An Unconventional Guide to B2B Lead Generation for Founders

Are you a tech startup founder and want to move your sales beyond channels like referrals and direct sales? 

In this guide, I will show how to drive more leads online with digital marketing funnels and explain how to avoid the most common mistakes even seasoned marketers make.

As a bonus, you will learn how to find well-versed growth marketers for your B2B startup and what qualities these professionals should have to drive your digital marketing success.

So let’s get started with a winning digital marketing strategy!

Digital marketing tactics vs. strategies

You might have heard words like sales funnel, lead magnet, nurturing. They have already become buzzwords among digital marketers.

Having focused on B2B marketing funnels for over five years, I have noticed that lead gen tactics are like little shiny objects that attract novices. For example, conducting a webinar or writing an ebook can be attractive for you as this will help you drive more leads fast.

However, tactics never work without a solid strategy. So what should you focus on first before jumping straight into using these tactics?

Know your customer profiles

Trivial, but essential, personas depict customer profiles whose voice and opinion you have to listen to when creating an article, podcast episode, or lead magnet. 

By understanding your persona’s informational needs better, you will be able to support them with the content that they will want to read, watch, or listen to.

Before going into a content marketing strategy, I always suggest setting aside a few hours so that you and your team can create persona profiles. Let’s call it a customer persona workshop. 

Remember! Work on your existing customer persona, not your imaginary friend. If you don’t have a product-market fit and customers, you will only end up with some assumptions. After some time, you will reevaluate them. It’s best to focus on closing first sales, testing out your hypotheses about who makes an ideal customer, and then moving onto a persona workshop.

Here are the essential aspects for creating customer persona:

  1. Give it a name and demographic profile.
  2. Role in the organization
  3. What organization does he work in
  4. Pains that your product can remove
  5. Gains from what you offer in respect to pains
  6. Pain relievers
  7. Gain creators
  8. Jobs to be done

I highly recommend you using Strategyzer for your persona work, either the print or digital version.

How to create persona for a startup?

Define your MQL and SQL

These two lead stages are usually misused and misunderstood.

So what is the difference between MQL and SQL?

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) has expressed interest and opted for some form of content on your web page.

A sales qualified lead (SQL) has opted for contact with your company in regards to buying a product. This lead is actively considering buying your product and possibly products of your competitors.

I have encountered companies reaching out to MQLs when they are not ready to talk to sales.

Here is a typical scenario of the company reaching out too early to their leads:

  1. A contact subscribes for a webinar series and watches a webinar.
  2. After the webinar, a sales rep reaches out to a lead.
  3. Sales prequalify a user and initiate contact.
  4. A sales rep tries to sell a product.
  5. A lead usually rejects an offer.
  6. A lead rejects the offer, and your sales or marketing assigns a lead to a nurturing campaign.

Even though sales can potentially reach out to people with an urgent need that your product can satisfy, this is still too costly and time-consuming.

Let’s see an alternative scenario: 

  1. A lead subscribes for a webinar series and watches a webinar.
  2. A lead sees a retargeting ad on Google and Facebook.
  3. The lead starts to interact with educational blog articles and download some ebooks.
  4. A lead receives some nurturing emails with value, not sales.
  5. He then read case studies and your services.
  6. He can compare your solutions to competitive services.
  7. He wants to schedule a call or buy right away.
  8. A sales rep talks to a problem and solution-aware prospect.
  9. A rep qualifies a lead as an opportunity.

Having leads initiate contact by themselves results in sales calls that convert better. Instead of pushing your offer too early, nurture the interest of your leads.

To sum up, publishing some ebook and having people download it doesn’t mean you have a lead in the sense that you can sell to them.

Before we understand how to convert more MQLs into SQLs, let’s first examine a digital marketing funnel and how contacts move through its stages.

Stages in a B2B sales funnel

Here are the core stages of the B2B sales funnel you need to know:

1) Problem identification

The customer has a job to be done and needs to resolve a challenge connected with their role.

Example: A startup founder is looking to develop a SaaS tool and has doubts about what tech stack to choose. Customers are researching topics like “10 of the most popular frameworks for building an enterprise app”.

2) Solution identification

With the content from the problem identification stage, you have built awareness about your prospects’ problem. Now show them the potential solutions.

