Leads are often considered one of the most tangible results a marketing team can produce in a short amount of time. And while generic leads can be an easy, short-term win, commercially valuable leads require a thought through approach to campaign planning.
For a marketing team, providing good quality leads for the business development function is, arguably, one of the most powerful ways to win the commercial team’s trust and buy in. Conversely, generating a high volume of leads of low commercial value leads to a waste of time, and frustration, on both sides.
This old-age challenge led to marketing teams of all sizes battling the deceitfully easy question: ‘How do I categorize and pre-qualify contact information before I pass them on?
Are all leads before SQLs the same?
Clearly not. In this guide, we will focus on information seeking leads (ISLs) – a portion of your target audience who is actively looking for information about a challenge they are facing – and examine both the channels and tactics that can generate them.
But what’s the most efficient way to generate truly engaged leads? Which channel works best when it comes to reaching different audience categories? And, once we have the relevant contact information, how can they be nurtured into a buying customer?
INFORMATION SEEKING LEADS (ISLs-)
Prioritising lead generation
When it comes to budget allocation, B2B marketing leaders are increasingly ranking lead generation as their major spending priority. According to a recent global study conducted by LinkedIn and Ipsos, lead generation accounts for an average of 36% of B2B budget allocation and spending, ahead of other significant areas, such as brand building at 30% and demand generation at 20%.
This data reflects the findings of a recent Gartner report demonstrating that businesses that source over 40% of their leads from marketing achieve higher conversion rates than others.
However, Research conducted by HubSpot in 2022, showed that the average sales team ignores 50% of marketing leads and only 7% believe that leads received from marketing are of high enough quality. However, the same research found that 22.1% of salespeople report that better sales and marketing alignment helps them to close more deals, while 20.3% of marketing professionals cited better win rates as a benefit of such alignment.
This data clearly demonstrates the importance of sales and marketing alignment when planning any lead generation campaign – by getting both teams on the same page productivity, performance and ultimately ROI are optimised.
What is an ISL?
Information seeking leads, or ISLs, are a cross-section of your audience that are actively searching for information, insights, or solutions to a problem. They may be exploring their options, conducting research, and gathering information to learn more about a topic, theme, or industry. They are keen to explore relevant content and resources that will help them further their knowledge and are willing to hand over their details for these insights. However, they are not looking to make a purchase or start a conversation with your brand. At least, not yet.
Within the traditional AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action) model, ISLs would fall within the Interest stage and therefore need to be progressed through the funnel to become a customer. These knowledge-hungry leads demonstrate a higher level of engagement and interest; however, they are often neglected in the traditional marketing cycle as they do not demonstrate immediate buying intent.
But – when prioritised – ISLs represent an excellent source of future high-quality sales-qualified leads for perceptive marketers.
How can I generate ISLs?
Although producing content is not the only method of generating ISLs, providing valuable, non-promotional insights and data enables businesses to establish themselves as credible and knowledgeable leaders in their field. Popular content formats include webinars, which might allow for livestream options or Q&A sessions; whitepapers offering a more in-depth exploration of a complex topic; and trend reports, which tend to be more topical, and data driven. Deploying interactive content tools, such as Turtl, Foleon or Ceros can help create dynamic content that drives greater engagement.
Whichever your preferred content type, the most important factor when it comes to capturing the attention of an ISL is relevance to their needs. If you require them to access gated content, what are you offering in return? Is your content engaging? Does it offer a unique perspective or topic of conversation? Are you offering new information that solves a pain point or are you simply sharing a promotional message?
Where should I host content that converts?
We have already established that potential buyers are more inclined to share their details in exchange for relevant content. Gated content hosted on a dedicated landing page not only supports content amplification, but it also ensures that the targeted content you create can be accessed and amplified easily. The aim here is for users to complete a single action – i.e., downloading content – in order to become an ISL. As such, we highly recommend hosting your gated content on a single focus landing page, independent of your main website homepage.
Your landing page should offer a concise summary of the value that users will gain from accessing your content, along with a visual of the downloadable asset. Most important of all, there should be a single CTA to download this content to ensure there is no confusion over what action the user should take. The page should either lead to a pop-up form or a form already embedded within your landing page in order to easily capture your users’ details.
Aim to keep the number of fields in any form to a minimum – ISLs are not yet ready to be in touch with a salesperson, therefore keeping forms short and unthreatening will improve conversion rates.
Request the bare minimum of name, email, phone number and company name; this will provide you with the information to target your future nurture content without being intimidating or overbearing.
When creating your landing page, it is important to have clarity on your goal. If the goal is for the landing page to be found via organic search, it should be SEO friendly and contain keywords with good search volume. The more niche these keywords are, the less competition you are likely to have.
