March 28, 2024

7 must-haves for successful B2B lead generation

image of sound waves

Let's talk about getting on the same proverbial page while prospects go more and more digital.

In B2B, the intersection of sales and marketing demands a nuanced understanding and a strategic approach. Considering 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur through digital channels by 2025, marketing and sales need to spend time ensuring their activities are aligned and not overlapping. Especially because this increasing move to digital will cloud the space of who owns which outreach tactic.

Aligning on to seven must-haves can help teams go beyond surface-level insights and form a blueprint for a synergistic relationship, resulting in not just qualified leads but also sustained impact on overall business growth. According to Oliver Wyman, “leaders in digital-lead generation can cost-effectively source and qualify leads as well as automate the lead-generation process to support their sales teams with higher propensity leads."

01 | Clear communication and collaboration

There is a traditional friction between sales and marketing at B2B organizations. Some tension can be healthy. However, too much can stifle growth by allowing too much time to be spent on credit-claiming and finger pointing. Ultimately, the company’s goal to hit revenue numbers at a certain level of return on investment (ROI) efficiency is one of the most important things sales and marketing teams must achieve together. If identifying who did what overwhelms identifying what worked and what didn’t, your teams are focused on too much personal attribution and not enough on the program or campaign results. Often, these tensions can be resolved with clearer communication.

This kind of communication isn’t just about the transmission of information; it’s about fostering a culture of collaboration. In B2B sales and marketing, where strategies intertwine and objectives converge, clear communication becomes the linchpin of success. Regular meetings should not be mere formalities but dynamic sessions where ideas flow freely, fostering an environment of innovation and shared understanding.

It’s always a good idea to start from somewhere you have more knowns than unknowns, and account-based marketing is a good strategy in which to pilot new ways of communication. Eighty-seven percent of marketing and sales teams that measure ROI believe that account-based marketing (ABM) outperforms all other marketing investments, and 84% say it significantly helps retain and expand existing relationships.

Moreover, the collaboration extends beyond scheduled interactions. Shared documents and collaborative tools should be the canvas on which both teams contribute their insights and ideas. The evolution of a shared language and a mutual understanding of each other’s challenges are key outcomes of this collaborative culture. The crux lies in transforming communication from a functional necessity to a strategic advantage.

“The crux lies in transforming communication from a functional necessity to a strategic advantage.”

02 | Alignment of goals and objectives

Aligning on goals is an ongoing process that requires constant calibration. Beyond numerical targets lies the need for a shared vision that goes across departmental boundaries. Revenue targets, customer acquisition metrics, and lead conversion objectives should not be seen as individual pursuits, but key, intertwined pieces of a larger picture.

Further, once alignment has been reached, you must get to the “doing.” So many organizations suffer from spinning their wheels—re-strategizing to prepare for a meeting to align with potential strategy shifts, all of which may come to pass in the near or maybe mid-future, sometime.

But, if you do need to re-strategize … do so in service of valuing the doing: Service Level Agreements (SLAs) govern the collaboration sales and marketing have committed to. SLAs should not be static documents but dynamic instruments allowed to, and even encouraged to evolve. Periodic reviews and recalibrations ensure the alignment of goals remains resilient in the face of market dynamics and organizational shifts—especially if you find things aren’t getting done. Worry less about optimization and more about continuing to do the work.

03 | Data-driven decision making

Yes, data-driven is so overused that it’s lost its buzz, but in sales and marketing, anecdotes of what one client said or why one big client left are such powerful stories, they can overwhelm contradictory data and drive strategy. Analytics and tracking mechanisms are not just tools for postmortem analysis. The key results that track progress toward achieving objectives and key results (OKRs) should not be viewed in isolation, and the objectives themselves should in many cases be common to sales and marketing. If a B2B company has the objective to “become the third-largest provider of [fill in the blank] services in the world,” that’s an objective that will require certain key results from marketing and certain different key results from sales. But both sales and marketing should be united in chasing that shared objective.

To truly harness the power of data to reach those big objectives, there needs to be a shift from retrospective analysis to predictive modeling. Understanding not just what happened but why it happened becomes the cornerstone of informed decision-making. This shift involves investing in advanced analytics capabilities and fostering a data-centric mindset within the teams.  

Anecdotes can and should be shared, but they should be done so with the framing, “I know this is just an anecdote, but I want to see if there is data in our system to support what this anecdote is telling us.”

“Revenue targets, customer acquisition metrics, and lead conversion objectives should not be seen as individual pursuits, but key, intertwined pieces of a larger picture.”

04 | Lead nurturing

Lead nurturing is not a linear process; it’s like a flight of a bumblebee—seemingly random, full of twists, turns, and dances, and yet, always moving toward doing something essential. (Note: You must also have the technological capabilities to track your leads through their bumblebee dance!)

Beyond the conventional channels of email campaigns and content marketing, a holistic lead nurturing strategy involves understanding the psychology of the buyer, in a quantitative way. B2C marketing and sales have been doing this for years, and B2B companies often overlook the science of a psychographic segmentation because “it’s hard to do” or because “we already know our buyer.” The latter—more anecdotes!  And the former—never an explanation, only an excuse.

