As a startup, figuring out a lead generation process that works means finding a scalable approach for an entirely new business model. For B2B startups especially, this is challenging because of the number of decision-makers involved in purchases and the typical length of sales cycles.
Your process may be in need of optimization if you experience any of the following:
- Lack of leads for your salespeople
- Too many unqualified leads
- Low conversion rates
Optimizing your lead generation results in more leads, better-qualified opportunities, and more revenue from your sales.
Whether you’re looking to improve your current process, or you’re a young startup looking for a place to start, optimization begins with a clearly defined plan for moving prospects down the pipeline.
Use tools that save time and effort
The right sales enablement tools can accelerate your lead generation by making prospect information more accessible and your day-to-day operations easier to scale.
Automation technology lets reps communicate with many prospects at once throughout the different stages of their buying journey. This ability to multitask and hold multiple conversations increases the number of leads your team can pursue, and ultimately deals you can close.
Here are a few goals the right tools will help you accomplish:
- Enhance the process for gathering relevant leads
- Obtain useful prospect information before initial contact
- Track how interested and ready prospects are to buy
- Analyze prospects’ journeys through your pipeline and identify trends
If you’re uncertain about which tools will deliver the best leads and data for your company, we recently wrote about our top picks for prospecting tools on our blog.
Manage your prospects and customers
Arguably the most essential element of your sales technology stack, however, is the use of customer relationship management (CRM) software to manage potential and current customers.
No matter what phase your startup is in, using a CRM platform to track prospects’ progress and notate each interaction is crucial for lengthy and involved B2B sales cycles. Storing all of this information in one place gives every user a consistent view of each prospect as they move closer to a purchase decision.
There are many affordable beginner CRM tools on the market these days. But B2B startups with growth in mind should invest in a quality platform that continues to meet their needs as the business scales.
Salesforce is still the gold standard of CRM platforms, allowing for more integration, customization, and innovation opportunities than any other platform.
An important point to remember as you discover the most suitable tools for your sales process is that automation is not meant to replace the human aspect of B2B sales. While connecting with hundreds of prospects at once, remind yourself that they expect a real person on the other end.
Focus on the right personas
Once you know which tools you’ll have at your disposal, the first step to defining an optimized lead generation process is developing your buyer personas. It’s best to narrow your focus toward a very specific type of buyer so that you can craft more precise and persuasive messaging.
Some of the specifics you’ll want to know about your ideal buyers:
- Decision-making authority
- Pain points
- Company size
Even for mature B2B companies, developing the right personas is a practice of trial and error. But for startups, getting your personas right requires a considerable amount of research and testing.
Generating relevant leads
After rounding out the details of your buyer persona, make sure your database is targeted to include only the most relevant accounts, contacts, and information. Manual prospecting through platforms like LinkedIn helps ensure the leads you generate are well-suited for your offering.
If you decide to pay for a lead generation service, choose a firm that understands your persona and goals and will work with you to improve the strategy. Many of these firms prioritize quantity of leads over quality, but a worthwhile firm won’t make you choose between the two.
Sales and marketing alignment
Marketing is another important channel for generating leads. All of your company’s marketing efforts should aim to generate awareness for your ideal buyers and nurture them to the consideration and even decision stages of the B2B buyer’s journey.
The secret to converting more inbound leads is to align your sales and marketing teams on your buyer persona, messaging, and goals.
In their most recent State of Sales report, Salesforce found that 73% of sales teams say that alignment between sales and marketing is “absolutely critical or very important to their overall sales process.”
This alignment can be achieved through a reliable two-way system of communication between the teams. One way to help sales and marketing speak clearly to each other is by using marketing automation to score leads as they interact with your brand and content.
At EBQ, we use Pardot for marketing automation, which easily integrates with our CRM and automatically sends new leads to our reps after they pass the score threshold configured to label them marketing-qualified.
Qualify leads with specialized reps
Converting cold and inbound leads into sales-qualified prospects is a time-consuming process, but you can optimize this stage of your sales funnel by building a specialized team of sales development reps (SDRs).
