B2B Lead Generation Guide: Strategies, Tips, Tools and Ideas

The definitive guide to getting lead gen right

Effective lead generation is absolutely key to a successful B2B sales machine. 📈

Now, if you’re ready to be successful, you’re in the right place! 😎

Getting lead generation right requires a comprehensive strategy (instead of just a few tactics or tools), so we recommend reading this guide step by step, top to bottom.

However, if you can’t read everything right now, you can also click to one of the specific sections below. 👇

This definitive guide to B2B lead generation is structured as follows:

  1. Definition: What “lead generation” means
  2. Strategy: How to be successful at B2B lead generation
  3. Tips: Common pitfalls & best practices
  4. Tools: Essential software tools to help you (full list here)
  5. Ideas: A series of successful examples that can inspire you
  6. Outsourcing: Should you outsource lead gen to an agency or not?

Let’s dig in! 😁

What is lead generation? What does it mean in B2B sales?

First things first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page semantically. 🤓

How do we define lead generation? What does it exactly mean?

Here’s a definition we can work with:

Definition of “lead generation”:
“The action or process of identifying and cultivating potential customers for a business’s products or services.”

That’s how Oxford Languages, the world’s most authoritative source on current English, puts it eloquently. 🧐

The most interesting part about the definition is that lead generation can both be an action and a process. And neither of those will work well without an underlying strategy.

So let’s build that lead generation strategy now. 👇

Building your B2B lead generation strategy

If you start working on lead generation without building that strategy first, you’d probably waste a lot of precious time.

Coming up with a lead generation strategy isn’t too complicated. It just takes 6 steps or questions.

Here are the 6 questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. Where do they hang out? Or where can you reach them?
  3. How can you earn their attention?
  4. How do you find out quickly whether they’re likely to buy?
  5. How can you guide them towards buying?
  6. How can they convince others to join the club?

Let’s take this step by step. 😁

1. Who is your target audience?

The easiest way to be more successful in your lead generation is great targeting. The more accurate and narrower you can define your target audience, the more effective your lead generation will be.

Your emails are more likely to get replies, people are more excited in sales meetings, your conversion rates go up, … 📈

And it goes beyond just lead generation: in the startup world there’s a mythical concept called “product-market fit”. When you reach this state in which your product is an excellent fit for your target market, your company can scale almost effortlessly.

A popular way to measure whether you’ve reached “product-market fit” is to ask your customers how disappointed they would be if your product would disappear. If more than 40% of them answer “very disappointed”, you’ve made it. 🙌

Now, there are essentially two ways to increase your “product-market fit”:

  1. Build a better product, so it fits your target market better
  2. Define your target market better, so it fits your product better

Conclusion: great targeting is the key. 🎯

2. Where do they hang out? Or where can you reach them?

Once you know who your target audience is, the next question is: where can you reach them?

Without trying to be comprehensive, you can ask yourself:

  • Are they more likely to hang out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube or TikTok? Which groups, people, subreddits, … do they follow?
  • What events or conferences do they attend?
  • What magazines do they read?
  • What topics or keywords do they search for?
  • What review sites do they check?
  • Are they likely to answer your emails or pick up your phone calls?

People spend their time in many different places, so there are many channels through which you can potentially reach them. 📣

This could be manual or automated. You can for instance reach out to people manually on LinkedIn or use a tool like LinkedHelper to do it automatically.

If the channel you’re choosing is not too specific to your target audience, then an additional question can be: how can I identify my target audience within that channel?

3. How can you earn their attention?

When you know how you want to reach and where/how you can reach out to them, the big question remains: how can you earn their attention?

People’s attention is sparse and many are clamoring for it. Standing out is hard. 🦸

The simplest advice I can give you: don’t do the same thing as everyone else.

Try to be remarkable; preferably in a positive way, but don’t be too cautious about that either. Nothing is ever perceived as positive by everyone. 😬

4. How do you find out quickly whether they’re likely to buy?

If you found perfect answers to the previous three questions, you’re about halfway there: you have found leads. Now, are they “qualified” leads? 🤔

Lead qualification is an absolutely essential part of your lead generation strategy. You could generate tons of leads doing the above, but probably many of those are not too likely to buy from you.

Every moment you spend with leads who are not likely to buy, is wasted time for everyone (at least from a business perspective 😏).

Now, there are different ways to find this out.

