Best Ways to Generate Sales Qualified B2B Leads

Lead generation maven Lisa VitaleWe often find that our customers have been previously disappointed by companies selling contact lists or appointment-setting services that simply don’t deliver the goods.  Generally speaking, the culprit tends to be poor-quality lists. The subsequent appointments are with ill-qualified prospects and correspondingly, the yields – in terms of closed deals or sales dollars – are disappointing at best.  So, what is the best way to generate sales-qualified leads?  Depending on the complexity of your value prop and your solution, a number of approaches may suit.  Following is a brief pro/con evaluation of the most popular lead generation approaches:


Cold Calling/Telemarketing: Cold calling can work for well understood products, assuming there is a solid, easily communicated value proposition.  Name recognition and low barriers to entry (both in target prospect and price points) will further aid in the success of this approach. In such instances, response rates can run around 8%*.  


Appointment setting: Given the above circumstances, hiring a third-party to set appointments will save you considerable time and resources, as cold-calling is essentially a numbers game – there’s really no way around it, you simply have to engage in significant volume dialling to obtain a small number of appointments. However, for complex products/services it’s hard to provide hired telemarketers with sufficient knowledge of your target market’s challenges, as well as how your solution may best fit their personal situation, to successfully engage with prospects.  As the dollar value of the sale goes up and the need to contact senior decision makers correspondingly increases, appointment setting services become less effective.


Direct mail is having a small resurgence according to DMA’s 2012 Response Rate Report (oversize mail leads the way with a 1.44% average for prospect lists). That said, in today’s digital world, this old-school approach needs to be integrated with an online marketing strategy, so those interested can find out more.  Direct mail is significantly more expensive than its digital counterpart, but – especially in the case of the more successful oversize mail – is arguably more impressive to receive and read, assuming you can get by the gatekeepers of the more senior decision makers.


Pure online strategies – inbound marketing – do work, of course, but they take time to implement and develop, and depend on generating a lot of web traffic to be cost-effective. Email campaigning works similarly, with an average B2B click-through rate of 4.3%**.


Webinars, trade shows, and executive events are among the most popular and effective lead generation approaches***, but are quite expensive to run and do not generate guaranteed results – especially the first time out. Getting the results you expect takes time, as you refine your process while learning what topics will drive attendance.


Prospect surveys differ from all of the above in that they focus on key roles at target accounts. Additionally, their primary purpose is to identify the challenges that each individual contact may be facing.  From a target list of accounts, individuals with the appropriate roles and responsibilities for purchasing the vendor’s solution are identified via phone-based contact discovery. Qualified prospects are then incentivized to opt-in to a survey, which explores the various challenges they face. The survey culminates by asking participants how they would like to be contacted by the survey sponsor.  By engaging respondents in a willing dialogue about their challenges, it not only becomes easier to arrange for follow up appointments, it also creates an expectation that the survey sponsor may have a stronger solution than competitors. Companies such as Eloqua/Oracle, Kronos and IBM have found this approach to be an effective way to penetrate higher end markets.


Ultimately, the best approach for you will depend on the complexity of what you are selling and the needs that process entails.  Simple, straightforward products and services lend themselves nicely to a variety of lead gen approaches, but complex sales require a more involved, comprehensive strategy.  The intricacies of complex sales demand a deeply knowledgeable team; a clear, insightful, and concise value proposition; a carefully crafted message; and a well-defined and understood target market.  Getting to the right prospects on the buying committees, which are the inevitable hurdle of complex sales, requires an uncommonly engaging lead-generation approach, allowing for precise penetration into target accounts.