In long B2B sales cycles, SDRs are used to save valuable time that salespeople would otherwise spend prospecting and cold calling. An SDR team can be one of the biggest assets to your sales process, considering:
- Salespeople today spend only 34% of their time actually selling, according to the State of Sales report.
- Forty percent of salespeople say that prospecting is the most challenging part of the sales process.
Since an SDR’s primary functions are qualifying leads and setting sales appointments, they can take the time needed to nudge leads further along in their buyer’s journey. SDRs also ask discovery questions during the qualification process, notating important prospect information sales can later leverage to address the right pain points during nurturing.
This specialization of your sales team can be useful even for young startups with small sales teams or whose CEO doubles as the lone salesperson. In the case of financial tech startup LenderClose, one SDR was the starting point for hiring and growing a brand new, thriving sales team and process.
As your business scales and quotas increase, salespeople can’t waste too much time on unqualified leads and generally won’t make the number of touches needed for cold calling and qualification.
Since SDRs are dedicated to this early phase of the sales cycle, they can reach the necessary call cadence (at least 3-4 touches typically) to cold call and prepare leads for a sales conversation.
Providing your closers with more sales appointments with qualified leads is the best thing you can do for your sales process, and adding sales development reps to your team helps you accomplish it.
We wrote the Ultimate Guide to B2B Appointment Setting, which is free for anyone looking to learn more about appointment setting and how it can help maximize sales opportunities.
Validate your market
It can’t be overstated that determining your ideal buyer persona takes research and sometimes a few iterations, especially for a startup with a complex and specific B2B persona. In working with hundreds of clients across industries, we’ve found that SDR outreach is a viable method for validating the markets you intend to pursue.
One key benefit of using SDRs in the early stages of the buying cycle is the wealth of prospect information collected that reveals trends and insights into the people you’re targeting and how they respond to your messaging.
If you find that an unacceptable number of cold and inbound leads in your database are generally disinterested or don’t need your offering, you may need to refine your buyer persona.
And if there’s misalignment between what marketing or SDRs communicate to leads and what leads expect or resonate with, take some time to revisit the messaging you’re using throughout your efforts.
It’s vital for B2B startups to test their offering in the market before attempting to scale. Make sure you’re saying the right things to the right people, so you’re able to capture all opportunities as you grow.
Lead qualification process
All of your sales processes should be well-defined and repeatable, including the day-to-day processes your sales development reps are trained to perform.
Outlining a suitable lead qualification process is imperative, as it determines if prospects are interested and have a need for your offering.
When you explicitly lay out the steps for qualifying leads, your SDRs will be more likely to master their duties and perform more efficiently.
It’s equally important to establish a feedback loop between sales team, so managers, closers, and SDRs can work together to improve daily processes. Going back to the value of alignment among your teams, SDRs and salespeople should both have a consistent view of leads as they progress toward sales-qualified.
Leave the antiquated cold vs. warm rating system in the past and introduce a custom lead rating system that lines up with your goals and the way your buyers buy, so you can keep all your reps on the same page.
A more incremental lead rating system lets both SDRs and salespeople determine exactly where leads are in the sales cycles, their level of interest, and what the next steps will be. Here’s an example of a custom rating system, the EBRating system we use at EBQ.
Your exact recipe for optimizing your lead generation and sales funnel will vary depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, but the main ingredients are the same for most B2B startups:
- Well-defined procedures for generating and qualifying leads
- A practical toolkit of applications to accelerate and scale tasks
- Detailed descriptions of your ideal buyer personas verified through market validation
- A specialized sales team with both SDRs and closers, so every rep can work efficiently and competently
- Alignment among your marketing, SDR, and sales teams to provide a seamless experience for prospects
Taking all these ingredients into account, optimization of your sales pipeline can be attained with a thorough understanding of who your buyers are and what value you can provide for them. Finding the lead generation process that works best for your business will help you make the most out of every opportunity that enters your funnel.