Example: You are selling computer software specializing in Node.js. Present this tech stack as the perfect way to companies that can use it to build their next app.

3) Consideration

Consideration stage occurs when your MQLs are researching your company. Build your expert image with whitepapers, guides, unique methodologies. Prove your potential customers you have extensive experience by showing them your case studies and testimonials. 

With smart drip campaigns, you can convert your MQLs into SQLs, bringing them to the last stage of your marketing funnel.

Example: A startup founder knows that Node.js is a perfect tech stack for building his app. He looks for different vendors and makes a list. Having come upon a great case study of one dev shop in Ukraine, he decided to book a call to discuss the project details.

4) Decision 

Your lead needs to make a final decision and choose you among a list of other companies.

Example: A startup founder has met a CTO of one of the dev shops which portfolio he liked. It turned out the dev shop could meet all expectations and had sufficient experience to perform the job. Having evaluated different sales materials, they are now ready to make a choice.

Remember that leads can join your funnel at any stage. For example, they might be looking for vendors (consideration stage) when they enter your page; that is why you have to ensure they can easily find a contact form and case studies.

I like this visualization of Gartner depicting how B2B buyers are interacting with content.

B2B lead scoring

By scoring your leads, you can better understand how they interact with your web page and what stage they are on within their buying journey.

You have to consider at least two essential aspects when designing lead scoring: behavior and demographics.

Here is where you have to come back to the summary of your persona workshop.

For the demographics element you can consider including:

  • a decision-making status (Chief technology officer, Demand Generation lead, Head of HR)
  • size of the organization (you target B2B customer is a company with 200+ employees)
  • location (you want to focus on Nordics)
  • industry (your leads are tech companies)

There is no one-fits-all solution, and you can have different criteria than those mentioned above. 

To measure how your page users’ behavior helps increase buyer intent, you have assumed your high-converting pages. For example, almost all of your leads who have visited a case study end up becoming your paying customers. In this case, you have to give a lead that has hit any of the portfolio pages more points. There is also a possibility there are some pages that disqualify your website users from becoming a customer. For example, this can be a career page. 

Here are some pages for which you can assign points for visiting:

  • portfolio pages
  • services pages
  • pricing
  • bottom of the funnel content (e.g., specific articles)
  • pages with product testimonials
  • contact page

The bottom line – there is no universal strategy for scoring leads, and your case is unique. Scoring implementation should be based on data, and to some extent, on assumptions about your users.

When designing a lead scoring system for a major tech company, I had to account for a dozen different behavioral criteria that mattered, here is how it looked:

When working on a scoring system, one needs to assess historical data by first pulling it from different sources. 

How can you implement scoring once you have a strategy?

There are many tools for businesses of different sizes that will help you implement your scoring. I have been using Active Campaign for this, but you can check out what Hubspot or AWeber offers.

Once you have your strategy in place, you need to define how you will nurture leads so that they interact with your content more, and you can qualify them as hot.

Lead nurturing

With an effective lead nurturing strategy, you should be able to educate your potential customers on your solution. 

For a B2B marketing strategy, consider three key channels to do your lead nurturing.

B2B email nurturing

What is email nurturing?

Email nurturing are automated drip campaigns where the goal is educating a lead and moving them down the funnel.

These emails usually contain some visual elements like a banner, linked content, or a button that brings a user further down the funnel.


Your drip campaign can be triggered by actions users take on your webpage. For example, once they have visited the page with your use cases, you can send them a set of emails that can encourage them to learn more about your company’s achievements and book a call.

Here is a snippet of one drip campaign I prepared for a client: 

How long should emails be in nurturing campaigns?

There is no universal answer – you should test what works best. 

However, remember to make them engaging – adjust your copy to a web reader by breaking text into more “digestible” elements, include bullet points, and clear call to action.

Here are some ideas for nurturing campaigns: 

  • Your client story (here you should include a link to a case study)
  • Your opinion that breaks the status quo
  • Findings of your survey or report

Use statistics to support your content—for example, use titles like Use case: 30% increase in e-commerce transactions within 14 days. Show your expertise and build your industry leadership position with the content you share in your drip campaigns. Remember, to avoid direct promotion of your services.

