B2B (business to business) marketing is a different playing field than B2C (consumer marketing). Stakes are higher, so your acquisition needs to be on point. In eCommerce, B2B often means a merchant is trusting you with their business operations — the lifeblood of eCommerce. This is true whether you sell logistics or infrastructure, listing software, or manufacturing services.
This means the B2B process is longer and more intensive. Your customer acquisition needs to be strategic and targeted to nurture and retain leads through the funnel. And, with most B2B purchase decisions involving an average of 10 stakeholders, your marketing has to deliver answers for everyone engaging with your organization.
B2B marketers need to put the prospect first, deliver an information-first approach, and build connections across a wide network of partners.
What a B2B eCommerce funnel looks like
Backing up a little, let’s talk about what a sales funnel looks like.
An overly simplified explanation of a funnel includes:
- Top of the funnel (awareness stage, problem-aware) – Where people first discover you
- Middle of funnel (consideration stage, solution-aware) – How you nurture leads who aren’t ready to convert
- Bottom of funnel (decision stage, product-aware) – Convincing leads to convert (ex. sign up, purchase, subscribe)
I did a quick conversion analysis exercise of what a client’s funnel looked like, which you can see below (data has been stripped).
So looking at my exercise above, you can see that for this client, webinars were a better nurture channel than an acquisition one. That isn’t true for every business — some companies rely on webinar marketing to get net-new leads and grow their top of the funnel.
Likewise, some companies can include free email courses or Q&As to nurture their leads who aren’t ready to convert, but this client found that these were often the last channels leads touched right before conversion.
In this article, I’ll cover some potential top of the funnel acquisition channels, which may or may not work better to nurture or convert in different cases.
7 Ways to generate B2B eCommerce leads
These 7 tactics highlight some of the more successful ways to generate B2B eCommerce leads. Most of them focus on leveraging networks and synergizing your content and partners.
1. Host webinars
Webinars are a popular lead magnet, especially for B2B. Webinars can be costly and time-consuming to create and host, but they deliver opportunities to generate pre-qualified leads for sales and marketing. Many can also be re-used in the form of on-demand content, complete with viewer-submitted content in the form of Q&A.
The Content Marketing Institute shows that webinars are popular, useful, and drive value.
- Webinar landing pages average a 25-33% conversion rate to signups
- 40% of signups convert to viewers
- 80% of viewers stick around for the full webinar
- 95% prefer a Q&A session at the end
Essentially, webinars are engaging for your audience, and valuable for your business. That’s why marketing teams often use webinars to feed email and social media channels. But, on their own, webinars allow you to deliver in-depth information to prospects. Here, it’s important to carefully design your webinar strategy around resources, partners, and your audience.
Map webinars to your funnel
If you know how content aligns with your funnel, you’ll know what to focus on for the follow-up. Is the webinar on a general industry topic, or does it focus on a specific problem your service solves? If the webinar is on a general topic, you can invite leads to your email newsletter for more useful information. If the webinar is on a specific topic, you can invite leads to a demo or offer a discount code for your service.
The average webinar is 30-60 minutes long, but 67% of all webinar registrations are for 60+ minute sessions. Adding a Q&A section gives you the opportunity to directly engage with your audience, answer questions, and gauge the success of your webinar. Looking at the type of questions attendees ask can further qualify leads, build trust, and update your content for next time (if there was missing information in your webinar that a lot of attendees asked about after).
Webinars help you build trust, educate your audience, answer questions, and establish your business as a thought leader. Showing expertise and credibility is important, especially when 61% of B2B buyers quote high-quality content as a primary reason for choosing a brand.
2. Engage in marketing partnerships
Every single customer you want to acquire probably uses another tool or service. Look for companies that serve the same target audience, and try to establish a marketing partnership. A good prospective marketing partner is a tool or service that complements yours without directly competing with you. They should have an active community and a good reputation, backed by reviews.
Tip: By partnering with another organization, you are vouching for them to your own customers. If your customers have a bad experience, it will reflect negatively on your brand and customer relationships.
Gaining these partnerships is about outreach, showing mutual value and reciprocity, and getting other marketing teams onboard.
Here are a few things you can do with a marketing partner:
- Joint webinars: You host a webinar together, with speakers presenting information from both companies. You both also market the webinar to increase registrants.
- Podcast guesting: You guest on each other’s podcasts and do interviews. You help promote the recording or resulting YouTube video.
- Expertise resource: You quote each other in your blogs, with a link to corresponding websites. Your CEOs offer expert opinions and weigh in on relevant topics.
- Guest post exchanges: You write guest posts to be published on each others’ blogs. Those blogs are then shared in your newsletters and social media. (This also helps with SEO, and to close any content/knowledge gaps on your blog).
