Everyone’s gotten the memo.
C’mon, it’s 2021.
They know what happens when you ask for their emails in exchange for a gated piece of content.
You’ll probably start sending them a series of automated emails that they may or may not be interested in — and they’re well aware of this.
Still, many of them would sign up just because they genuinely need your content.
But if you asked them, they’d rather you left your content ungated.
“So I shouldn’t gate content? How would I generate leads?!”
You can gate content, if you want.
Know this, though: you’ll get emails, not necessarily leads.
But if you’re like most marketers, you want the leads, not the emails.
And it’s possible: you CAN generate sales qualified leads (SQLs) without gating content and coercing people to give you their emails.
So in this article, you’ll learn the lead generation process that helps us get actual sales leads from the posts on this blog, without gating any of them.
Also, we’ll share how we get email subscribers at a decent 2% conversion rate — without gating content.
(2% is obviously not a big deal, but as an agency with an annual contract value (ACV) of at least $48,000 per customer, 2% of blog readers joining our email list isn’t a terrible conversion rate.)
You’ll also learn how a B2B SaaS company Leadfeeder generates at least 200 leads (trial signups) every month from their blog content.
But before we get into the more tactical stuff, let’s get on the same page about what exactly B2B lead generation is — especially in 2021.
Table of Contents
- What is B2B lead generation? (The 2021 version)
- 1. Within the first 5-20 seconds, establish relevance & authority
- 2. Make timely and strategic offers within your content
- 3. Get your quality & quantity mix right
- 4. Don’t just distribute content, distribute it among potential buyers
- 5. Take your ROI measurement beyond last-touch attribution
- In the end, content should help you generate leads
- Ready to start driving demand and leads through your content?
What is B2B lead generation? (The 2021 version)
B2B lead generation is the process of launching campaigns to attract your ideal buyers and persuading them to show an actual interest in your product or service.
And showing an actual interest in your product or service means filling out your service interest, demos, or product trial forms.
In more specific terms:
B2B lead generation IS NOT the process of generating emails through an ebook, whitepaper, or some other content piece — without getting them to show an interest in doing business with you.
Anyone who, with their contact details, signs up for your ebook, newsletter, or any other content piece is only an email subscriber, not a lead.
We prefer to not term them “marketing qualified leads (MQLs)” either.
In reality, they are not “leads” until they indicate that at least they’re open to the idea of buying your product or service.
Now that we’ve crystallized the definition of lead generation in B2B, let’s get into how we generate sales leads after each post we publish.
Our #1 B2B lead generation strategy is centered around publishing and distributing helpful, ungated content for our potential customers.
And here’s how that works — in five key points:
As a B2B business, your potential buyers are like a sleek, moving train.
They don’t have time to stop and load up on useless cargo. They will only slow down to take in your content if it can prove quickly that it’s of great value to them.
So if your content doesn’t establish relevance and authority fast, showing you’re a professional who knows what’s relevant to them and how to address it, they’ll bounce. This means you won’t even get the chance to convert them into leads.
And generally, your prospects will take only 5-20 seconds to determine if they want to any spend more time consuming an entire content piece.
But to confirm our hypothesis on how much time B2B folks spend on content before deciding to read it in its entirety, we asked three professionals to share their own experiences:
Jared Fuller at Drift said it takes him, say, five seconds to determine whether a blog post is worth his time:
PatientPop’s Sales VP Kevin Dorsey says it takes him ten sentences max to decide whether or not to keep reading a blog post he comes across:
Patrick Campbel at ProfitWell mirrored the same thoughts:
They’re all saying the same thing: “We spend 5-20 seconds to determine whether we want to read your content that’s probably going to take 10 mins to complete.
“Show us relevance and authority in your content within that 5-20 seconds time frame, and we’ll give you some more attention.”
So if your content is relevant and quickly establishes you as an authority in your readers’ minds, you have a good chance they’ll spend 3-20 minutes of their time consuming it.
We also know this is true because it’s working for us and our clients; for example, here’s a screenshot of how much time a client’s potential customers consume their content:
In our experience, those few minutes are usually all the time you need for a potential buyer to read your content and convert into a lead — if you give them the right offer or at least tell them about a product or service they need.
So… how do you showcase authority in content?
