SaaS marketing is fierce. Companies in this vertical routinely spend 30-50% of their revenue on Sales and Marketing, making them capable of a quality and a quantity of marketing campaigns most other industries never see.
SaaS marketers also tend to be intensely data-driven. This is a good thing, of course – but it also means you’re less likely to find them making dumb mistakes. So there’s little margin for error if you’re a B2B SaaS marketer: Your competitors are well-funded, learn fast, and track everything.
And yet… it’s still a winnable game. B2B SaaS marketers who follow best practices can still absolutely find the leads they need. Whether they do it via SEO and content marketing or many other strategies, SaaS B2B lead generation still has a ton of opportunities.
Just take the shift towards prioritizing lead quality over lead quantity as an example. This has been developing for years and is now standard practice among B2B marketers.
The goal of higher-quality leads reflects how much better B2B marketers are getting at their jobs. It also speaks to how Marketing and Sales are increasingly working together. The partnership isn’t perfect, for sure, but it’s better. And as marketers focus more and more on lead quality – going all the way to getting compensated based on how many SQLs they produce – we’re likely to see better alignment between Sales and Marketing.
Why? Because Marketing will have to lean in to understand Sales better if they want to deliver the types of leads Sales wants. And as those leads become more and more valuable, Sales will value Marketing’s contribution more.
At least, that’s what we all hope for. And it is becoming increasingly true.
If you’re a B2B SaaS marketer considering your 2020 plans, we hope this roundup of best practices for B2B lead generation will be helpful. Some people have taken to talking trash about best practices lately, and best practices certainly aren’t the last word on what to do. But best practices are a smart starting place. So consider these a template. Adapt them to your company, your audience, and your resources.
Focus on lead quality.
Demand Generation’s 2019 Survey Report found that 30% of marketers say the primary metric they are being measured on is MQLs or SALs (Marketing Qualified Leads or Sales Accepted Leads), both of which quantify lead quality. Only 14% of B2B marketers said they were being measured simply on the total number of leads or inquiries.
This shift towards lead quality has shown up in a bunch of other studies and surveys going back to 2016. And we don’t need to tell you it’s a big deal – because so many marketers’ performance is measured based on lead quality (in one way or another), we’re pretty sure you’re keenly aware of the value of high-quality leads.
So if that’s the overarching strategy, what are the tactics that can get you there? We’ve got several blog posts that can help:
- 21 PPC Lead Generation Tools for More High-Quality Leads
- 5 Tactics to Improve B2B Lead Quality on LinkedIn
- How to Optimize Your B2B Lead Generation Forms for Better Results
- PPC Lead Generation: If You Want Better Leads, Start Asking Questions
Improving lead quality has become such a priority for B2B marketers that Ascend2 dedicated an entire survey to the topic recently. Here’s how the marketers they surveyed ranked the most effective tactics for improving lead quality compared to how challenging each of those tactics were.
We’ll return to several of the strategies cited in this chart shortly.
Get your site’s SEO dialed in.
Mike Sonders did a detailed analysis of the top 50 SaaS firms recently, and one of his key conclusions was this: “organic traffic from Google can be an incredible source of qualified leads for SaaS.”
SEO is, of course, free (at least in terms of money), so it has appeal for startups trying to squeeze every dollar. The drawback to SEO is that it’s very much not free in terms of time. Developing the type of content that ranks takes time and expertise, and getting that content to rank can take several months or more. However… despite all the competition, there are still plenty of very high-value search phrases that trigger surprisingly weak content.
So SEO is a great overall strategy. It’s a long-term investment that can still pay massive returns. But does it actually generate leads? Yes. We dug into this question in detail recently with a blog post about Best Practices for Landing Page Optimization.
Optimizing landing pages for SEO traffic only makes sense if SEO traffic converts. Fortunately, it does. A recent survey of B2B marketers found that SEO came in only a little behind Search engine advertising as a source of traffic for high-quality leads.
Another blog post of ours, Derek Edmond’s How To Generate More MQLs from a B2B SEO Program can give you specifics how exactly how to do SEO for a SaaS lead generation program.
Invest in case studies.
According to that Ascend2 survey about lead quality, the second-best way to generate high-quality leads is to improve content quality and engagement. As it’s about to be 2020, you’ve no doubt heard there’s quite a lot of content available on the web (cough), and that it’s well past time to focus on quality over quantity in your content.
That’s a good start. But it may not be good enough. Because just telling you to create better content is fine for a generalized content strategy, but for a B2B SaaS lead generation strategy, you’ll need to go deeper.
Enter case studies. The B2B marketers who responded to Demand Generation’s 2019 Demand Generation Report named case studies as the most successful engagement tactic for the top of the funnel. They also gave case studies second place for boosting engagement towards the middle and the end of the funnel.
Case studies are also excellent for converting and accelerating leads at the middle and late stages of the funnel.
We think there’s a reason for this. Case studies let you demonstrate to prospective customers/clients that you’ve worked with clients like them before. That’s a key concern for every B2B buyer, and especially every SaaS buyer: “Do these people get my business?” Case studies prove you understand specific types of businesses, and that you’ve helped those businesses in very specific, positive ways.
