B2B Sales Lead Generation
If I could go back in time and tell my younger entrepreneurial self what to do different, the single item that stands out is to create a systematic sales funnel in parallel with product development.
But selling is hard. Founders get busy building their products and finding a rock star sales rep (or 10, or 100) is like finding a $100 bill on the ground, there just are not that many of them waiting around for you to pick them up.
The solution? Create a sales system that makes it legitimately hard for your sales reps, even a below average rep, to fail. Creating a system to generate quality B2B sales leads so a sales rep can hit their numbers is game changing for companies looking to scale, from hustling startups to bustling enterprise.
To do this, one thing matters more than anything else: providing your sales reps with a consistent flow of hot leads.
To do this I will layout our real world model for how to generate hot B2B sales leads improving off the traditional sales model where a sales rep (SA) takes a list of often dated cold leads, cold calls them (hopefully with an auto dialer), tracks the percentage of dials to appointments (or demos/trials, etc), then tracks conversion of appointments to closed sales and then backs out how many calls she needs to make to hit the quota.
For this post I'll be pulling examples from one of my companies, Metolius Tea, which I invested in several years back and which my team developed a sales program from ground zero before Metolius had a single sales rep. With this system we've been able to double sales year over year for three years running and it can work for you too.
I'll be breaking up our B2B sales lead system into four distinct phases:
- Lead Generation Preparation
- B2B Lead Channels
- Lead Research & List Building
- Effective B2B Campaigns
First I dig into the steps to take before effective lead generation can begin. Then I explore the various channels you can use to grow your B2B leads. Next I dig into how to best generate a list of highly qualified leads and finally dive into the process for how to run a systematic, scalable and successful B2B sales campaign to convert cold leads into hot B2B sales leads and ultimately closed sales.
Note this is a deep dive in how to build a systematic B2B sales lead system, feel free to skip forward to the section you need or are more interested in. So let's jump in!
Lead Generation Prep
Before jumping into lead research I highly recommend doing some market research. More granular demographic data will in most cases lead to higher conversion rates and sales, so don't discount this process. Here are the major items you need to consider:
1 - Segment Your Offerings
First, you will need to decide which products or services you want to generate leads for. You will get the best results when you get as specific as possible. This could either be your best selling product you want to scale or a new product you're trying to get market traction on. Avoid using the same lead list for different products unless you know definitively the customer base and sales process is identical (rarely the case).
At Metolius Tea, we actually segmented our campaigns around two products: our core blended loose leaf tea offerings and our popular Metolius Chai product. While these have very similar customer bases (we sell wholesale primarily to high-end independent cafes), the sales process and use cases are quite different, so we split them up into two separate campaigns which goes out to the same lead list at different times.
2 - Demographic Research
Next, it's time to segment your market out by demographic and region. You will want to initially only focus on your primary market demographic. For Metolius Tea, rather than focusing on cafes, restaurants, grocery and consumer out of the gate we kept our focus on only cafes, but of course you will want to get a lot more detailed based on your historical sales data or in-house research.
Metolius Tea, for example, knew their customer was independently owned coffee shops and breakfast cafes both serving a predominantly women base from ages 35-55 in Oregon towns with populations under one million with income over $50,000 per year.
Once you know who is your customer is, you can start determining where you want to expand.
3 - Geographic Markets
If your company has not already done so, you will want to determine what markets you want to target next as part of your sales expansion planning. Typically the best option if you are selling physical goods, and especially if you are a smaller operation, will be to expand regionally before expanding outward as your shipping costs will be dramatically cheaper. Often in this step our marketing assistants will google 'largest cities by state' in Wikipedia and target cities which we know will have the customer base we are looking for.
For Metolius Tea we developed a geographic sales map visually showing how we would expand into more territories as we grew both our physical footprint and our number of reps. We then developed policy around how reps would hand off accounts over time as territories split so everyone was in agreement up front how this would work. Here are the actual sales rep maps we created:
Additionally, early on we only targeted cities with populations between 50,000 and 1,000,000 people. Cities which are too small didn't offer enough quality leads and larger cities often had too much local competition, so we started in the middle market for population size and expanded from there.
Naturally this might be different for your business, for instance, if you are selling predominately to enterprise you will likely want to target larger cities where more enterprises are headquartered.
B2B Lead Channels
The next step to building a successful B2B sales system is to decide on the channels to acquire leads from. There are six major sources of leads I consider when building a B2B sales lead funnel and likely you will use several of them to varying degrees as your team and your company matures. The six most common channels sales leads can come from are:
1 - Sale Reps - Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes new or small B2B sales teams make is having their USA based sales force doing their own manual lead generation. While it is easy to think they will be the best candidate for the job, their time is MUCH better spent talking to warm or hot leads all day, not doing market research and list building.
The rare exception here is for big ticket enterprise sales which have long sales cycles, complex corporate structures and are largely relational by nature. For any company selling to SMB, however, I would recommend avoiding this channel of lead generation.
