What’s next in the world of B2B lead generation? In the digital environment, it’s impossible to say with any degree of certainty which trends will emerge. But after a hectic 2020, one thing is clear: there are some trends that developed in 2020 that don’t show any signs of slowing in the coming years.
For B2B businesses focused on lead generation, there are obvious trends. Lead generation has become more virtual in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies are relying less on conferences, live events, and seminars.
Unfortunately, knowing that alone isn’t enough. B2B companies who want to generate more leads in the coming year need to focus on the trends that can make a difference in 2021 and beyond. This is especially true for B2B companies, which have always relied on the personal touch when it comes to lead generation.
To discover the 2021 trends, we looked at some of the top shifts in B2B economics. What did we notice? Here are a few key highlights:
- B2B companies have got to respect the need for flexibility. Simply put, more of your customers are going to have uncertain budgets in the wake of a pandemic. But this doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. Keys like long-cycle lead nurturing can help separate your company from the competition.
- Virtual engagement can replace more than you’ve imagined. B2B companies who have anxiously awaited a return to in-person networking and normalcy may be waiting a while. But no matter what happens in 2021, one thing is clear: virtual networking and engagement have become sophisticated enough to attract real business. Your business needs to be prepared.
- Content marketing. When B2B companies need to generate leads on a budget, it means switching to inbound marketing strategies like content marketing. By building powerful content that attracts new traffic, potential leads, and all sorts of new “eyes” on your business, you can leverage a limited marketing budget for maximum impact.
Prediction #1: Lead Nurturing Will Matter Even More
We’re all familiar with lead nurturing—B2B companies especially. But there have been a few developments in 2020 that may potentially lead to a greater emphasis on long-term lead nurturing over short-term direct sales follow-ups. Here’s why:
- Other B2B companies aren’t as good at it as you think. Every company likes to think that its lead nurturing system is sophisticated. But is it? The statistics suggest otherwise. Less than 60% of companies verify business leads before passing them on to the appropriate sales team.
- B2B lead nurturing is scalable. Lead nurturing is like a service. So how can companies scale it and expand their marketing efforts? Only 37% of B2B marketers are using automation to generate leads, let alone nurture them.
Lead nurturing is a common phrase but remains an underutilized way to bring in leads. Here are the trends you should watch.
According to some statistics, the majority—63%—of your customers who are requesting company information today won’t be ready to make a purchase from you until three months down the line. Customers expect plenty of time to compare different agencies and businesses.
In many cases, it will be the agencies that do the best at lead nurturing and following up that should expect to land more business in 2021.
Prediction #2: Virtual Engagement Will Turn Up a Notch—But With a Caveat
This was an easy trend to see coming in 2020, yet few of us realized just how powerful virtual networking would become in the wake of COVID-19. Simply put, we needed ways to network with each other from home—and we found them.
According to Wild Apricot, the number of organizations planning virtual events in 2020 doubled. Even companies that historically resisted virtual events started making new investments.
This isn’t news to you if you’ve been generating leads for B2B since before 2020. So, what should you expect to change in 2021? In a couple words: customer attitudes. As the virtual engagement and networking market become saturated with new companies seeking new leads, you’ll have to find ways to reach new customers without annoying potential leads. Here are some ways to accomplish that, according to the Wild Apricot survey:
- 38% of customers are turned off because of networking event saturation. If 2020 was the year of the Zoom meeting, expect 2021 to be the year of “call fatigue.” Just because it’s easier for individuals to have meetings doesn’t mean that more people are going to want to have them. Beware of scheduling too many meetings when alternative media—email, telephone, etc.—will work just as well.
- 23% of companies reported not being able to deliver the kind of value that made virtual events worth attending. Lead generation is all about finding the reason a customer might approach you. Whether you’re working with inbound or outbound marketing, you’ll need something that’s compelling about your virtual engagement.