Alternatively, if the purpose of the landing page is to be used as an endpoint in campaigns, organic search might not be so important. Audiences may be directed to your landing page through paid advertising, direct marketing, or organic social posts, meaning SEO is less of a priority.
The most important consideration for landing pages is conversion rate. A niche campaign with a low volume of visitors can still be very successful if those visitors are regularly converting. As usual in B2B, quality wins over volume.
While the above represents best practice that we have observed over the years, we always recommend testing your landing page by editing and rewriting copy, changing form capture modules and other fine-tunes to achieve the best possible results. Creating a user-friendly, distraction-free, single-focus landing page will make it easier to generate leads by making it straightforward for users to share their details.
Many marketing automation platforms have built-in A/B testing functionality, such as Marketo and Salesforce Marketing Cloud. There are also many dedicated landing page services like Instapage and Unbounce with A/B testing at their core. If you can’t do A/B testing on page, look into email A/B testing to link to different pages, or manually split your audience and compare results.
What are the best channels for generating ISLs?
Much like your content, your choice of channels will depend on a number of factors, including budget, industry trends and preference. There are pros and cons to all, however a strong, integrated multichannel approach is undoubtedly the most effective way to capture the attention of ISLs.
Before approaching any channel, it’s always a good idea to start with your own.
Promoting gated content across your existing website has been proven extremely valuable for driving traffic to your landing page. Consider visual cues such as banners, buttons or sidebars to capture visitors’ attention.
The homepage is typically the most visited page on any website. However, there may also be other areas of your site where the cross-promotion of your gated content landing page makes sense. Consider your target audience and check your analytics to find out whether there are other areas of your website that they are likely to visit and engage with. This might be related to a specific industry, a product or service, a news section or an in-house blog.
Look to your existing database for easy access to a warm audience that is already familiar with what you may have to say. If you can further segment your audience based on the target group your content was created for, then this will help boost efficiency metrics such as conversion rate.
Newsletters that use a range of different content formats are an excellent way to engage this audience. Relevant blogs, polls, industry news and events are all ideal newsletter content, however the golden rule for maximising engagement is to always keep any content short and to the point.
The significant added benefit of approaching your existing database is that you already have their details – this removes the need for gated content and enables you to share directly via email, an approach that should significantly improve engagement. Once your users have interacted with your content, their details can be added to an additional MQL nurture email flow to move them further down the funnel.
The ‘send twice’ rule is also helpful to improve engagement with your content. In this case, you would send the newsletter to your entire database and then resend one week later to those who didn’t open it in the first instance.
Hitting organic socials can be an easy and cost-effective way to promote your gated content to a warm audience that already follows or otherwise engages with your business.
When considering any organic social content, you should aim for it to engage and inspire audiences. High-value content that gives unique insights and useful advice is great not only to catch your audience’s attention, but also to position your business as a trusted source of information. Tailoring your content and style based on the social channel you’re using is also a good tactic.
For example, Instagram can be very effective to attract and retain your employees or for informal content, while LinkedIn is a natural fit for more corporate and business-related content. Consider introducing A/B testing for organic social media activity as your campaign progresses, it will enable you to gain a better understanding of your audience’s interests.
There is no doubt LinkedIn is the go-to social media channel for B2B businesses in most countries and regions. It offers a range of ad formats that prioritise lead-generation, which we know from experiences can be one of the simplest ways to capture leads. But which format will work best for your business?
Lead generation forms
LinkedIn’s lead generation adverts enable users to download your gated content directly via the site, reducing the number of touchpoints to turn information seekers into leads. By automatically filling in any forms with details captured from the user’s LinkedIn profile, users can quickly and easily access the information that they want.
Due to its single platform method, in our experience, this format achieves better conversion rates than traditional, single image ads linking out to external sites. Another advantage of this format is that LinkedIn lead generation forms can be linked with CRM systems. This enables any submitted data to be automatically uploaded to a CRM, supporting future nurture activity.
While LinkedIn document adverts work in a similar way to lead generation forms, they also offer users a preview of the gated content as a teaser to generate interest, along with a ‘unlock full document’ CTA. As with lead generation forms, this then directs users to a form that is pre-filled with details captured from their LinkedIn profile and can be integrated with a CRM system.
This unique format means LinkedIn document adverts work best with PDF reports, whitepapers or guides.
If you’re intending to use LinkedIn document adverts for your gated content, it is worth bearing in mind that some pages from the document will be displayed as a preview; this may influence your design.
Paid search remarketing
Paid search remarketing on Google and Bing should be considered a powerful element of your lead generation toolkit when it comes to driving potential ISLs to your content.
This might seem obvious but the key to success when using search remarketing is targeting. There may be significant crossover between B2B and B2C keywords, therefore we recommend targeting paid search advertisements at a remarketing audience based on previous visits to your website. This not only reduces the likelihood of inadvertently capturing B2C traffic but also helps to narrow down targeting to potential leads that are already aware of – and therefore warmer towards – your products and brand.
