cartoon man fishing for leads

5 Secrets for B2B Lead Generation in 2020

Do you want to get more business-to-business leads so that you can grow your new business pipeline and increase sales? Interested in hearing the latest greatest tips and secrets in B2B lead generation? Then this post is for you!

B2B lead generation is about marketing AND sales.

Digital marketer and sales development reps both contribute. But these areas require expertise.

So, first, let’s make sure you have a good foundation for success, not failure.

People make mistakes in every area of marketing and sales for a few main reasons:

  • Many people don’t get fully educated in the first place. To be fair, even just digital marketing is more than one area of expertise and it takes several years just in ONE area, like Facebook ads or email marketing or lead gen to get really effective. So you can’t expect anyone with less than 3 years in a specific area of marketing or sales to be that great. They’re going to need training.
  • Some of those who get initial educating still stop educating themselves at some point. They’re “all good!” Ego or fear of looking inadequate can keep people from being honest that they don’t know everything. Some never adopt a learning mindset in life. These people fall behind quickly.
  • Many are distracted by great-sounding ideas and don’t look for quantified evidence of results. You can’t execute every idea or strategy out there, so you need to know what’s most likely to succeed ahead of time, or you’ll waste a lot of time.
  • Some people are unable to learn from other people’s mistakes or wisdom. This is obviously a vulnerability… most people wear seatbelts because they know the consequences of not doing it- from taking other people’s word and looking at statistics. You don’t have to fly through a windshield in order to know it’s worth doing. But many people literally fly through the windshield of sales and marketing because they refuse to adopt proven methods.

So, to do well at creating demand and generating leads, we have to get educated, stay up-to-date, look at the numbers and be demanding of the content sources we read, and learn from other people’s successes and failures.

That said, here are 5 key secrets we’ve learned about effective B2B lead generation over the last 16 years, working with over 250 different companies, including Microsoft, Humana and Salesforce.

  1. TARGET: Get a clearer and clearer idea of your ideal target customer.
  2. BRAND: Develop (and continue to evolve) a brand identity based in your unique differentiating benefit for your ideal target customer.
  3. REACH: Reach enough cold prospects. Use the platforms and strategies that can actually reach your ideal target customer.
  4. CREATE: Create creative (for ads, emails, website, etc) that fits the branding and customer, but make sure you create a lot of it, and keep creating new ideas along those lines.
  5. LEARN: Learn from everything you do. Measure, evaluate, and change course where necessary.

Let’s look at those in detail:


Get a clearer and clearer idea of your ideal target customer.

Everything comes down to who you’re targeting. Every decision you make is affected by whether you know who to target, or whether you have the right target:

  • Which strategies are best depend on the target customer
  • Which tactics are best depend on the target customer
  • Which advertising images and copywriting will work best depend on the target customer
  • Which email lists you pull to send cold email to depends on the target customer
  • The offers and appeals and landing pages that work depend on the target customer

We now live in the age of personalization. People don’t want:

  • TV commercials targeted for somebody else.
  • A coca cola bottle with somebody else’s name on it.
  • To be talked to like they don’t matter.
sample targeted products on Amazon product page

Amazon analyzes a customer’s searches to make targeted product suggestions.

People have come to expect personalization. It’s getting baked into everything business does.

  • It’s been a best practice for decades to segment your target customers (businesses often have at least 2 or 3) for best results.
  • Your experience of websites like Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Prime Video, Spotify and many others is personalized based on your behavior on these sites, your preferences, and what you request.
  • Many retailers allow you to select the products or versions of products that fit them best, like Coca-cola’s bottles with first names on them, build-a-bear, selecting specific add-on features to your new car, and even websites that let you create your own clothing.
  • People have specific cars, stores, sports teams, authors, actors and musicians they prefer. It’s part of their identity. When a company focuses, for example a restaurant that is 100% vegetarian, they attract fanatic customers and loyalty.
  • Many websites and landing pages are customized to address visitors based on what they searched for that took them there, or the ad or email they took them there.

Not every business can personalize to the same level, but the more you do, the better results you get. There’s a time for one-size-fits-all, and times when it’s most efficient, or the only efficient thing to do. But companies that know their customers well enough to speak to them more relevantly are more successful.

How can you target and segment your target customers? In B2B lead generation, some of the most effective ways are to look at their:

  • Industry/category
  • Job title or function
  • Company, if you have a list of target companies
  • Interests
  • Behaviors

Other factors, like age or gender may not be as useful in B2B as they are in B2C.