- 32% reported that it’s harder to get customers to attend virtual events. Think of it as supply and demand. As the supply of virtual events goes up, the overall value they present in the potential lead’s mind tends to go down. You can counteract this with investments in content marketing that creates genuine value for your potential leads. Make them want to attend your virtual events. Don’t just expect them to show. Give them a reason to seek out your virtual events—and not the competition’s. You can accomplish this by investing more heavily in content marketing and creating lead funnels that offer genuine insights and value at every step. This puts you ahead of over 60% of other companies that haven’t even attempted to build their first sales funnel.
Prediction #3: Lead Generation Outsourcing Will Become More Important
A B2B company might be an expert in one field, but it doesn’t mean they always have the skills to conduct lead generation by themselves. To fill in the gaps, they turn to lead generation outsourcing. In some cases, lead generation outsourcing is almost 1.5x as efficient, simply because one agency has the expertise that another agency might lack.
What does this mean for 2021? It means that you should expect a narrowing of focus. If there are fewer in-person events to rely on, companies will be looking to digital channels for lead generation. This is nothing new. We’ve seen it in 2020 and in the years past. The more sophisticated our digital world becomes, the easier it is to replace the in-person experience with virtual substitutes.
What gives 2021 the potential to be different is the fact that there may be new revenues for exploring lead generation with which your company has no experience.
For example, only about 60+% of B2B businesses use strategic landing pages to generate new leads. That should sound like a lot. It’s a majority of B2B companies, after all. But given just how many companies rely on this strategy, it leaves a surprising amount of opportunity on the table for companies who have yet to explore this avenue.
As more B2B companies move to the digital environment, competition should be fierce. That may also necessitate a closer look at conversion rate optimization. Well before 2020, only about 5-10% of qualified leads convert. Simply optimizing this rate will make your company more efficient at capturing leads. It also creates a more scalable approach to your lead generation in 2021, no matter which avenues of lead capture are currently performing best.
Prediction #4: An Explosion of Inbound Marketing
An aggressive outbound marketing campaign can be very effective. But when you have powerful content that draws potential leads inbound to your company, it has a staying power that’s beneficial to your bottom line. If our predictions reflect the fact that B2B companies will be skittish about major marketing budgets in 2021, inbound and content marketing should see an explosion.
According to a Hubspot statistic, only about 18% of marketers now believe that outbound marketing meets the needs of B2B companies. That means companies who need a more flexible budget for their B2B lead generation have to think about what’s most effective. And in many cases, creating powerful content and encouraging inbound leads creates the best bang for the buck.
What does “content” mean? Average shares tend to be higher for infographics, lists, and explanatory blog posts. But it boils down to one factor: does your content shed light on a subject that the reader doesn’t yet have? If not, there’s no reason for them to click on it. And if they’re not clicking, they’re not converting into B2B leads.
Prediction #5: Customer Data Will Grow Increasingly Sophisticated
How will B2B companies get an edge in an unpredictable environment with budgets that may not be set in stone? They have to be able to take action on sophisticated data. Expect that in 2021, B2B customer data will grow increasingly sophisticated as more companies look to capitalize on the leads already coming their way.
In one survey of business professionals, the customer experience far outweighed other business priorities. It even beat out “pricing” by more than 2-to-1. B2B companies know that they have to offer a better customer experience, and they can’t do that without data.
Data-driven marketing efforts enable more sophisticated CRM, real-time analytics and even help B2B companies improve their predictions for what customers will want. In the future, the company that owns more data has a distinct advantage over other companies trying to land leads from guesswork alone.
Predictions for 2021 and Beyond
What do we know about 2021? We don’t have a crystal ball. But we can say with confidence that companies will look for agencies with lead generation expertise. As the economic environment becomes more digital, B2B companies have to find every advantage they can to explore saturated markets for lead generation. Pairing with another agency is one way to optimize conversion rates and secure new leads with greater efficiency.
B2B firms have to watch the trends that emerged in 2020—as well as the counter trends that could spill over once more B2B companies catch on. Be ready for a year that will react to what came before and maintain lead generation avenues that will keep your company flexible, no matter what comes your way.