Here are a few working ideas:
- Start your intro with a relevant image that instantly shows you get your customer
- Open with a thought-provoking question, statistic, or statement of fact
- Share some little-known research in your very first line
- Make the most of every word, line, and sentence in your content, dishing up information readers will find helpful — which is something quite rare these days
This way, you’ll keep potential many buyers reading any content piece for at least three to ten minutes.
Now, let’s discuss offers and conversions in #2 below.
(Author’s note: Get “the good stuff” below)
2. Make timely and strategic offers within your content
While demonstrating authority and relevance keep potential buyers on your content, hard-to-refuse offers are what persuade them to convert into leads.
And done well, your in-content offers can really be hard to refuse, driving demand and leads for your business.
Again, we’re not talking leads as in email sign-ups for content, we’re talking leads as in people showing actual interest in your business or product — like signing up for a demo, trial, or service.
So how do you make a hard-to-refuse offer — especially within a blog content piece?
Make your topics relevant to the offers or product you plan to introduce in-content, that’s how.
Think of it this way: if you click to read my blog post about lead generation, it shows you’re interested in the topic.
It also shows you may need help with lead gen at your business. So if I’m selling a lead generation product or service, chances are you may want to, at the very least, check it out.
But then, you checking out my product also depends on:
(1) My content quality — which we’ve addressed in #1 above
AND (2) how I present the product within my content.
For example, if I present the product to you right at the top of our content like in the screenshot below — before you have the chance to read a word of the content you came for — you’ll likely bounce off our page or simply ignore the offer:
There are several reasons why this call-to-action (CTA) positioning is not good, but a key one is that people didn’t click the article to read about the product I’m selling; they came for content.
So it’s a bad user experience (UX) for them when the first thing they’re seeing on the page isn’t what they came for.
Honestly, you gotta be careful here — because you could easily turn potential buyers off if you make offers within your blog content inappropriately.
And this would mean all your time, money, and efforts on content will be wasted.
You need to do three things to properly position an offer or CTA within your content
- Use a zero-salesy approach to write your content. Prioritize sharing the content you promised readers first. This would help you hold their attention long enough to convert them.
- Position lead gen CTAs (or product awareness materials) 35%, 60%, and 80% into your content to convert readers into marketing and sales leads.
- Make sure your CTAs speak to a benefit- or pain-specific question related to your topic.
It’s the 3-step process we’ve been using to generate sales leads from blog content.
Without these key ingredients around the offers you display within your content, you’ll have CTAs that’ll leave readers annoyed, bouncing off your page almost as soon as they land on it.
We’ll show you two examples of B2B businesses using these three elements in their CTAs on blog posts:
CTA example #1: Leadfeeder’s trial offer after blog post introduction
With the right messaging, you won’t annoy readers when you offer a free trial after a blog post introduction.
If the messaging is well-crafted and genuinely relevant to the subject of the content they’re reading, they most likely won’t find your offer annoying.
For example, it’s the approach the folks at Leadfeeder are using in their article about MQLs vs SQLs — and they get at least 200 leads every month for it.
How they’re doing it: Right after the third paragraph in their intro section, they offer readers a free trial:
When we asked Leadfeeder’s CMO, Andy Culligan, how this trial offer at the third paragraph of the intro works for them, he said:
Here’s the lesson here: You don’t have to wait for readers to digest your entire article before nicely presenting them with a relevant (lead generation) offer.
Wouldn’t it annoy them, you ask? Again, it depends on how you’re presenting your offer.
In Leadfeeder’s case, they strategically presented their offer within blog posts by:
- Asking a topic-relevant question. The post was about B2B lead generation and they asked: “Ready to get more leads from your website?” [CTA here].
- Presenting the CTA after the intro, just after they’ve educated readers a bit about the topic.
- Using a zero-salesy approach — the article prioritized the content they promised in the headline, lead generation strategies.
Bet you can see it for yourself: They’re using the three CTA ingredients we mentioned to strategically position lead gen offers within their blog posts, resulting in hundreds of leads per month.
CTA example #2: Selling our expertise through content
In our case, we’re not a B2B SaaS business like Leadfeeder.
We’re selling content marketing services. Our work and expertise show from the content we publish. So it’s usually an easy sell for us once we mention what we do in our content (like I just did lol) — in a way that’s not overly promotional.