Now you know how sales funnels work—time to explore what pitfalls are waiting for its implementation and how to avoid them.

Mistakes with lead generation

You might think things are easy from first sight. However, once you get down to execution, you might notice some things are not working the way you expected. 

In the beginning, you have sketched a general strategy, made assumptions, and set your success metrics. However, a “brainy” plan can still fail. Here is what I have learned over the years of testing, failing, and winning with my strategies. 

Vanity metrics

You have just written an article and shared it with your audience on social media. It got fantastic traction and engagement. You feel terrific with five-digital numbers and are waiting for your sales to explode. 

But once you take a look at your goals in Google Analytics, you notice that nothing has been accomplished, and your article has not converted visitors in SQLs. There are at least two things that contribute to vanity metrics.

1. Badly optimized content

You have created a social media post but have not placed a relevant link that would lead your customers to the next step in the funnel. As a result, they have consumed content but haven’t taken the next step.

2. Reaching the wrong audience

You might have reached people who like to click but never buy. For example, one could write something that would appeal to a junior professional in a corporation rather than a person in a managerial position – a buyer.

As a result, you have generated interest but from the wrong people with the wrong content. Thousands of views mean nothing if you can’t make an impact on moving leads closer to the conversion point.

No traffic

You have built a fantastic strategy, but you haven’t attracted enough traffic to the page. You can not achieve conversion with too little audiences.

What might be a reason?

  • your content has not got traction yet, and it takes time to start ranking on given keywords in Google
  • your domain authority and backlink profile are low
  • you have just bought a domain
  • you don’t supplement your organic reach with paid ads

As a result, no one is visiting your website and goes through your beautifully designed funnel.

Average content

The user attention span has been decreasing over the years, but the amount of content on the Internet has increased. 

Don’t count on getting traction on traffic and leads if your content is bland, unoriginal, written by a content writer that bases his research mostly on a couple of blogs available online. 

Instead, have your content written by a tech writer who incorporates case studies, unique fundings, and makes content engaging.

Here how I approach the process of researching before writing: 

  1. I do a competitive analysis to determine what has already been written on the topic that I want to cover.
  2. I find a weak point in this content – they most often lack examples, case studies, and are just plain boring to read.
  3. I think of how I can do 10x better with my content, and I need it.
  4. I write a unique lengthy content that covers a topic from A to Z
  5. On-site SEO: I optimize the article for SEO purposes (and I stick to my SEO checklist)
  6. Off-site SEO: I look to backlink this content to the blogs that have high domain authority

Also, I recommend working on removing on-page blockers that will prevent your page from ranking high. Stay away from page editors like Divi or Elementor that create excessive code strings that a developer would substitute with just one line of code. 

For example, you can develop your custom blog template on WordPress and adjust the code for search engines by making your page light and speedy.

Don’t expect overnight success.

Growing your domain authority, getting traffic, creating, and optimizing your content takes time. Treat this adventure as a marathon, not a sprint. 

However, create separate marketing campaigns with milestones, success criteria, and deadlines. This approach will help you move to your results in a consistent manner. 

So now you understand how things work from a strategic point of view. Let’s finally dive deeper into tactics –  ways in which to execute your strategy.

Lead Generation tools

Webinars as a lead generation tool

This is a fast way to generate leads and build awareness about your brand. Webinars are some kind of a virtual event or conference online. With this tool, you can reach your audience without organizing an industry event in a physical location. 

Typically, you would conduct a webinar on a topic that helps resolve your target persona’s challenge. You can hold your webinar on your own, as an expert, or invite another influencer.

The success of your webinars often depends on attracting the right audience. You can achieve more by inviting a recognized expert to lead a webinar with you.

I believe the most challenging part of organizing an online event is distribution and promotion. 

You have to make sure the exciting content that educates your target audience reaches the right people.

By inviting industry thought leaders as guests to your webinar, you will be able to reach their audiences as they can help you with promotion.

Remember about nurturing the MQLs you get from the webinar – make a separate drip campaign and lead your audience to the next stage of your funnel.

Guidebooks

Guidebooks are long-form content that your company can use as both gated and ungated content. Guides are an excellent tool to educate your potential clients on the solutions to their problems. Sometimes, they are also used to build brand expertise and position a brand in a user’s research. 

