What is lead generation?

by Marcel Nanning | Last Updated: February 15, 2022

Lead generation includes all activities aimed at getting in touch with potential customers. In business-to-business, lead generation can e both a sales and marketing activity. There are many ways to generate the coveted leads. Often people speak of below-the-line marketing when it comes to lead generation resources.

New B2B Lead Generation Techniques

For several years now, we have seen new lead generation techniques emerge from the rise of inbound marketing and content marketing. Online lead generation such as email marketing, whitepaper marketing are common variants at this time. In this method, content is used as a means to establish an initial interaction with target groups. At some point, for example before downloading a Whitepaper, the prospect is asked for information such as an email address.

At that point one can speak of a Marketing Qualified Lead. After offering the white paper, emails can be sent automatically to keep working on the prospect and eventually convert them to a lead, or hot lead.

Providers of marketing automation respond to b2b lead generation and lead nurturing by supporting the marketer through automation to use the marketing resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.

How does a B2B lead generation funnel work?

There is no single definition about leads and prospects. Every company gives its own interpretation of this. What you often see is that a funnel is applied in which phases are defined of a certain maturity of a lead. A common funnel is:

Suspect – Prospect – Lead (MQL) – Hotlead (SQL) – Customer

Lead qualification standards are used to determine whether a prospect is suitable to move on to the next phase. Such a funnel can also be used to determine for which phase lead generation should be rigged.

What is the difference between acquisition and lead generation?

In the business-to-business environment, the terms acquisition and lead generation are often used interchangeably. In many cases, they represent the same. There is no hard dividing line between the disciplines although you could say that lead generation belongs to the marketing activities that are part of the acquisition process.

Acquisition refers to generating new orders and is usually done by Sales, Business Development and Account Management. There can be cold acquisition or warm acquisition. In cold acquisition, companies are approached (often by phone, email or social media) without previous contact or any interaction.

If it is warm acquisition, it involves following up on previously generated leads to convert them to orders. For example:

You could therefore say that acquisition involves the entire process from making contact to the final sale. Lead generation, on the other hand, relates to the generation of sales opportunities that can ultimately lead to orders. Lead generation is therefore at the front end of the acquisition process.

In practice we see different variants of these activities in b2b organizations. The eventual conversion of MQL (Marketing Qualified Leads) to SQL (Sales Qualified Leads) is often done via e-mail marketing, forms (requests for trial, for example) or by telephone.

Lead generation campaign example

Leadgeneration campaign example

Lead generation can be a campaign activity or a so-called always-on activity. Resources used for lead generation include: trade shows/events, telemarketing, Direct Mail, email marketing, networking, b2b lead generation websites, comparison sites, search marketing, Linkedin Advertising, Google Adwords and even Facebook Advertising.

A lead generation campaign can consist of multiple means to get the best results from the market.

An example campaign to acquire potential customers for a company:

A service provider sees opportunities to offer an advisory product to the ICT market in North Brabant. The product lends itself especially to SMEs with 20 to 100 employees. There is an ongoing positioning campaign that focuses on: “Advice with guarantee”. A creative lead generation campaign is devised for this using an online advice tool as a lead generation magnet.

The steps are as follows:

Campaign step 1: Database enrichment of the target group

The target group is partly mapped, the remaining part of the companies within the target group is purchased from an address provider and enriched by means of telephone enrichment. Here, a number of in-depth questions are also asked in order to gauge a particular need and determine the ‘fit’ with the company and the service. Based on this enrichment, a group of 300 companies remains, each with two important contacts.

Campaign step 2: A DM with call-to-action

The target group receives a creative postal mailing with a call-to-action to fill out a tool through a campaign landing page that already releases a first part of the advice. This can be done in exchange for filling out some information.

Campaign step 3: An e-mail with call-to-action

The group whose email address is also known receives an email with a similar message that also refers to the landing page.

Campaign step 4: Pick up the phone and call DMU members

In order to further assess needs and schedule introductory appointments, DMU contacts are called. Because the target group is too large to reach every individual by phone, a segment of the target group is made based on company size, region and other information that is already known. The companies that have been contacted before are placed at the top of the list.

Campaign step 5: Enriche the database

The CRM system is enriched with obtained information for follow-up campaigns. Contacts who have performed a certain action (clicking on an email, visiting the landing page or filling out the tool) all get their own lead nurturing campaign consisting of certain follow-up emails via a marketing automation flow.