First, you can ask them questions. This usually happens during a call or meeting, but not necessarily. Some of the most basic things to find out are:

  • Do they need what you’re selling?
  • Is there anything blocking them from buying, using or implementing it?
  • Do they have a budget for it?
  • Are you in touch with the right person?
  • Do they have a definite timeline in mind?

Alternatively, you can judge their willingness to buy based on their actions. For instance:

  • Do they download a whitepaper about a problem that your product solves?
  • Do they request a demo?

Any signal or combination of signals can be used here, as long as it can accurately predict their likelihood to buy.

5. How can you guide them towards buying?

Now that you know they’re likely to buy from you – how do you make that happen?

You need a systematic sales process or pipeline. And preferably one that aligns as much as possible with how the leads you generate prefer to buy, because you want a great conversion rate from lead to deal.

Then you need to organize yourself to perfectly guide every lead through that sales process at the right pace.

And there is software like Salesflare to keep track of that. 👇

Salesflare is the only B2B sales CRM that tracks your leads automatically.

Now, this is a topic by itself, which is why we wrote a separate article on how to build a solid sales pipeline. It’s recommended reading material.

6. How can they convince others to join the club?

This may seem odd to include as a step in a lead generation strategy. Haven’t we just gone from generating a lead to closing the deal? Why ask this sixth question? 🤔

It is widely known that most B2B leads come from referrals (more on that later), so it would be absolutely foolish to overlook it in your strategy.

This can take different forms:

  • You can ask your customers who else they know who would benefit from your product or service.
  • You can set up a referral program to incentivize spontaneous referrals.
  • You can ask your customers for reviews.
  • You can invite your customers and leads to the same event. And let the magic happen.

It’s such a crucial part of your lead generation strategy that the first best practice we’ll share and two of the lead generation ideas (one and two) below will touch on this topic.

Don’t forget it! 🙏

Common pitfalls & best practices in B2B lead generation

Have you built a powerful lead generation strategy? Then all you need is a great implementation of that strategy.

Here are 4 simple tactics, tips and techniques you can use to make your lead generation successful. 👇

1. Start from your personal network and current customers.

This is based on two simple truths: ✌️

  • Most early customers of a new business are friends and acquaintances.
  • Most B2B leads come from referrals.
Results of a 2018 study by Bop Design.

I’m partly repeating the sixth step of building your lead generation strategy – here when it comes to getting referrals from current customers… because, well, it’s super important. 😬

However, there are two important additional parts to it:

  1. Start from your personal network. These people know you, like you and trust you (ideally). Provided that they match your target audience more or less, they are some of the warmest leads you’ll find.
  2. You can get referrals from current customers, but you can also sell them more. You can sell more of the same or upsell or cross-sell them other things. They also know, like and trust you… AND they’ve already bought from you. That’s why your current customers are your best leads. Period.

Don’t try to generate cold or lukewarm leads if you haven’t worked on the warm ones yet. Start here. ☝️

2. Be human, brief and considerate. Without any hint of salesy.

The best and most sensitive spam filter is still the human brain. 🧠 And it most often errs on the side of caution.

We can decide in a fraction of a second whether an email is worth reading… or whether it needs to be marked as spam. And we’re pretty good at it.

Any of the below can set off our spam filter: 🤨

  • Salesy or marketing-style language
  • A wall of text
  • Weird images
  • Lame personalization

And if we even consider reading the email diagonally, we may very quickly give up if we don’t immediately see what’s in it for us. Most recipients just talk about how great they feel they are, but forget considering our feelings. 😑

I’d argue that over 95% of the sales emails you get don’t get a response. That’s painful, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to do better. If your competition doesn’t put in the necessary effort, then it’s pretty easy to compete.

Here are a few golden rules for not ending up in the spam folder and receiving a reply:

  • Write like a human being would. 🧑 Imagine reaching out to a friend. This will avoid that you hide behind the veil of professionalism and forget using your human qualities.
  • Be brief. Your recipient’s attention span is limited. Don’t challenge it. And if you ignore this rule and ask for a lot of their attention anyway, you need to earn that attention first.
  • Be considerate. Make it easy on them to work with you. Put your lead first.
  • Avoid any hint of “salesy”. Despite all the above, you may still set off your recipient’s spam filter.

Take the extra mile and you will be rewarded. 😘

3. Start with baby steps. Get tiny commitments.

Almost nobody wants to “jump on a call”. 🙅 Especially if it means being sold on something.

While it’s important to include a call to action in your email, it’s key that this action is one they’re willing and able to take.