2 - Ignition Teams - Personally this is where I think most B2B sales teams should focus their lead generation efforts early on and where we've seen the most ROI in early phase B2B sales.
In its simplest form an ignition team is composed of one or more in-house or remote marketing assistants (MA) who's sole job is to maximize the time their sales rep talks to hot leads each day.
The MA's (marketing assistants) job then is to work closely with each SR (sales rep) to thoroughly understand lead demographics and then conduct lead research online to build highly qualified lead lists followed along with managing the SRs direct email and voicemail campaigns, CRM notes and weekly or monthly metrics reporting.
Our teams have found tremendous success by hiring dedicated remote marketing assistants to work with our USA sales reps typically at a 1:2 ratio. The advantages of offshoring your MAs for your ignition team includes not only significant cost savings but also less staff turnover for both MAs and SAs plus with timezone offsets when your SRs get to work in the morning they already have scheduled follow up tasks scheduled for the day.
Most importantly though is having MAs manage cold email, text and voicemail campaigns on behalf of each SR to ensure a steady inflow of hot sales leads into each SR's pipeline. When done correctly, such campaigns will create enough value wherein cold leads will engage your team by requesting more information, scheduling a demo or asking for a sample from your website and thus turning a cold lead instantly into a hot lead. More on this in the B2B Managed Campaign section below.
3 - Paid Marketing - Ideally at some point you have a marketing budget which is generating leads from a web of online and offline paid advertising initiatives to drop warm leads into your sales funnel. Think Google or Facebook ads, boosted social media posts, paid e-newsletters blasts, etc. I'm actually a huge proponent of paid marketing lead gen due to the fact that you can quantify the cost and conversion rates of your campaigns.
The downside of paid campaigns of course is it is a pay-to-play game (and it gets expensive fast) and without a dedicated team to do the proper ad research, optimization and content generation, it often can generate lack luster results.
Typically if you are a smaller player in the space you will be playing in long-tail niche markets so you can get exposure while keeping your PPC (pay per click) and customer CPA (cost per acquisition) rates lower.
So while I advise investing in this space I recommend holding off until you have your ignition teams at full steam and at least $500 to 1,000 to drop each month. From here you can measure the results from your ads over time and tweak your audience and message to increase sales.
The combination of ignition teams and paid ads can be a powerful duo and is something every sales team should seek to master foremost in their B2B sales lead gen strategy. Expect ignition teams to take around three to four months to build out a sales pipeline and upward of six months to refine your paid ad campaigns. While ignition teams should always be part of your strategy, once you dial paid ads they are much easier to scale.
4 - Organic Leads - Organic leads can come from visitors to your website or social media from organic SEO, engaging social media content, direct referrals and repeat business. These are often the highest quality leads and the cheapest to generate in the long run but it can take years to develop a solid organic pipeline and even then most companies typically won't generate enough volume to scale. However, investing in either a content manager and/or SEO specialist for your social media and website can prove extremely lucrative in the long run.
So while you will want to invest in developing organic lead channels, you will likely always need to supplement your efforts with an ignition team and paid ads, especially for young teams and new product or service offerings.
5 - Affiliates - Another channel for B2B leads is to build an affiliate program to incentivize influences, bloggers and brand ambassadors to sell your brand through their networks. This can be an effective strategy, particularly for B2C marketing, however, not as much for B2B. This should be something you develop a few years down the road as a supplemental channel rather than your core lead channel for a B2B sales funnel.
6 - Paid Lead Lists - There are loads of companies online who will sell you a compiled list of thousands of leads for your industry. My experience has been this is rarely worth your money. They are almost universally dated and more work than they are worth. Expect to pay something like $1,000 per 10,000 leads (can vary widely), which sounds cheap up front but it is usually because the leads aren't too good to start with.
Perhaps the bigger reason not to go this route is paid lists are not tailored to your more specific product, demographics and location needs as outlined above. As such, I'd advise against this strategy in most cases.
Lead Research & List Building
The third step in setting up a successful B2B sales leads system is determining the optimal amount of data you need to research and obtain for each lead.
Usually you will want to start with collecting the following data on each B2B sales lead: business name, purchaser or owner name, phone, email, website URL, Facebook and other relevant social media pages and at least country, state/territory/region and city.
Be careful of data overload here, there is a tendency to think more data is better but really more data is often slower and more costly with diminishing returns. Create a structure for the data you need to ensure they are the right target customer and move on to selling as soon as possible.
In this model marketing assistants work closely with their SRs to build out lead lists which the SR wants to target. This typically means the SR will provide the MA with a list of 10-15 ideal customer websites and walk them through what separates a target lead from an off-target lead.
Additionally, I'd recommend you don't give too much leeway to SRs on this. Effective sales teams meet regularly to discuss what is working, share ideas and implement systems which can be applied to all members while also trimming what doesn't work or isn't needed.