The results we get? B2B marketers reach out to me (Victor) directly on social media, and sometimes they fill out our forms.
This way, we get leads directly from the content we publish.
CTA example #3: Convert readers into email subscribers
As you know, while some of your readers are going to read your content and sign up to become a sales lead, some other readers won’t be ready to become sales leads immediately.
So you want to bring them into an email list – so you can keep following them up and they can sign up on your offer when they’re ready.
Essentially, you need to set up your content piece in a way that it converts both email subscribers and sales leads.
In our case, we’ll set up conversion strategies for people ready to sign up now and folks who would rather join your email list and decide later.
So, as we target converting sales leads via each article, we also target email newsletter subscribers – giving them a compelling reason to sign up (we have effective copywriting techniques we use for this).
For example, this article you’re reading converted at 2.76% in the week we published and started promoting it:
And these were subscribers from our target buyers – B2B and SaaS companies.
They were cold traffic; yet, they signed up without us gating our content.
3. Get your quality & quantity mix right
I mentioned earlier that we get 5 to 20 leads after publishing every content piece on this blog.
That simply means if 1 blog post = 5 to 20 leads, then — all things being equal:
2 posts = 10 to 40 leads
3 posts = 15 to 60 leads
…you get the idea.
But there’s a reason each of these posts generates this number of leads; it’s the quality of content — and if you’ve come this far, we’ve managed to keep you going because you find this post is chock full of encouragement and useful information.
If your content piece doesn’t have the quality or value your prospects are looking for, it simply wouldn’t convert readers into leads.
But what does “quality content” even mean?
It’s the type of content that performs two functions:
- Satisfies your potential customer’s purpose for reading it
- Achieves your goal for creating it — which, in this case, is lead generation
(We call like to call it T-shaped content.)
But more often than not, creating quality content gets in the way of content creation.
And this has created some subtle debate on the subject of quality vs quantity in marketing for a while now.
One school of thought says: “One piece of high-quality content is way better than seven pieces of less-quality ones.” — AKA 10x content.
Others say something along the lines of:
“Keep shipping content, deploy fast, and stop obsessing over quality.”
Now, which school of thought should you follow?
I’ll tell you where we stand: Never sacrifice quality for quantity, but ship quality content quickly and frequently.
We went out and asked marketers to weigh in with their thoughts:
Daniel Meler, Founder of InfiniGrow, says quality content is better than quantity for obvious reasons; focusing on quantity doesn’t give you much at the end of the day.
Expert SaaS marketer Pedro Cortés agrees that focusing on quality over quantity helps you create campaigns and content that are evergreen and will keep working for you:
Especially because we’re in 2021, not 2002 — as Hugo Macedo of Unbabel argues — not-great content pieces only add to the noise already out there and add no real value to your business or your potential buyers.
But quality shouldn’t stand in the way of execution, says Jakub Zajíček — PitchGround’s former CMO:
Yet, not being focused on quality doesn’t mean you produce crappy content, says Jakub.
“We shouldn’t be obsessed with quality. But it doesn’t mean that we should produce shitty [content] or provide low-quality service. It all boils down to whether the [content we produce] REALLY solves the problem for the customer.”
Takeaway lesson: It’s not all about shipping content, but it’s not all about quality either. Obviously, both are important.
But here’s something you can run with: Produce quality content in as much quantity as possible.
4. Don’t just distribute content, distribute it among potential buyers
It doesn’t matter if your content is getting 10,000 views in one week, if at least 30% of those views don’t doesn’t come from your potential buyers, the traffic is almost meaningless.
But there are three factors you can capitalize on to make sure your content reaches your target buyers:
- Content partnerships
- Content relevance
Let’s address these three — one after the other:
I. Content partnerships:
Look for brands or influencers who have your customers’ attention, and offer them value in exchange for sharing your content with their followers.
How you approach this partnership is everything, though; it’ll determine whether or not those influencers or brands will favor your content partnership request.
So how do you approach them?
Like the answer to many marketing questions, it depends.
In B2B, the value you’d propose to any influencer or influential brand will rarely be money.
Most of them have their own jobs or businesses. So most of them won’t accept money to promote your content.
So you have to get creative.