It’s no secret that running effective paid ads requires strong skill and knowledge in digital platforms. When planning your digital campaign, identifying an agency that will take the time to truly understand your business, audiences and contentis crucial to protect your budget and guarantee ROI.. A B2B specialist that can offer tailored support significantly reduces the risk of targeting irrelevant keywords, delivering increased value and improving the results from any paid campaign.
Forget the rumours that you may have heard trade media is far from dead. It is, however, often overlooked as a lead generation channel. Get ahead of the competition with planned promotion of your content via industry-specific trade media and make sure you include special editions and issues distributed at key exhibitions. This can introduce your business to a large and well-targeted cold audience that are ready to be converted into ISLs. There are two popular methods to consider when it comes to working with trade media.
Hosted content refers to the paid placement of your content on a trade media platform, as opposed to linking out to your own landing page. This type of placement often comes bundled as a campaign package that includes standard display ads, email and newsletter inclusions.
Consider adding in an example/screenshot.
In general, this type of placement is useful for combined awareness and lead generation. Leads will be collected in a SmartLead format and can be accessed via secure login or shared manually via the publication to a predetermined schedule.
Also known as eBlasts, mailers or eDMs, these are single-focus emails sent out to the publication’s own subscriber database. This type of placement can significantly increase the reach of your gated content and are therefore highly valuable in converting targeted but unknown users into ISLs.
This is an ideal format in which to promote gated content, either through links out to your content landing page or to your content hosted on the publication’s own site. If the latter, leads will be collated into a SmartLead format, as with hosted content.
Earned media – PR
Earned media, also known as free media, refers to publicity or exposure for your business gained other than by advertising (paid media), or branding (owned media). In essence, it is publicity that you haven’t paid for and can typically be won through good public relations, or PR.
A caveat: it might seem counterintuitive to generate leads using PR. However, in our experience, it can be a powerful ‘support channel’ for raising awareness of your gated content – particularly if it contains an interesting ‘hook’, such as new or proprietary consumer or market insights that cannot easily be obtained elsewhere.
The PR approach requires careful planning and consideration. You first need to identify your ideal target trade media publications and it pays to be discerning as you will need to offer editors something unique. Ask yourself whether your gated content is newsworthy or otherwise offering value to the publication’s audience. Consider whether specific insights from your content could be used as the basis of an editorial story, whether the content links to any trends or current topics within the publication’s media segment, or whether someone within your business could provide expert insight on this topic as an interviewee.
Finally, you should aim to establish whether the publication has any upcoming features that could be leveraged to promote your content – these can be found by accessing a publication’s editorial calendar. By thoroughly preparing your PR outreach to ensure it is editorially relevant, you can significantly increase your chances of gaining coverage and raising awareness of your gated asset.
Measuring success and campaign optimisation
Once you have researched and activated your ISL-generating campaign, it is important to continually measure performance versus goals and adjust your parameters, such as audience demographics and length of campaign in order to optimise results.
Any successful lead generation campaign must be data-driven in order to be accurately assessed for effectiveness. We recommend weekly monitoring of the campaign’s performance across your chosen channels, along with a monthly overview report in order to identify learnings and plan your next steps.
Improve your conversion rate
Arguably the most important metric to monitor throughout your campaign is the conversion rate. If this drops below 5% across any of your channels, you should take steps to optimise your outreach.
This might include a review of your copy and creative to ensure that this is clearly communicating the value of your gated content. Consider whether there are content excerpts that might be more attention-grabbing.
Consider your audience targeting – this is especially relevant when using LinkedIn. Could you remove irrelevant industry segments or job titles from your filters in order to narrow down your audience to a more relevant demographic?
Keywords are a critical component of successful pay-per-click advertising. Are there any new keywords or phrases that you could add in order to target a relevant audience? Or are there terms that could be removed in order to prevent your ad from being displayed to an irrelevant audience?
Finally, if you are targeting an international audience, consider content localisation. This could require the full translation of content, including gated content, landing page and ads, into the local language of your target audience. Alternatively, it could involve alternative English language content that includes or removes specific colloquial phrases, for example between US and UK English. By considering your audience and ensuring that your content is accessible to them, you can optimise your conversion rates.
By capturing ISLs marketers have an opportunity to create a healthy lead pipeline of highly engaged and interested potential customers that can be further nurtured and qualified in the future. This not only promotes better alignment with sales teams who can more effectively convert these highly engaged leads, but also offers the opportunity to establish a business as a thought leader in their area by offering genuine value to its audience across every stage of the purchasing journey.
In future guides, we will focus on how to nurture ISLs, with a view to turn them into MQLS (Marketing Qualified Leads), examining what motivates them and how businesses can best engage with them in order to convert them into buyers.