If you ask for a commitment that is too big, nothing will happen and you’ll lose your lead.

Instead, ask for tiny, painless commitments. You can for example ask who the right person would be in their company to talk to.

Or – even more powerful – offer them something in return for that tiny commitment. This could be anything: some useful data, a backlink, a mention, or even some chocolate. 🍫 Whatever can make sense within the context and your lead will appreciate.

4. If the time isn’t ripe, stay in touch.

Just like most B2B leads come from referrals, most sales happen after building up a relationship for a long time.

It can take many different interactions to finally turn a lead into a deal.

Part of the reason for that is the same as I mentioned in the very first tip: it can take time to build trust with someone.

On top of that, people may be too busy with something else when you first reach out. And if you keep in touch, one day you’ll hit the right timing. And timing is everything in sales. ⌚

Essential B2B lead generation tools

Got your strategy and processes in place? Then it’s time to inject software. ⚡

Lead generation software tools can help you to organize and automate what you’re doing and pull it to an entirely new level. A lot of what you’re doing in lead generation is managing data and software is much better at that than people.

If there’s one lead gen tool you should check out, it’s Salesflare. ✨

It’s not just the most automated and easiest B2B sales CRM for small businesses you’ll find, but also:

Salesflare also integrates really closely with Gmail / Google Workspace, Microsoft / Office 365 and LinkedIn. And offers 100% of its functionality through its mobile app.

Find leads on LinkedIn, find their email, add them to an email sequence, … and more.

For a full list of the best lead generation tools – only tools we can vouch for, organized per category – check out this separate article with 30+ lead gen tools. 👈

Get ideas from successful B2B lead generation examples

Now that we’ve covered what lead generation is, how to build a great strategy, what (not) to do, and which tools you can use… it’s time to explore some successful examples.

Every case is different, so definitely don’t blindly copy the below tactics, but use them as inspiration and ideas for your own lead generation.

1. Generate leads on LinkedIn by ResultConsulting

You think lead generation on LinkedIn is dead? Think again.

The guys at ResultConsulting are still killing it on LinkedIn, both when it comes to their own lead generation as well as for clients. 💪

In the below recording of our webinar with Matteo and Giacomo of ResultConsulting, they will explain you how their proven lead machine works, including:

  • How to consistently generate B2B sales leads from LinkedIn
  • How to nurture these leads to convert more of them in the long run
  • How to follow them up effectively and close deals
  • And how to double your sales conversion by tracking your sales metrics

If you’re short on time, here are five takeaways from this video:

  1. You can generate tens of new customers per year with just 1 hour of lead gen per day.
  2. When first reaching out to new leads, avoid trying to sell them anything at all costs (even avoid all hints that you may be about to sell something).
  3. When people decide to connect with you, focus on providing them a lot of value with case studies, webinars, …
  4. Keep nurturing your leads: most sales only happen after being in touch consistently with people for a while.
  5. Build a repeatable process and then massively improve it by tracking your sales metrics on your CRM’s sales dashboards.

But, for the concrete examples and proof behind these takeaways, just watch the video. ☝️

2. Attract the right leads to your conference booth by xplore+

Salesflare itself was started out of another company, called xplore+.

We went with xplore+ to a conference and came back with 130+ good leads. We didn’t find any CRM that made it easy to follow up these leads, as most required an enormous amount of data input to make them useful in the first place. We figured that most of that data input could be automated… and that’s how Salesflare was born.

Now, how did we manage to get 130+ good leads at that conference? 🤔

Our approach was simple:

  1. We asked a question that would immediately identify our target audience. We were at an IBM conference selling solutions that complemented the IBM Cognos software platform. So we’d simply step from our booth into the hallway and ask people: “Do you use Cognos?”
  2. If people said “yes”, then we’d ask them the next qualifying questions: “We have some solutions for problems you may have. Do you need to publish your reports in SharePoint? Or do you need to sometimes report on your reports, like who edits them or what data your reports are built on?”
  3. If they said “yes” to either of these questions again, we could start introducing our solutions to them. We caught the right people and got them hooked.
  4. When they asked the first technical follow up question, the people attracting the leads would pass them on to the more technical sales staff… and go after the next lead.
  5. Towards the end of the conversation with the technical sales staff, we’d scan their badge (or write down their details) and promise to follow up. We’d also score how qualified they would be as a lead: how likely were they to buy based on our conversation with them?
  6. After the conference, we had all we needed to follow up and start guiding them through the rest of the sales process.