While sales is largely a volume game the goal is always to reduce the volume of touch points on leads to get to the same or increasing sales. Said another way, you are always looking for the path of least resistance to the sale. Your goal is to do less to sell more. It's classic work smarter not harder mentality.
Finally, your MA should conduct research online via google and other databases to collect lead information and add each lead to a centralized list either via a basic spreadsheet say in Google Sheets or in a basic CRM such as HubSpot, Podio or SalesForce.
Managed B2B Campaigns
While the first three steps sounds like a lot of work (and it is), the bulk of it is a one-and-done process. Certainly you will want evaluate, iterate and improve your market demographics, lead channels and data points you collect based on what your historical sales data tells you.
Each of the three steps above work together to ensure your final and most crucial step is successful: developing managed marketing campaigns to generate hot B2B sales leads.
Developing A Managed Campaign
A typical campaign is organized around touch-points (TPs), ideally through multiple channels in an effort to maximize the chances of reaching the decision maker with the right amount of value at the right time.
At Metolius, for example, our initial lead list we built was around 7,000 coffee shops in the USA following the steps above and our first-run campaign was as follows:
Week 1, Day 1: Cold email #1 sent by MA on behalf of the SR
Week 1, Day 3: Voicemail sent by MA on behalf of the SR
Week 2, Day 1: Cold email #2 sent by MA on behalf of the SR
Week 2, Day 2: Sales Rep does one actual call.
You've probably heard that you have to ask a prospect seven times before you land a sale. However, we recommend going for the low hanging fruit the first round through your lead lists by doing 3-4 touch points only and moving through the full list. Your second round through you may add additional email, text or call points spread out over say an eight week period.
Tools For Running Campaigns
Naturally, this takes a lot of time, in an effort to speed up the process of direct sales for B2B selling we common use the following tools:
Email - For email and google voice we use Google Apps; $6 per user (tip: scheduled emails from gmail is awesome for testing what time yields the best response rates, typically mornings before lunch works best)
Voicemails - There is an awesome service call Slybroadcast to send pre-recorded audio messages directly to voicemail. We make these as organic and real as possible by using ummms and a little background noise, not using the leads name and giving them a number they can text.
Using Value Hooks
All your touch points should center around providing real value to the prospect. This is often best done by providing a free sample, demo or trial of your product, what we call a value hook.
Each one of your emails and voicemails should direct the user to a landing page on your website with a quick sample/demo request form to capture their information. Naturally, as soon as you get a request, you know you have a hot lead on the line and should work quickly to deliver your product as soon as possible as well as call them on the phone to build the relationship.
As CAN-SPAM laws are quite stringent on what you can and can not do with commercial email and the fines for violating quite heavy, your marketing campaigns needs to be both transparent that each message is a marketing message and also personal/non-automated.
On average, in our system at Metolius Tea, a marketing assistant will add 20 new people to a campaign every day to a four week, four-touch point campaign (what we call a 4x4 system). In this structure an MA will reach out to 400 prospects per month for each sales rep.
The biggest thing about this system that will ultimately lead to success (assuming you have a quality product or service offering serving a real need) is the consistency it brings. Often sales reps get busy or can loose momentum if they have a bad week, but with an MA always working to bring in new hot leads and starting the process on cold leads, you will find this consistency over time will yield great results.
Naturally conversion can vary widely but in the campaigns I've managed across multiple industries it's typical to see a 3-6% campaign response rate, sometimes higher, from cold touch point to sample request. From here, we've seen anywhere from 25-50% conversion rates.
In the case of Metolius Tea, when we reached out to 400 new leads per month we saw on average around 6% sample requests, or around 25 per month. We then converted one in three hot leads to new customers leading to 7-8 new accounts each month per sales rep from the cold lead campaign alone. We've seen this number typically be higher when the reps are more engaged, with a full-time rep closing 8-12 accounts on average per month at Metolius Tea.
Hiring Your First Marketing Assistant
The final question is where and how to recruit a good marketing assistant. After spending over eight years running social enterprises out of the Philippines my business partner, Devon and I, started Eastern Staffing in large part to help small companies grow their sales forces with marketing assistants, along with graphic designers and web developers.
The cost for a marketing assistant through Eastern is $1,500 per month (about $8.92/hour) for a full time MA or $1,000 per month for a part time MA on a three month rolling contract.
This provides you a cost effective solution for building an ignition team with low turnover (we often see MAs work on their teams for a minimum of 2-3 years) as we provide solid middle-class jobs with sales bonuses, health care and paid vacation.
Eastern handles all the recruitment, payroll, government licensing, office space, computers and so forth and you get a talented remote staff member who is pre-trained in lead generation and dedicated to your company.
We also advise at no cost to help get your initial lead generation system and content setup once you hire your first staff member. You can learn more about this service from our Sales Staffing page on our website.