Enter the role of education in lead nurturing. This extends beyond educating prospects about the product or service; it involves educating them about the industry trends, challenges, and potential solutions. The creation of thought leadership content and disseminating that content via all owned, earned, and paid channels positions the brand not just as a solution provider but also as a trusted partner in helping generate revenue, reduce cost, or manage risk. And, in today’s world, sales is recognizing this kind of marketing contribution to the funnel more and more. In a recent Oliver Wyman survey of over 100 B2B sales leaders, nearly two out of three said that qualified leads from marketing often result in a sales appointment and/or sale.

05 | Feedback loop and continuous improvement

Effective feedback is rooted in a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s thoughts and emotions from their viewpoint. B2B companies cannot overlook cross-department internal education to create a symbiotic environment within the organization. Sales teams should be intimately acquainted with the nuances of ongoing marketing campaigns, understanding the narrative being woven in the market. Similarly, the marketing team should have a deep understanding of the challenges faced by the sales team on the frontline.

With that in place, the feedback loop can become more than a mere formality—it’s the pulse that keeps the organizational heart beating. However, the effectiveness of the loop lies not just in the act of feedback but also in the art of active listening. Both sales and marketing teams should not approach feedback as a one-way street but as a dynamic conversation where insights flow in both directions.

The iterative process of continuous improvement is a proactive quest for excellence. It involves anticipating challenges before they manifest and preemptively optimizing strategies based on emerging trends. The agility to adapt, coupled with a commitment to refinement, creates an organizational culture that thrives in the face of uncertainty.

06 | Embrace technology for automation and integration

Technology is a strategic enabler. Embracing technology should go beyond the surface-level adoption of tools to a holistic integration that transforms workflows. Marketing automation tools, for instance, should not be seen as standalone solutions but as integral components of a comprehensive ecosystem. They should provide insights to the sales team in the systems the sales team already uses. If sales needs to open yet another platform/interface/webpage to see what marketing has to tell them, you’ve lost because those insights will not be viewed by any person who perceives something to be more work than it’s worth. And how will Sales know what those insights are worth if they never see them. Make sure they do by getting the insights to appear directly in their workflow.

Checking those workflows by doing ride-alongs, ethnographies or Jobs-to-be-Done is a very powerful way to know how sales works, and therefore, how marketing can insert insights most effectively.

If you must get one tech idea right, it’s that the integration of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems with marketing platforms should not be a checkbox exercise but a thoughtful alignment of data flows and processes that is optimized for the sales user experience first and the marketing user experience second. To get the sales team to work inside the CRM, they must see it as built for them, with their feedback incorporated and with the meeting of their goals as the primary purpose of the system. If the CRM is seen as a reporting tool for management, it will not be embraced.

To shift the perception of the CRM from a management reporting tool to a valuable asset for the sales team, communication is key. Start by involving the sales team in the CRM implementation or retooling process. Their input can help tailor the system to their needs, making it something they access to truly help them be more efficient in their daily tasks and to give them new information about their prospects (e.g., engagement on the website—in what topics, for how long, and when). Regular training sessions can ensure they are comfortable using the system and understand its benefits.

Additionally, highlight the success stories where the CRM has helped the sales team achieve their goals, and recruit those who have had success to be your internal champions. A member of the sales team extoling the virtues of the CRM will pay more dividends than a member of the marketing team doing the same thing. This will not only demonstrate the system’s value but also encourage its adoption. Remember, the goal is to make the CRM an integral part of the existing sales workflow.

07 | Create targeted and valuable content

The creation of targeted and valuable content involves more than keyword optimization and SEO tactics. It’s about delving into the psyche of the audience, understanding their pain points, aspirations, and informational needs. This granular understanding becomes the foundation upon which content is crafted, ensuring it doesn’t merely inform but resonates on a deeper level. It guides the strategy that must not be a haphazard collection of themes, but a carefully curated narrative aligned to the brand’s values and told in the brand’s voice.

Diversification of content types is important for different types of learning styles. Visual learners may take more to webinars, while analytical minds may prefer in-depth white papers or stats/charts-of-the-day. It’s important to think about the dissemination of your content as a part of your overarching content strategy. If all you do is create it and put it on the website, you aren’t getting anywhere close to the full value of the content you’ve worked so hard to create. Once you have it, use it. Then use it again. Then use it even more. Piece it apart. Atomize it. Repackage the best parts. Keep using it until it truly wears out, which you will see indicated in both engagement metrics from prospects and clients and from the sales team.

All in all, the implementation of these tenets is not a linear process.

It’s an organic evolution that requires a holistic approach. And it’s possible, maybe even likely, that you have one or more of these in place—that’s great!

Wherever you are on your path to becoming a lead generation collaborative powerhouse, these tenets can function not as a rulebook, but more like a compass to keep teams aligned to growing the company together.