What should be the right lead generation tactic for your B2B software? The best channel should, not just increase, but scale sales. Likewise, it shouldn’t quickly reach a plateau; rather, it should be, to use an energy analogy, a reusable resource that delivers recurring leads for the longest time.
In many cases, a lead channel’s effectiveness is also influenced by external factors, such as, market size, season, or the product’s nature.
Lead generation involves moving the prospect all the way to conversion, but in this article, let’s narrow down leads to prospects that you move into your top of funnel. So, back to our question–which lead stream is the best? There’s no one correct answer, rather, it depends on a given context. To know which lead channels works best for you, let’s talk about these top lead sources and see in what cases each one works and doesn’t work.
1. Inbound marketing
Traditionally, B2B marketers rely on outbound marketing, cold calling and hardsell, to get clients. But around three of four years ago, search engines started to notice a shift in buyer behavior, notably, buyers were taking the lead to discover a product. In February 2013, Google corroborated this trend in its B2B’s Digital Evolution study, reporting that:
“Potential business customers are increasingly using digital channels to form opinions about major purchases. Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete.”
This buyer behavior shift made inbound, especially content marketing, a viable strategy for marketers to get leads. Their aim is to capture leads during the early stages of the buyers’ research.
When it works: When you have a large defined market searching for ways to improve their business. In most cases, SaaS fits this description. The buyers know what problems they need to solve, but aren’t sure how. For example, a business owner wants to shorten the collection process, so he searches for solutions online and finds an app that suits his needs. In short, there is already a large pool of prospects searching, consuming, and sharing content.
When it doesn’t work: When the market is highly specialized and too narrow, such as, industrial products from aeronautical parts to petrochemicals, including high-end enterprise software that runs these businesses. In this case, buyers are few and far in between, where a cold call or a direct meeting works best.
How to leverage inbound marketing
The surest way to get found during the buyers’ initial research is to appear in targeted SERPs. The recent Google/Millward Brown study from March 2015 reported that buyers conduct generic search to start their product discovery. That means software vendors should target keywords about their product category (e.g. top cloud project management for small businesses), not their product specifically.
As a vendor, you’re looking at implementing a long-term SEO plan and laying down a content plan that talks about topics and runs in years, not months or weeks. This is time-consuming and exhaustive for companies with limited budget and resources.
In the meantime, you can tap the power of B2B review sites, which act as search extensions. In B2B software, review sites like FinancesOnline dominate generic searches, because they allow buyers to perform these activities, which the Goolge/Millward study said are what buyers look for during their initial research:
- Compare products
- Read reviews
- Check product ratings
- Read user comments
- Watch product videos
To optimize your lead generation make sure your product is listed in all top 10 B2B review directories. However, appearing on B2B reviews sites usually isn’t enough because your competitors are there, too. Instead, consider taking advantage of the marketing services and tools that these sites offer.
For example, on FinancesOnline, you can increase the changes of potential customers choosing your product over your competitors’ by highlighting it as a suggested alternative when they browse through your competitors’ offer. You can also increase your leads with B2B industry awards that can give you a huge credibility boost and will highlight the unique features of your product that and showcase elements that you excell at. Some B2B review sites also offer quality marks, like the Verified Quality Seal that signals to your prospects that your product has been verified by experts for quality features and support reliability, two key aspects that buyers look for. If you’d like explore these ways to increase your leads you can easily request a review here.
When it works: As with inbound, PPC works if you have a sizeable market, where buyers are actively conducting generic searches. This is especially true for the B2B and SaaS market. But there’s a slight but critical difference: PPC works best when buyers are already searching for the best products in your category. You can say this lead stream takes over after inbound has done its work.
For example, after researching how learning management solutions can improve HR training, the buyer’s next research will be to find the best learning management apps for, say, large corporations. Targeting your PPC for this SERP can put your brand on top of the organic results. Once again B2B reviews sites can be a huge help in a successful PPC campaign. These sites receive large amounts of traffic, usually people already looking for a type of solution you offer so it’s easy to send that traffic to your landing page. What’s more, you can use the marketing services offered by B2B sites to significantly increase your leads.
When it doesn’t work: As with inbound, PPC won’t work when you’re selling a specialized service or product with a narrow market, where cold calling works better. Likewise, it won’t work if you have a little known or revolutionary product. In which case, it’s best to invest first in publicity and SEO to gain traction, especially if you have a useful and disruptive service or product, like cloud computing in its early days.
Takeaway: PPC ads are best targeted at product categories instead of generic keywords. You can significantly increase your leads if you start a PPC campaign on a B2B review site.
3. Paid online advertising
When it works: When you have a clear picture of your ideal customer and you’re promoting not a product but a digital asset, such as a webinar, reports, or case studies.
Keep in mind that the ideal customer can be a set of professionals that form the decision making unit or DMU. In B2B, the purchase decision is usually made by a DMU, not a single individual. Its members can be the business owner or CEO, department heads, middle managers, and key staff (often the end-user).
If you have a profile of these people, it’s easy to identify niche publications that they’re most likely reading or using, and that’s where you place an ad. It can also be a section in mainstream media, for instance, the finance, business, or tech section of a news site. Similarly, you can target professional groups that your ideal customers belong to. LinkedIn is a good source of these groups, since their members have a shared interest.
A good thing to remember is that a niche group can be subdivided into an even smaller group that best fits your product. For example, project managers can further be narrowed down by methodology or by industry.
When it doesn’t work: When you don’t have a clear profile of your customer or your product is too broad. In which case, you’re better off using PPC to target your product category. Likewise, even if you know your ideal customer, if your message isn’t geared towards them, the ad isn’t optimized. For instance, if you’re selling to health professionals, it’s more appropriate to use in your case study a health industry scenario.
4. Cold calling
When it works: When you’re a product company with a clear value proposition that matches the needs of your target person. That can mean having different but related propositions to different recipients. For example, if you’re selling a full accounting software, you can pitch accounts payables and accounts receivables to a bookkeeper, inventory management to a purchase manager, and reporting and analytics to a CEO.
When it doesn’t: When you’re a consultancy service not a product-centric business. Professional services rely mostly on word-of-mouth or referral because their business depends on their reputation and trust they’ve built with past clients. Cold calling may turn up a conversion, but it’s difficult if you’re a product company.
The above lead channels aren’t a zero-sum game, that is, one is better than the others. The B2B landscape is constantly shifting; one lead stream may be better for you today, while another tomorrow. Likewise, it can be more effective when you combine them in one strategic plan, with each one giving you a tactical advantage over the competition.