This process is highly effective and can be used to sell most products and services, provided you go to a conference or event where you have a high likelihood of meeting your target audience. And of course assuming that your deal size is high enough to pay back the cost of attending the conference and guiding the leads through the sales process after that.

3. Focus on reviews to get search traffic by Salesflare

At Salesflare, we mainly help small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) who are looking for a better CRM to follow up their leads.

Our deal size is relatively small and most people don’t understand that there is such a thing as a “better CRM” – they believe all CRMs are essentially the same and they’re all as easy and automated as they can be (spoiler: that’s not true 🙃). This means that we mostly sell to better informed people at SMBs who do quite some internet research before getting a new CRM system.

Inevitably, this means we need to focus on getting reviews. Preferably good ones. 😬

Most businesses believe that if they send some marketing email asking for reviews and offer an incentive, they will get reviews. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. People get asked to place reviews all the time and they just won’t do it.

The two secrets are:

  1. Obviously, a great product, great service, and happy customers. Without that, it’s hard to get great reviews. 😁
  2. Personally asking people to review when they express their appreciation and/or gratitude, preferably during a live, video or chat conversation.

And, if you want to take it really seriously, you can set a target per team member to get a certain amount of reviews per month. 🎯 That way you’re sure all team members build the necessary reflexes.

These two or three secrets are why Salesflare is currently successfully competing on review sites, e.g. ranked the #2 easiest-to-use CRM on G2.com of 800+ CRMs worldwide. ✨

4. Write SEO articles that showcase your product in action by Ahrefs

Most products nowadays require some level of education around how they can be used. And people self-educate themselves on most topics by googling (or by searching for a tutorial on YouTube, a discussion on Reddit, …).

If this is the case for your product, then you can capitalize on this opportunity by writing a tutorial or a how-to guide that covers the topic. ✍️

Now, you can write a lot of how-to guides, but if none of them feature your product, it won’t really generate any leads for your business.

That’s why you should use the strategy coined by the guys at Ahrefs – not accidentally some of the top experts on SEO:

  1. Make a list of all the use cases for your product. This can include very broad use cases as well as very simple ones. (Generally, the simpler ones tend to convert better.)
  2. Research which search keywords people type in Google to explore these use cases.
  3. Score these keywords by their search volume, how difficult it is to rank on these keywords, and how differentiated your product is for this use case. Then combine this into one score to figure out which keywords are best. You can for instance do something like this: search_volume * 1 / ( parameter_a * (parameter_b ^ keyword_difficulty)) * product_differentation.
  4. Write highly descriptive, easy-to-skim and easy-to-follow guides that use your product along the way, including a lot of screenshots and practical advice.

This will make it so that people can see your product in action to solve their problem, which is the easiest path for them towards using your product.

5. Have prospects meet customers at your own events by Salesforce

What’s even better than your customers saying in reviews how happy they are? Them saying it in person to your prospects. 😍

One way of making this happen is inviting your prospects to an event of yours where your customers hang out as well and make them talk to each other.

That’s all. The magic will happen by itself. 🪄

In the book “Behind the Cloud”, Marc Benioff of Salesforce explains how the concept of their events evolved over time.

While initially they would do demos of Salesforce and have customers present their use cases, over time they figured that the most essential part of the event were the drinks where prospects mingled with customers and everything became optimized around that.

Simple yet genius. 💡

Outsource it to a lead generation company or do it yourself?

Now, should you take care of all lead generation work by yourself, or should you count on the services of a lead generation company or agency? 🤔

Lead generation is definitely easier to outsource to a dedicated company than the rest of the sales process, so if you want to outsource any part of your sales, it probably makes sense to start here.

Here are a few other things you can consider when pondering on that question:

  • Is your sales team good at generating leads? Or only at closing them?
  • Do they have the necessary time in their schedule to generate leads? Can they balance their schedule well to cover both lead generation and the rest of the sales process?
  • Are you sure about what your target audience is? (If not, it’s not a great idea to have another company try to find that out on your behalf.)
  • Is your deal size (or the lifetime value of your customers) large enough to pay lead generation agency fees?

If you answered “no”, “no”, “yes” and “yes” then it’s probably a good idea to look at outsourcing your lead generation to another company.

More questions about lead generation? Don’t hesitate to hit up our team using the live chat on our website. We’re here to help you be successful! 😘

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Jeroen Corthout