B2B lead generation: The power of content marketing.
B2B lead generation used to rely on a combination of advertising, direct mail, trade shows and relentless cold calls and telemarketing activities.
In today’s digital world, the business battleground has moved online. Businesses looking for new services and suppliers head straight to the Internet. They conduct their due diligence through methodical research. But don’t be fooled into thinking that a brilliant website and some five star reviews is enough to convince a customer to come calling. One aspect of the B2B sales process that hasn’t changed and is unlikely to ever do so, is the fact that people will only buy from companies that they trust. So how do you develop that trust and build relationships in such a seemingly impersonal environment? The answer is through content.
Today’s B2B lead generation relies on generating good content – and a lot of it. Not only will content help to push your website up the search engine rankings so that it is found by your prospects, but it will help position your business as a trusted authority. In today’s highly competitive B2B market it’s the companies that recognise the value of content and are using it proactively to forge and nurture relationships that are winning the new business.
Creating the right content and using it correctly is a highly effective way to warm up your prospects and generate sound sales leads that are ripe for the picking. And here’s how it is done…
You can commission the creation of the most wonderful content and fill your website with blogs, papers and downloads, but if the content isn’t relevant to your audience and prospects aren’t actively looking for it, then you’re wasting your time. You’re also missing a trick if you have incredible content, but it can’t be found. That’s where keywords come into play. For those of you who don’t know what a keyword is, it’s a word or phrase that a potential customer will type into a search engine to find relevant websites. Your content needs to include those keywords.
Investing time in careful and comprehensive keyword research is absolutely critical to a successful B2B content plan. You need to understand what content people are looking for and what search terms they are using to find it, and tailor your content around it. Of course, none of this is a finger in the air exercise. There are some fantastic online tools available to help you. Google’s keyword planner is predominantly used to analyse keywords for Adwords, but it does reveal volumes of searches to help you plan your content and keywords.
Other tools that we use such as SEMrush, MOZ and Hubspot, can help to research and plan your keyword strategy and they also reveal difficulty scores – how difficult it is to rank for a keyword. If there’s a lot of competition for a particular keyword, then unless your online presence is already an established authority with lots of content that include that keyword, then you’ll struggle to be ranked for it. You’re better off focusing on long tail keywords or phrases initially, that are less competitive and have lower difficulty scores.
You’d be amazed at how a slight difference in keywords can make a huge difference to volumes of searches. For example, here at Brightly we are a B2B digital agency based in the UK, specialising in lead generation. So what should our keywords be? If we look at search volume and difficulty, then we learn that B2B lead generation achieves five times as many searches as ‘B2B digital agency’ in the UK. Lead generation on it’s own gets almost 50 times more. Therefore we are better off using B2B lead generation rather than B2B digital agency.
Our advice is not to be too ambitious to start with. Find keywords that are less competitive and that you will get ranked for. In our case that would mean targeting B2B lead generation rather than just lead generation. Over time, and with the right content strategy you can aim to rank for the shorter, higher volume, more difficult primary keywords.
A popular approach to achieve this is by adopting a pillar page strategy. A pillar page is a long web page full of relevant and authoritative content that is based around a topic and your primary, shorter keywords. Just like this page. From it you can link to shorter pages of content based around the same topic but with relevant long tail keywords e.g. ‘What is a pillar page’. We will write a more detailed blog about this soon but in the meantime, here is an example of a pillar page and topic cluster based around B2B lead generation. As you can see, the main topic and keywords are B2B lead generation and the ‘spokes’ would be linked blogs that focus on the long tail keywords or phrases such as ‘A guide to B2B blogs’.
We’ve already established that with a solid plan, the right keywords, content (such as a B2B blog) can help your website to be ranked and found. But your content’s work isn’t finished there. In fact, it’s only just begun. If you want to generate B2B leads, your content’s next job is to educate and inform, to build trust and to engage your audience – right through to the point where they make their final buying decision. That’s no mean feet. But it is achievable.
The right content can help to move your prospects through the buyer journey, reinforcing relationships are every stage of the sales funnel. Take a look at this example:
Awareness stage – At this stage your prospect is researching solutions to a problem e.g. how to generate B2B leads or how to make sales people more efficient.
Consideration stage – At this stage they have identified what their issues are and are researching different solutions. Your content’s job is to persuade them that your solution is the right one e.g. SEO tools or B2B email marketing strategies.
Decision stage – When a prospect is looking to make a decision, your content’s job is to guide them and make the decision as easy as possible. This is where the persuasive power of premium content such as B2B case studies, free trials, quote calculators etc can come into their own.
For your B2B lead generation strategy to be effective, you need to create content for every stage of the process. Content that pushes the right buttons at the right time. But just to complicate matters further, you also need to recognise that one person’s buttons will be very different to the next person’s. Very few, if any businesses, have one type of customer. You’re very likely to have multiple customer types or personas and it’s worth conducting a robust customer profiling exercise to understand who your audiences are and what buttons they have that need pushing.
What your customer profiles look like will depend very much upon the type of business you are running. By the end of the exercise you need to be as familiar with what makes them tick as you are with your nearest and dearest's loves and hates. If you’re a business to business outfit, then you need to know what sort of department they work in and what sort of business title they have. You need to know whether they’re predominantly male or female (or a mix), roughly how old they are likely to be, what budgets they might have, what challenges they are likely to be facing that your product or service could address, and what reasons they might have for not purchasing from you.