Sometimes it’s hard to narrow down your target. If you have data from past efforts to target people, you may find clear direction there. You can look at these kinds of measurements, in order from most useful to least.

  • % of leads that fit your sales qualification criteria, and cost per SQL
  • % of leads that fit your marketing qualification criteria, and cost per MQL
  • Landing pages conversion rates (% of visitors who become a lead)
  • Advertising clickthrough rates
  • Email clickthrough rates
  • Email open rates

I would caution you against ONLY selecting your target customer based on your SQL criteria, because you may or may not be able to target based on those. You likely will have to target based on MQL criteria, and then your SDR’s or AE’s can sales-qualify your leads. That’s the typical process.

If you don’t have any of these things to go on, you will have to make an educated guess. Try three main target ideas, and see where you get the most traction.

Second, BRAND

Develop (and continue to evolve) a brand identity based in your unique differentiating benefit for your ideal target customer.

Branding is not for marketing.

A brand identity that’s complete and practical will be used by both marketing and sales. Your SDR reps’ emails and phone pitches need to come out of this identity. Even if they end up focusing on things like quantified case study results, SDR’s need to have a 1-2 sentence elevator pitch that includes your unique differentiating benefit(s).

I started as a direct response marketer and advertiser, so it took me a long time to understand how branding – which can sometimes seem fluffy and irrelevant to the day-to-day – fit into results-focused marketing and sales. I’ll give you my summary here.

Brand is identity. It’s who your company is. How they look, feel and sound. It comes from your values and strengths, and ideally from your most unique and valuable values and strengths, in the eyes of the customer.

So what you need for an effective brand and to execute that brand online is:

  • An understanding of your target customer’s pain points and problems- what are their shark bites, not just mosquito bites?
  • Based on that, knowing which of your values, strengths and offerings are more valuable to them. What really solves their problems? How do you stop the bleeding?
  • And to stand out from the competition, which of these are most unique to your company? What do you do better than anyone else, and why is that? What part of your identity is that?
  • A variety of creative that expresses this. It’s important to have a logo and perhaps a slogan or byline, but digital demands 100’s of ads and emails, and so you need to be able to variegate your brand identity into many things that might catch the target customer’s eye and hook them.

And brand is fluid.

very early McDonalds logos
McDonald's logo 1948
McDonalds logo 1955
McDonalds logo 1961
McDonalds logo 1968
McDonalds logo 1983
McDonalds logo 1990
McDonalds logo 2002
McDonalds logo 2017

Often, the first time a brand is conceived, it is without any data or feedback from customers. How do you know if the brand resonates? If you have some success initially, you can assume at least some part of the branding was on target.

But brand can’t be something only decided internally- “This is who WE are. This is our WHY. We don’t care what the customer thinks, we think this looks great!” Or, it can’t be that way if you want to grow dramatically, keep growing, and really please customers enough to inspire loyalty.

These days, brands evolve. The more creative you put out there, the more you confirm or disprove your theories about your customer and your brand. And times change. Customers change. If your brand is stuck in the 1980’s, it might be a dead brand. Branding can inhibit or kill sales. Brand marketers can’t ignore the results of marketing and sales, or the effect of branding on them.

If everyone works together, the brand thrives with loyal customers and new customers. That requires:

  • Brand marketers who understand the customers and listen to the data.
  • Digital marketers who manifest the brand in variegated form and accumulate customer intelligence for brand marketers to use to consider how and when to evolve the brand.
  • Sales development reps and account executives whose pitches fit the brand identity and who accumulate feedback from customers that may impact teh brand’s future.

It’s so important to fight against siloization because when marketing doesn’t talk to sales, or when branding can’t help marketing and sales get better results, if marketing or sales are putting out ideas that don’t fit the brand, or if the brand never evolves, you fall behind competitors who are reaching across the aisle and continually adapting to market conditions and new input.

Third, REACH

Reach enough cold prospects. Use the platforms and strategies that can actually reach your ideal target customer.

So many companies are just not reaching enough eyeballs, minds and hearts.

Marketing and sales are a funnel. You start TOFU (top of funnel) and drive the right people toward the LOFU (low funnel) to get more customers. You can argue that it’s also a circle, with customer service helping to increase or maintain good loyalty and repeat purchase numbers.

But the thing about a funnel is: It gets narrower as you get lower. That means fewer prospects reach each next stage. There are fewer people who are sales qualified than marketing qualified. You lose people at every stage. Which means if you want a lot of sales, you need a lot of marketing reach and SDR touches. About 100x as many.

