.
However, as with Google Adwords, LinkedIn increases the price of PPC ads every year. It’s also not linked to user intent, meaning there’s a longer sales cycle to close a sale from a LinkedIn lead.
|Pros: Targeting can be very precise; your audience is already thinking about business.||Cons: Expensive, time consuming, and difficult to measure.|
|Bottom Line: Like ABM-lite, LinkedIn advertising allows you to target decision makers — but more cheaply and slightly less effectively.|
B2B Lead Generation Idea #11: Exhibiting at Trade Shows and Conferences
For many industries, trade shows and conferences are the only place where everyone gets together. They’re great for networking and making a face to face connection with customers from other geographic regions—particularly if you’re in an industry like SaaS where being a local provider isn’t as important. A large part of the reason people attend these shows is to learn about new technology and solutions. Thus, if you have a great salesperson, there’s no better place to spend your time. Conferences are also a great place to learn more about your competitors.
I’ve ranked trade shows last, so you know there’s a catch—two of them, in fact. First, attending them is expensive: when you factor in the cost of renting an exhibition space, creating marketing materials, booking travel, and lost time, a single event can easily run your company between $10,000 and $250,000. Second, by their very nature, they’re events for the entire industry to gather together and your competitors will also be in attendance with their own exhibitions. You’ll be vying with them for your potential clients’ attention. To add to that competition, these events are also packed with talks, demonstrations, and seminars so you’ll have to go all out to make a lasting impression.
|Pros: Opportunity to connect with geographically remote leads in-person; keeps you updated on industry trends.||Cons: Expensive; competition makes it hard to stand out.|
|Bottom Line: In-person networking in a place where many potential clients are gathered drips with potential, but these events can be both expensive and highly competitive.|
Which B2B Lead Generation Idea Should You Use?
Reading through this list, you might notice something that the top ideas have in common: they’re all very effective when done well, but they demand that your team be highly skilled and are fully dedicated to the lead generation process. Even the most competent marketing teams will still be stretched trying to make use of all of them. That’s why I recommend choosing one or two for your in-house team to focus on, and hiring an outside agency if you want to expand your repertoire.
This is most effective when you focus on a subset of ideas that all support each other naturally and outsource another set to specialized partners. For example, your in-house team might focus on an interview series that ties into a larger ABM strategy, while an SEO agency produces thought leadership content for your website. Ideally, you should find an agency that is accountable and shares your vision for overall success. We like to think we’re one of those agencies, and if you’ve found this article helpful and would like to know more, feel free to get in touch.