You can get this information from researching your existing customer database or from fresh new customer research and surveys. Your sales team is very likely to have most of the answers that you need, so make sure they’re involved when you’re developing your buyer personas and content strategy. You can learn more about how to create buyer personas here.
And that brings us onto developing your B2B content plan. As with all things in life, having a plan is paramount to achieving success. Fail to plan, plan to fail and all that. Once you’ve identified who your audiences are and what they’re going to be interested in, then you can start planning content that will help draw them to your website, generate leads and engage them through the sales funnel.
As we’ve already discussed, pillar pages and linked B2B blogs are a fantastic start, but content can also include a whole host of different content types. Here is a list of B2B content examples to get you started but there are many more:
White papers and thought leadership papers
How to guides
Free demos or trials
Free tools to help plan or manage activities.
A good place to start is to look at the content that you currently have and see if any of it can be repurposed. Your B2B content plan also needs to allocate responsibility for the content’s creation and promotion as well as the tracking and measuring of success.
Three big tick boxes that every piece of content you create and promote need to include are:
Keyword and SEO strategy – that’s the only way your content is going to be discovered.
Back links – internal links to other pages on your website where they’ll find related content AND links from external websites to your content that help prove to search engines that it has authority.
A strong call to action – if you want to generate B2B leads, the reader needs to be left in no doubt what you want them to do next. For example, ask them to register to download premium content.
Promoting your B2B content
Your sales team might disagree, but if you create the right content, then it’s going to be the hardest working asset in your B2B lead generation armoury. That’s because its job isn’t done when it’s posted on your website. No, it’s going to work harder than that. And that’s because you’re going to make sure you get maximum mileage from it. What do we mean by that? We’re going to give your content legs – very long legs that will promote your content to an even wider audience.
You need to consider other avenues that your content can trot down and make sure these are included in your content strategy. For example, email is still one of the most powerful B2B lead generation tools available. We’re not talking about bulk email campaigns with little or no targeting, we are talking about highly relevant, well timed emails, containing useful content that people actually want to receive. A well planned B2B email marketing strategy combined with great B2B content is one of the best ways to nurture leads over time. This will not only educate them about your offering and move them along the sales journey, it will also build their trust in you and your services.
Another avenue would be to promote your B2B content on social and business media channels. If your content is good enough, people will naturally want to like and share it and your audience will grow. Linkedin is great for B2B contacts, Twitter and Facebook is good if your B2B content is worthy of being shared and Pinterest and Instagram is good if you have visual content. Asking your existing staff, partners and customers to promote your content to their social networks is also worth considering. You would be amazed how many of them already have large B2B social networks (both personal and business) and they might be more than willing to share your content to extend it’s reach.
If you work with partners and suppliers or know of complementary businesses that are non-competitive, they may already be emailing your target audience and might be happy to help you generate leads by promoting your B2B content. You could offer some premium content such as a free ebook, guide, whitepaper or tool via their newsletter or marketing channels. Of course you can always reciprocate the favour and promote the partner’s content through your channels – if it is going to be useful or of interest to your audience.
Now, in addition to all of this lovely free promotion, there is also the option to carry out some paid promotion on Google and the social networks. This can be a great way to give your content distribution a boost in the early days. The use of paid promotion is a whole topic in itself and we will cover this in more detail another time. The main thing to remember is to make sure you can track the effectiveness of your paid promotions to see how many visitors it’s delivering and how many of these are converting into leads. Otherwise you could be simply wasting your money.
As people begin to engage with your content, you will begin to generate B2B leads. They are effectively raising their hands to say they are interested in what you are saying or offering. With the right tools and measures in place, your sales team can be notified when prospects visit your website, open and click on email links or download documents. This allows them to focus their attention on these hand raisers and follow up when prospects are most engaged.
Build your customer and prospect universe
The end goal of creating all this incredible content is to build your customer and prospect universe and then keep it growing. However building inbound web traffic, engaging prospects and generating B2B leads takes time. So what can you do in the mean time? You can include your existing customers and prospects from your CRM or database in your content marketing strategy. Consider who the individual is and where they are in the sales process and target them with relevant content. If you don’t have a great prospect database then you could create a target company profile and build or buy a list based on criteria, such as location, industry sector, size, turnover etc., and then proactively research their business decision makers and gain permission to send them useful content.
Track and measure results
There’s no point putting in all the time and effort to create good content if you don’t know whether it’s having the right impact. For this B2B lead generation approach to work you need the sales and marketing tools to monitor success and react accordingly. How do you do this? You need the tools to track leads and sales. As a Hubspot partner, we use their tools to create, manage and promote content for our clients and this allows us to monitor when people open and interact with content. Hubspot’s CRM and sales pipeline tools also allows us to monitor the progress and value of deals as they move from lead to customer. It’s a hugely powerful and effective resource that is transforming the way content is promoted and leads are generated.
We’d love to show you some of the B2B lead generation results that we’ve managed to achieve for our clients and discuss how we might help. If you want to get in touch, please email firstname.lastname@example.org