Campaign step 6: results

Results are inventoried; how much did the lead generation campaign deliver? What is the ROI, what went well and what can be improved next time? The results are expressed in terms of:

This is an example of a lead generation campaign. All sorts of variations are possible. Instead of a DM you can also choose to set up a specific target group in LinkedIn and offer the advisory tool or a whitepaper through ads to pick up leads from there.

What is the benefit of B2B Lead Generation?

By focusing on lead generation and directing marketing efforts there, marketing resources are optimally used from a short-term return perspective.

Actively generating leads increases the likelihood of sales. Also, b2b lead generation increases the predictability of the organization. If it is clear how many leads lead to a specific number of orders, a prediction can be made for future sales.

In addition, with b2b lead generation the result of marketing campaigns can be easily understood and calculated back to the cost per lead.

What is the downside of b2b lead generation?

Focusing solely on lead generation and not working on brand building and branding can result in diminishing returns from lead generation campaigns. Campaigns that focus on tangibly generating sales opportunities target a particular stage in the customer journey.

If there is no brand knowledge or awareness, the message may come across wrong or simply miss impact. In the marketing world, therefore, the focus is often on brand awareness and building a brand on the one hand and generating leads on the other. In this context, I also speak of above-the-line or below-the-line.

Success factors for lead generation

With a successful lead generation campaign, you’ll efficiently extract the right sales opportunities from the market. To do this in the best way possible, a number of factors are important, we highlight five:

  1. A quality database. The better the database, the easier it is to maximize the return on marketing efforts. A database with good quality addresses and the right information about the targeted customers makes it easier to tailor the message to the prospect in question and the tool has the highest return.

  2. A good definition of a lead is important; what exactly do you want to achieve and how are you going to achieve it? Do you want to collect email addresses and see that as leads or is it about concrete sales appointments where there is a view of a specific project? The more concrete the lead, the higher the eventual chance of a sale.

  3. Brand awareness is a plus; it is not necessary but can make a lot of difference; a strong brand to start from. A lead generation campaign from Microsoft that already has a certain brand load in it is very different than a lead generation campaign from an unknown SMB company.

    That’s not to say that a company should fully commit to brand loading and awareness building first; it’s just that it’s important to take into account the strength (or weakness/unfamiliarity) of a brand when creating a lead generation campaign.

  4. The right message is essential. If the expressions of the campaign are not based on a powerful message it is very difficult to be successful. A beautiful campaign with a great resource set but an ill-conceived message and promise will not resonate with the target audience. So make sure you have a proposition that stands like a house and go to market with it.

  5. Collaboration between sales and marketing. Often discussed in the world of b2b marketing, the better sales and marketing cooperation, the greater the chance of relevant campaigns that contribute to the success of both departments. Sales knows what is going on with the customer and ultimately has to follow up on the leads that have been generated. It is therefore not wrong to seek cooperation in the preparation, execution and follow-up of the campaign in order to achieve the highest possible return.

Software tools for lead generation

The software world dives into every development that is popular, including lead generation. Software to help users find new customers therefore comes in all shapes and sizes. You could say that all software for marketers and sales is focused on lead generation. We will highlight a few types of tools.

CRM software

We’ve mentioned it before in this article: a good CRM system can help sales and marketing enormously in generating and processing leads. By performing actions on prospects from a CRM package, these interactions can be recorded in the relationship map. This creates opportunities to develop new activities based on that data to generate new sales opportunities.

Examples of CRM software:

Other examples of CRM software:

Email Marketing & Marketing Automation

To set up lead generation campaigns you often need email marketing and marketing automation. This tooling helps you to create, send and monitor email messages to target groups. Also, interactions can be recorded and follow-up actions can be fired automatically. Think of automatically sending other emails based on click behavior or after downloading a file. Marketing automation software helps you set up campaigns, interact with target groups, lead nurturing, lead scoring, reporting and more.

Examples of email marketing and marketing automation tools:


A tool that has more and more to offer for lead generation is LinkedIn. Not only as a marketing channel where you can attract new customers through posts, advertising and lead generation campaigns. LinkedIn also has tools that you can use as a sales or marketing department to spot sales opportunities in the market. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a widely used example of this. This allows users to search for and approach leads.

Software for lead generation via LinkedIn:

Website visitor identification tools

One tool we’ve seen a lot of in online marketing in recent years is website identification software. This is software that you can use to identify website visitors, for example by the outgoing ip address. By linking this information to a company database and other data, complete customer profiles can be obtained based on the website visit. It is also possible to respond to which pages have been visited and to offer content that matches the visitor profile. This type of software is also seen as lead generation software or lead generation tool.

Examples of website visitor identification software:

Check our hand picked top 3 CRMs with Marketing Automation 👇

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