Rule of thumb based on research:

  • About 5% of visitors become marketing qualified leads
  • 60% of these become sales accepted leads
  • 50% of these become sales qualified leads

Do the math: 0.05 * 0.60 * 0.50 = 0.0015 = 1.5% of website visitors become sales qualified leads.

And that just means they might buy.

According to this research on 100’s of companies, the average conversion rate from SQL to won deal was 6%, and took 18 days.

lead generation funnelSo, more math: 0.0015 * 0.06 = 0.0009 = 0.1% of website visitors become buyers. Or, one out of every 1,000 visitors.

Want 100 sales from inbound? You need 100,000 website visitors. That’s the stark cold math. And that probably seems like a lot of visitors to many people- it really is- and most companies have no idea they need that much attention or traffic.

And for SDR outbound, SDR’s on average close about 2.7% of their qualified prospects.

For outbound phone, the numbers are something like this:

  • 20-30 dials to get a meaningful conversation
  • 3 meaningful conversations to get an appointment
  • 40% of leads to opportunities
  • 6% of these converted to customers

More math: 0.25 * 0.33 * 0.4 * 0.06 = 0.2%

So an SDR has to call 500 people to get you a sale, and usually they’re contacting each of these people 15-25 times, so we’re talking about 10,000 calls per new customer.

What’s the cost per lead? With in-house SDR’s it could be $1,500 per lead.

An outsourced SDR solution I recently spoke to charges $4,000 for 1,000 contacts, contacted 5 times each, for 5,000 calls, hopefully producing 5-15 appointments, which means a cost per lead of $266 – $800 per lead.

The good news with digital advertising is that our cost per MQL, depending on the industry, is $5 at the lowest (Facebook ads), to $250 at the upper end (Google ads for for the insurance industry, where the cost per click is super high). Let’s say the median is closer to $20/MQL, and per above number 30% of those become customers, we’re looking at $66 cost per customer.

Based on that, you’d think we’d want to use ONLY digital ads for B2B lead generation. However, every platform has its limitations-

  • Not every business person is on Facebook
  • Not every prospect is searching Google right now
  • We won’t have the emails or phone numbers for every prospect we want to reach.
  • Some people don’t look at their Linkedin, ignore emails from LinkedIn and disregard all sales pitches with LinkedIn Inmail.

No platform is perfect, so we need to use a combination of all of them.

Fourth, CREATE

Generate creative (for ads, emails, website, etc) that fits the branding and customer, but make sure you create a lot of it, and keep creating new ideas along those lines.

As I mentioned in the branding section, digital requires a lot of creative. Whether we’re talking about advertising or social posting or cold email, we need:

  • artist working in studioA variety of on-brand images for different target segments, offers and messages.
  • A variety of copywriting text to fit different customer segments, offers, pain points, benefits and unique differentiators.
  • Copy for email subject lines and the body of the emails.
  • Phone and voicemail scripts to see which ones get the most response.

We’ve found over and over again for our clients that creative is one of the biggest levers you can pull for bigger response.

In fact, in an analysis of our B2B marketing clients, we found that:

  • Advertising to a variety of targets (not just one) led to a 13x improvement of the best lead gen ad over the worst. That means saving 92% on your lead generation costs by finding the best targeting. Even when you just have one ideal target, there are multiple ways to target them, and some are more expensive than others.
  • Putting a variety of creative in front of prospects led to a 9X improvement in the best lead gen ad over the worst. Just pushing yourself to create a few more text and image and video ideas for ads can save you 89% of your lead gen costs.
  • Creating multiple landing pages (using a solution like unbounce or leadpages) and seeing which gets the best conversion rate can lead to a 5x improvement in lead gen results, saving you 80% of your lead gen costs.

You can see from those results that it’s basically criminal to neglect creating multiple creatives. The difference between companies that can execute this and those that can’t or won’t is immense, and leads to sudden new challengers and upsets in the marketplace.

Finally, LEARN

Learn from everything you do. Measure, evaluate, and change course where necessary.

Facebook lead generation ad resultsEven companies who do a great job at the first four secrets often forget to execute on this one.

You could have all kinds of learnings and discoveries in the data from your B2B lead generation activities, but not be benefitting from them.

The number of companies who continue to run the wrong ads and send ineffective emails- even though their data is telling them they aren’t the best ones- is staggering.

It takes a learning mindset and a desire to see quick result improvements- if you have those things, you’ll be looking at the data and learning.

And it’s a good idea, because technically, you’re listening to your future customers when you look at that data. And when you make changes based on the data, customers experience the resonance- you’re more relevant and impactful. Your efforts are more compelling and persuasive.

And that’s how you win at B2B lead generation.