In this article, Ken Stout, SVP, Data Axle, takes a closer look at why 2021 will be the year that B2B lead generation goes mainstream and what organizations investing in these programs for the first time can learn from early adopters in the space. 

In terms of efficiency and effectiveness, modern B2B lead generation tactics have come a long way over the past decade during which, tech companies have been the predominant practitioners and beneficiaries of this evolving discipline. Going into 2021, that’s changing—and fast. Marketers across an ever-widening range of industries are adopting the latest in lead generation tactics, technologies, and data resources. That’s setting the stage for a sweeping revolution in how different organizations conduct business and connect with prospects. 

Organizations that are investing for the first time in modern B2B lead generation programs benefit from both hindsight and the latest technology and data enhancements as they revamp their sales and marketing efforts. Let’s take a closer look at why 2021 will be the year B2B lead generation goes mainstream and what those establishing new programs can learn from early adopters in the space.

Following in the Footsteps of B2B Tech

Since the dawn of marketing automation technology, B2B technology companies have been at the forefront of the adoption and innovative use of these tools. There’s no mystery as to why: The nature of these data-driven tools aligns closely with the nature of the technologies that B2B tech companies themselves develop and market. Furthermore, the sales cycle of these organizations tends to be lengthy—often up to 18 months—and the contracts often represent multi-year, multi-million-dollar agreements. Thus, the need to be able to identify strong prospects and nurture them appropriately across their customer journeys cannot be overstated. 

Implementing a B2B lead generation program takes time, which has especially been the case over the past decade, as tools and data practices have evolved rapidly. Tech companies have invested massive amounts of time and energy into developing and refining their use of lead-gen technology for identifying, scoring and nurturing leads, and automating marketing campaigns to reach prospects at the proper times and in the right channels. The additional ROI that they’ve unlocked at every step of the way has been well worth the effort. 

Now, as the B2B lead-gen space reaches a new plateau of maturity, the stage is set for other enterprises to follow in the B2B tech industry’s footsteps. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend by pivoting numerous sectors away from the massive annual conferences and expos they once relied upon for lead generation. This has created a need for—and freeing up budget for—more-targeted digital communications and prospecting initiatives. Organizations in the insurance, finance, and education spaces—not to mention every B2C company that also deals in B2B transactions—are now exploring new ways to generate targeted leads based on the latest available data.

Setting the Stage for Program Success

As organizations across the insurance, finance, education, and other industries turn their attention to sophisticated B2B lead-gen tactics, there are several considerations to keep in mind. For one: The length of your sales cycle matters. Companies need to structure their programs with their average sales cycle in mind. At the same time, they should also be able to score leads according to where they are within the funnel to ensure they’re handed off to the appropriate teams for nurturing and development. 

As your organization implements B2B lead-gen practices, don’t be surprised if you notice an impact on your previously understood average sales cycle. By helping companies more efficiently identify and reach the buying group within target organizations, B2B lead-gen can accelerate awareness and consideration of products, requiring companies to circle the wagons on reaching key decision-makers even earlier in the sales cycle. 

That said, B2B organizations still need to exercise patience when it comes to gauging ROI for their lead-gen programs. Because of longer sales cycles, it’s typically not possible to gauge the effectiveness of lead-gen efforts just a month out from the start of a campaign. Instead, if your typical sales cycle is nine months, you’ll need to be calculating ROI based on leads generated nine months ago. Similarly, when determining how much to pay for leads, B2B companies must do so with long-term customer value in mind.

Given the protracted sales cycles of B2B organizations, the typical notion of a “campaign” becomes borderline irrelevant. Data-driven B2B lead-gen should be an always-on program that is refined and optimized continuously. Organizations can’t afford to pause efforts and become weighed down by analysis paralysis. If your B2B lead-gen engine isn’t always running, you risk having the big fish slip through your net. That means you need to align with a first-party data provider that can help you continuously monitor who is “in market” at any given moment—not just a single moment in time. 

Marketing resources have become precious these days, and most B2B competitive landscapes have become crowded. Hence, organizations should be able to spot likely-to-buy decision-makers within their wider sea of prospects and then target them with relevant materials and messaging. In 2021 and beyond, the most sophisticated B2B lead-gen programs will be the ones built around multi-sourced intent data. This data can predict, with a high degree of accuracy, the precise moment an individual or team within an organization is looking to purchase the type of products or services that a company offers. 

The expansion of data-driven B2B lead-gen beyond early-adopting tech organizations will be a boon to several industries in 2021 and beyond. By structuring programs around current best practices and the latest data assets and technologies, B2B marketers across industries can unlock tremendous efficiencies and revenue at a time when they’re sorely needed.

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