Written by Eric Pulsifer, Content Marketer

5 ways to generate B2B leads right now

What's the difference between B2C and B2B lead generation? It’s apples to oranges. (Or Apple iPads to dashboard tools for the analytics teams at orange-selling enterprise organizations.)

When you have a smaller, more specific audience, you need a strategic, more focused approach to generate leads. But how’s that work exactly in 2021? To cover that, let’s talk about where B2B lead generation was before 2020—and where it’s heading now.

What’s a B2B lead?

First up though, let’s define a “lead.” A “lead” can mean different things in different stages. It can also mean different things to different people—often people in the same organization. But, for the purposes of this article, when we talk about creating B2B leads, we’re referring to those curious, awareness-hungry folks mingling around the top of the funnel.

For B2B sales and marketing, it’s common to see longer sales cycles than in the consumer-facing world. Someone might rocket down the funnel from “awareness” to “purchase” in minutes for a funky pair of socks spotted on Twitter or a YouTube pre-roll ad, but B2B solutions are rarely an impulse buy. That doesn’t mean that B2B leads can’t be earned via social or video spots. It’s just to point out that B2B leads don’t convert as quickly or frequently as B2C leads. And the ACV is significantly higher.

How B2B lead generation evolved over the last decade

B2B lead generation has changed drastically over the past decade. Heck, it’s changed drastically in the past months. (More on that in a second.) But in both 2021 and 2011, the main force driving change in B2B lead gen was the same: digital.

At the start of 2011, Instagram was new, magazines were still making the majority of their money from print ad revenue, there wasn’t an official POTUS Twitter account, and podcasts had an audience size akin to AM radio.

In this simpler time, B2B companies regularly took a sales-driven approach to growth. Need to grow? Post a job on Craigslist and bring on more salespeople. Off in its own little silo, B2B marketing still felt more like an art than a science.

Limited data meant more try-and-fail experimentation when it came to B2B lead generation, and marketing strategy often boiled down to following the instincts of self-proclaimed marketing “rockstars” or “ninjas.” In retrospect, the lone-wolf quality of those cutesy titles once bandied about marketers’ LinkedIn profiles should have been indicative of a problem: sales, marketing, and customer success weren’t exactly tightly aligned.

By 2018, Miller Heiman Group reported more than 70% of B2B buyers were defining their needs before engaging with a sales rep. Almost half had even picked out a specific solution before then. Realizing the old method of leading buyers through the purchase journey was a bumpy, broken ride, many orgs scrambled to move toward a new revenue ops approach. This brought sales, marketing, and customer success teams together with shared tools, data, and accountability.

In the rearview mirror, the changes and strategic reorgs of the 2010s seem gradual and predictable. But the tires would come off the best-laid B2B lead-generation plans in a matter of weeks in 2020.

B2B lead generation after 2020

Back in 2019, 87% of B2B marketers said in-person events were a critical component to their company's success, according to Bizzabo. On the packed convention center floors of 2019, you might have been able to grab some contact info in exchange for a free T-shirt or an off-brand Moleskine notebook with your logo on it. But with face-to-face events on ice after COVID-19, organizations once fueled by in-person activities and direct sales saw the flow of leads dry up.

This change is just one way the pandemic has illuminated lingering challenges around digital readiness in organizations that rely on B2B lead generation. “In many ways, this data revolution in sales matches what happened to marketing departments three to five years ago, when they were forced to reorient their functions to be more analytically driven,” McKinsey & Company reports.

As so many relied-upon B2B lead-gen strategies are no longer viable, successful organizations adapt to keep the sales pipeline flowing. Fortunately, as we saw with the changes to B2B lead generation in the 2010s, those who adjust to the next normal often realize results that aren’t just equal to the old ways but surpass them.

What are the best B2B lead generation strategies in 2021?

Here are five sure-fire B2B lead generation strategies to try out in 2021 and beyond.

1. Virtual Workshops

  • What is it? It’s an online workshop with multiple speakers and/or sessions. These are typically longer than a webinar and involve active learning and highly valuable info to the target audience.

  • Why does it work? When done correctly with the right content, virtual workshops are valuable enough that your prospects sign up themselves and their whole team. Ideally, they’ll carve out time in their day to attend as a group. (You can encourage this by getting smart with the scheduling. Lunchtime sessions often work well for groups, who may otherwise have little overlap in free time on their calendars.) With different sessions and speakers, you can introduce prospects to multiple people at your company and some of your clients (if they’re involved in the workshop). The interactive element keeps the virtual event exciting and engaging. And the hyper-useful content ensures it’s more than just another Zoom call.

  • What’s it look like? This virtual workshop hosted by one of our clients worked well thanks to a laser-like focus on the audience and a pairing with additional useful content in the form of an eBook.

2. Industry Reports

  • What is it? Utilize an industry report to solicit information from your prospects and customers alike. Then use the compiled research to drive leads in your industry.
  • Why does it work? We’re eager to see how others in our industry are performing or feeling about the current climate. That’s perhaps never been more true than in 2021. Offering an industry report allows prospects to peek behind the curtain in other organizations and see what’s happening and how they stack up.

  • What’s it look like? This timely industry report from one of our clients gets bonus points for coming out on a regular six-month cadence, creating a future point of contact with leads even if they opt-out of other email communications.

3. Speaking at Virtual Events

  • What is it? Virtual events have taken hold during the pandemic. Securing a speaking engagement is an easy way to connect with your target audience at a virtual event.
  • Why does it work? You get a captive audience in your market! Be sure to create a specific landing page for the event and give out the link in your presentation to track leads generated from the event.
  • What’s it look like? Massive virtual events like SXSW provide a great venue for speakers to establish themselves as a thought leader and promote your brand with group discussions, like this session about customer experience featuring Accenture Interactive’s Chief Strategy Officer, Baiju Shah. Of course, the virtual event you arrange to speak at doesn’t have to be on the same scale as SXSW. Look to the publications and industry associations your audience trusts and seek speaking opportunities there.  

4. Online Gift Registration for Priority Accounts

  • What is it? Wow a prospect at a top account by gifting them something unique that speaks to your brand and their interests. Create a landing page that requests their shipping information. (Many are now working from home, so sending a gift basket to the office just won’t cut it this year!)
  • Why does it work? A personal touch goes a long way, and the online form they complete to get their gift means you have the most up-to-date and accurate contact information for the account. Plus, the reciprocity principle engenders goodwill towards the gifter.
  • What’s it look like? Considering many are working from home, think about anything that might brighten up your day if it arrived at your door. For the best results, skip on the swag (unless your swag is really top-notch or is just a part of the gift). Good gift ideas for 2021 include a delivered lunch or fresh-baked goods or anything that might improve a home workspace, like a plant subscription service or a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

5. Repurpose Old Content as Bite-size Takeaways

  • What is it? Many tech companies have a library of assets great for evergreen lead gen—including guides, playbooks and eBooks. Often a great deal of time and effort goes into completing these and yet they sit gathering digital dust in some dark corner of your site. You can get extra mileage out of these assets by combing through them for valuable information. Look for checklists, proven processes, worksheets, stats, and more.
  • Why does it work? Creating mini-campaigns for the bite-sized pieces of content within a larger piece of content extends the ROI of the original piece of content while still providing value to your prospects. And by keeping things short and sweet and focusing on the highest-value takeaways, you’re more likely to see prospects engage with it.

  • What’s it look like? This handy checklist created for one of our clients is a useful asset that gets straight to its point, making its value abundantly clear to the target audience.

How can you improve your B2B lead-gen efforts in 2021?

We help executives create smart lead-gen strategies for their business that helps propel them forward.

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