For example, a web security company catering services to technology companies could use a report as a tool to show the findings from their recent survey. The report could identify the main security threats and present possible solutions.

Having your audience read your guides is a perfect way to build trust with potential clients without being overly promotional.

Paid ads

Consider using ads for retargeting and warming up traffic, not for direct sales. Also, they will help you move leads down the funnel. Paid ads can complement your organic reach and SEO effort, but they should not be the only way you generate leads online.

Some businesses base their lead generation effort exclusively on paid ads. This creates dependence on one channel and leaves you with a little control over the costs as an advertising platform can easily change their rules or simply close down, leaving you without a way to generate revenue. That is why you should diversify your lead generation channels.

Affiliate marketing

Build relationships with the people who have clout in your industry and have nurtured their audiences of people who trust them. These industry leaders are often looking to generate more revenue from the communities they have created and consider affiliation options with trusted vendors.

Find an attractive offer for them to engage in and make the process of conversion attribution trackable. For this, you can build your system or use existing tools. Focus on full transparency and agree on the conditions for cooperation.

LinkedIn

This channel is one of my favorite tools for sourcing accounts of potential leads. And, most importantly, building relationships. It is a pity that more people now think this channel is for sales pitches.

For me, this is a place to leverage my expertise and create value for target accounts. By growing expert image, one can sell easier later with brand awareness already in place.

By the way, let’s connect on LinkedIn!

Now you know about the nitty-gritty of lead generation strategy and tools marketers use to generate leads. Now let’s find the right people to move this concept forward and start generating leads for your tech business.

How to find lead generation marketers?

Here are some of the criteria I believe a marketer should have to drive a tech company’s success. 

Previous experience

It implies experience in B2B, in particular, but also in your industry. Check out this person on LinkedIn – have they worked on projects similar to yours? 

Data-drivenness

Ask questions about measuring campaign results during an interview. A successful marketer derives insights from analytics and doesn’t rely on gut-feeling and assumptions only. He should be proficient at Google Analytics – it’s a minimum.

Great communicator

Most probably, you will need to work with someone remotely; that is why you have to ensure communication is seamless. Look for someone who has previous experience working remotely, use communication tools like Slack or Twist, and keep you in the loop on progress.

They are strategists

They have to come up with 101 ideas and have a vision for your marketing strategy. They ask the right questions and conclude what they learn to provide you with a plan of action.

They are doers

Some can have great ideas and a vision, but it takes ages to come from an approach to execution. Look for people who get things done.

How much does lead generation cost?

Depending on who you choose to work with – an agency or a freelancer – the cost will vary. An agency from Eastern Europe will most likely have lower prices than the one from Los Angeles. An hourly cost of a boutique agency starts at $30 in cheaper countries.

Suppose you want to have a strategy built for you, before execution, including competitive research, SEO research. In that case, understanding a persona, lead generation channels, sales funnel mapping, and recommendations on the next steps would start at $1500 if you choose to work with consultants or boutique agencies. 

You know what you need to do to build your digital funnel – writing some articles, creating sales pages, setting up ads, optimizing content for SEO purposes, or link building. Now plan and estimate your work with a freelance growth marketer or agency within the fixed-price model or based on their hourly rate.

Summary

You have learned the elements of a successful lead generation strategy – both strategy and tactics –  and are aware of the pitfalls with execution. Bottom line – start with a plan and integrate a business perspective in your digital marketing funnel. 

Only then, proceed to tactics – issue a guidebook, conduct webinars, or write articles. Nurture your leads to convert into sales with smart drip campaigns and a well-thought-out lead scoring strategy.

This is time to get down to action! Let’s schedule a call to discuss how to build a digital marketing funnel together to drive more leads online for your tech startup.

One thought on “An Unconventional Guide to B2B Lead Generation for Founders

  1. This is very concise and an absolutely fantastic read. The management at my company doesn’t seem to know the difference between an MQL and an SQL and always attempt to aggressively sell our project regardless of any stage of lead generation. I’m just glad to read an article that sheds some light on the difference between leads and actually provides you with strategies to guide them through the sales funnel.

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