Here are a few things you can offer them instead of money:
- A link: depending on the authority level of your site, this might be good enough for a share
- Relevant eyeballs on their brand: tell them you have their target customers engaged
- Getting featured among prominent experts
But of course, influencers aren’t the only way to promote content, you also have:
- Facebook, Twitter, & LinkedIn: The targeting functionalities on these platforms can help you reach your ideal customers through the types of content they need.
- SEO: Like we always recommend, optimizing content for search is a smart move; after you run distribution on most other channels, they stop working almost immediately. But SEO is one channel that keeps driving traffic for months and years.
Distribution is a numbers game.
The more channels you have to distribute content, the better.
Uberflip‘s CMO Randy Frisch says it like this:
“Content distribution is mostly a numbers game. The more channels you promote your content with, the more results you get. From our research, we’ve found that with each channel you distribute content, you can increase your views by 8x on average.”
So instead of using only content partnerships to amplify reach, think:
- Content partnerships + Facebook Ads
- Community content promotion + Facebook Ads + SEO + LinkedIn Ads
And so on… the more the channels, the more traffic and leads you’ll get.
III. Content relevance
Content relevance is a huge aspect of your distribution process, and it’s another aspect of distribution you CAN control.
How does content relevance affect distribution or even lead gen?
Well, (1) the more relevant your content is, the better it’ll perform when you run ads to promote it. (2) The brands or influencers you’re looking to partner with will have a hard time promoting your content if they don’t see it as relevant to their audience.
Remember, they’re not accepting money to share your content. They’re looking at content relevance to share.
So you want to make your content highly-relevant to their audience. And relevant content is simply content that is:
- Actionable; contains advice that can be acted upon to get specific results
- Timely; it’s useful right now
Other reasons people share content, besides relevance
We asked B2B professionals what criteria they would use to define B2B content that is share-worthy:
Yam Regev of Zest says share-worthy B2B content is T.A.R.T. Here’s what that means:
Matthew of Automation Wolf argues that people share stuff that makes them look better — and this is especially true in B2B.
Colin Campbell of Sales Hacker says he considers content that follows the “Think, Feel, Do” framework to be excellent and sharing-worthy:
But in general, relevance is the #1 thing that your influencer or brand partners will look for when you ask them to share your content. They’ll be looking at your content and asking questions like:
- Will my followers appreciate this content?
- Will sharing this content make me look good?
- Is this content useful for them or does it just regurgitate old information?
If your content is relevant, influencers (and their followers) will more easily promote it.
The more they promote it, the more eyeballs on your content, and the more leads you get.
(Author’s note: Get “the good stuff” below)
5. Take your ROI measurement beyond last-touch attribution
Data has been a big deal for a few years now and it’ll be a bigger deal in 2021 and beyond.
The more data you have, the better you’ll be able to make decisions that’d help generate leads in higher quality and quantity for your business.
So beyond attributing conversions to the last point of conversions, you need data on:
- First touch attribution: tracking leads who first found you through a particular content piece but came back months, weeks, or days later to convert on some other page.
- Linear attribution: tracking leads who read or viewed one or two content pieces along their journeys but didn’t sign up exactly when they read your content.
- Topics your target customers found most useful over the last year, six months ago, or even yesterday.
- The relevance of those topics today.
- Other topics they’re interested in.
- Topics that generate leads the most for your business.
- Channels and platforms your buyers pay attention to every day
There are several tools to find all this data.
By now, you probably know BuzzSumo helps you see which topics are relevant to your target buyers at any time.
There’s InfiniGrow — a tool that lets you see the touchpoints that lead to conversions on your site, including the specific content that created those touchpoints:
Google Analytics still works; it keeps getting better, in fact. You can set up conversion goals and attribution models. You can set it to track first, last, and linear touchpoints.
We’ll have to create another post to address this more thoroughly; this one’s already exceeded 3,000 words.
But the bottom line here is that with the right data, you get a good perspective of the channels and content that helps you generate high-quality leads.
In the end, content should help you generate leads
Your content should work for you. It shouldn’t just sit on your blog and warm the bench. It should be driving driving demand and leads for your business.
Hopefully, the 5 points we’ve shared in this article will help stir you in the right direction — should you choose to follow them.
If you’d like help to help you plan and create content that helps you generate demand and leads, go here.