We’re big fans of case studies, and not just because they tend to score high in any study where content formats get ranked for effectiveness. Our recent post, Why Case Studies are a Necessity for B2B, goes into detail about why every B2B marketing program should include this content format.
Personalize your marketing.
This was what the Ascend2 respondents said was the best way to generate high-quality leads. It’s also, of course, one of the biggest trends and best practices in B2B marketing right now.
Personalization works. Even if you can’t dial your personalization in at the user level, simply creating a few personas can help a lot. SaaS firms should have no problem with this, as they are often built from the ground up with different user profiles in mind. Just carry those user profiles from coding and product development over into your marketing.
Using personas also ends up being one of the primary differences between strategic and not-so-strategic technology content marketers. 61% of marketers “who manage content strategically” say they use personas, compared to only 32% of technology content marketers who don’t manage content strategically.
While using personas clearly helps deliver more relevant content, and therefore generates more conversions (aka, more leads), many marketers do struggle with which personas to prioritize. 71% of technology marketers say that “prioritizing marketing effort toward one audience over another” is a challenge for them.
Lead qualification is an essential best practice if you want quality leads.
Actually, lead qualification and the idea of “negative personas” fit together well. Negative personas are simply customer profiles of people you don’t want. Lead qualification is a technique of weeding out leads you don’t want – or leads you don’t want Sales following up with just yet.
Qualifying leads can be as simple as adding a question to your opt-in forms like “How soon will you need X services?” or “Do you have purchasing authority?” You could also qualify leads by asking about budgets. Even adding a detailed negative keyword list to your PPC campaigns can be a way to qualify leads, in a sense. The idea is to screen out the people you don’t want to spend marketing resources on. The result is significantly higher-quality leads.
Never underestimate referrals.
Referrals get talked about so little in the context of lead generation that I almost wonder if they don’t “count” somehow as a lead generation tactic. But referrals obviously generate leads. And SaaS companies can use referrals just as effectively as any other business – if not more.
SaaS referral marketing can take the form of just adding your company’s website link to any content or software that’s public-facing. It could be as overt as asking for referrals by email, or for Sales reps to ask if a customer knows someone who needs help with the issue the software solves.
One key thing about referrals – be careful about tying cash or product incentives to them. You want high-quality referrals. Often, the best way to ensure a good referral is to just ask for one. Not ten. Just one. That immediately focuses your existing clients on choosing the best candidate they know, not every candidate they know.
Research backs this up. The University of Chicago found that non-cash incentives are 24% more effective than cash incentives for boosting referral performance.
Of course, you already knew that referrals result in sales. And as Krystle Vermes explains in her post, B2B Referral Programs Prove Key To Hitting Revenue Targets:
A study conducted by Influitive and Heinz Marketing found that B2B companies are three times more likely to reach their revenue targets when the marketing department has a formalized referral program in place.
Understand that email will never die.
Here’s a question for your next B2B or SaaS marketing event: Are email subscribers leads?
Marketers who focus on quality leads will probably say no: Subscribers are not leads. But a subscriber who starts to behave in a certain way may become a lead.
A good lead scoring system can tag or flag subscribers who start to behave like leads. It can also, of course, tell you when a “cool” lead becomes a “hot” lead, and when a hot lead deserves a call from a real person in Sales.
Lead scoring and managing leads as they warm up is lead nurturing, and because we’re focused on lead generation here, I’ll move on. But obviously, in the continuum between subscribers and white-hot leads… there are subscribers. Once you’ve got an email subscriber, you’ve got an opportunity to build a relationship. A really good welcome email may be all you need to convert some of your new subscribers into leads.
Other things that might convert subscribers into leads would be:
- Tag subscribers based on which links they click on in your emails so you can send them more relevant emails. As your emails become more relevant, subscribers will engage with them more often. The more they engage, the more they’re likely to exhibit lead-like behaviors.
- Send notifications about webinars, research, or any other high-value content you’ve got (like, say, case studies…) that could tip them over from simply enjoying your content to actually being interested in your products/services.
- Ask questions about who they are. This is also known as “progressive profiling,” and odds are good you’ve heard of it. But as you’re also heard, the more you know about your email subscribers, the better. With some additional information (like their company, their zip code, etc) you may be able to identify some of your subscribers as potential targets for, say, an account-based marketing campaign you’re running. One of those anonymous, low-activity subscribers could be the CEO of your dream account using a free email address.
So if email subscribers can become leads, then building your email list is a lead generation activity. And you know how to do this: Gate at least some of your high-value content. Add an opt-in box to your blog, and to the footer of your website. Send great email updates/newsletters. Promote those great newsletters/email updates on social media, in your other content, and even at events. It all adds up.
These are only a few of the ways to do B2B SaaS lead generation in 2019 – or in 2020, for that matter. But they are almost always the bread and butter of the most effective lead generation programs.
That said, it’s smart to try new things, too. We like to borrow the 70/20/10 model Coca-Cola uses for its creative and use it for lead generation tactic testing. 70% of what we do is proven, established, “pays the bills.” 20% is innovative. 10% is completely out of the box.
We might not use this approach with every industry, but with the rapidly-evolving nature of SaaS, it works.