- Newsletter features: You mention each other in your newsletter, perhaps in a featured partner section, or by sharing an event, blog post, or discount code from your partner.
Marketing partnerships can drive significant value for both sides, but it’s important to find partners with relevant audiences and build a sound strategy around promotions.
3. Create new integrations
Technical integrations can drive a lot of value for B2B eCommerce companies and is usually necessary for SaaS in particular. You would go out and find other tools to develop integrations with, increasing value for your customers and giving you access to another company’s clients to use as leads.
Questions to ask a potential integration partner
To identify a good integration partner, ask:
- What is their technical team like? They should have a dedicated developer or team that you can work with as you build, troubleshoot, and maintain the integration.
- How often do they update their software? Frequent updates mean more maintenance for the integration, but if they never push updates their software could be outdated and have security vulnerabilities.
- What is their growth like? They should be able to keep up with your growth so that your clients won’t be too big for them to handle (and vice versa).
- Do they offer equivalent or better technical support to customers? If something breaks in the integration, you don’t want to keep your clients waiting for a resolution.
- Will customers use the integration? Qualify demand with both sets of users before investing development time into something no one will use.
If you don’t know where to start looking for integration partners, start with what your customers are asking for. You can talk to your customer-facing teams to see what integrations are most in-demand, add a field to your sign-up form asking what other tools/software they use, or send out a customer survey asking what integrations they want.
Building and launching integrations
Building integrations means getting technical teams onboard, planning for a long-term partnership, and investing in ongoing costs for building and maintaining the integration. This is relatively cheap if both organizations have open APIs, but can be costly if not.
Your integration launch strategy can also help you generate more value:
- Issue press releases announcing the new integration to get media coverage
- Inform your customers via your newsletter, blog, and social media
- Announce the integration on your website, with a link to the blog (and make sure your integration partner does the same)
- Consider offering discounts or an affiliate link to incentivize customer sharing
Integrations can be costly, but they deliver real value to clients while putting your business directly in front of qualified leads. If integrations are important to prospects, they can also help you close leads by showing them your software works with the tools they’re already using.
4. Exchange leads
Lead exchanges can sometimes mean spammy email swaps, where you exchange a list of emails… and consequently, get marked as spam. It’s never a good idea to send a cold email to a prospect, even if the emails were handed to you by a similar company (especially because you need consent first).
Instead, consider doing something like a Facebook Pixel exchange, where you trade audiences to target for your ads. You’ll each get a relevant audience that’s more likely to convert.
You can also create a referral program, where each party is incentivized to refer customers to each other. You can offer a commission per qualified lead sent, a discount code exclusively for customers referred by that partner, or both.
Tip: Find your cost of customer acquisition on other channels, and your customer lifetime value to decide how much you should pay out per lead.
5. Invest in content marketing
Content marketing is essential for any business — this is a hill I would die on. Content marketing involves creating, optimizing, and distributing content that is valuable and relevant to your target audience, with the goal of driving action. From basic SEO, to link building for visibility, to creating lead magnets to add value for your customers, content is king and queen.
Demand Generation’s Benchmark Survey Report shows that B2B prospects are especially responsive to content marketing, with more than 60% choosing organizations that map content to their sales funnel. Forrester found that 74% of businesses will conduct online research before making an offline purchase, and you want them to find your content while they’re doing that research.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing supports multiple business goals, including brand awareness, customer retention and loyalty, and lead generation. There are two things I’d like to highlight in this section; getting compounding returns with SEO, and creating resources to capture leads.
Get compounding returns with SEO
Your website, landing pages, product pages, and blog all provide long-term value. Creating and maintaining an active and useful blog that’s optimized for search means you’re more likely to appear in relevant search results. The higher you appear, the more clickthroughs and visits you get — which turn into leads. You’ll also be more likely to get linked to as a resource, boosting your blog even further up in search results.
Your content gains traction and value over time, so it’s important to research the right keywords to target for high purchase intent. To drive this point home, I wrote an article for one client that got $8400 worth of conversions in three months, all from organic search (people using a certain search term and finding our blog, then converting).
Capture leads with downloadable resources
You may already use lead magnets to some degree. These are eBooks, whitepapers, infographics, courses, and other resources you offer in exchange for something, usually an email address.
Some tips for your lead magnets:
- Map lead magnets to your sales funnel, so you can tailor content to be more effective. For example, creating a guide to eCommerce 101 for first-time website visitors, and a 10-step checklist for optimizing your Walmart.com listings for webinar attendees.
- Integrate lead magnets into your social media. For example, automate a Facebook Messenger pop-up to everyone who visits your page, offering an eBook for subscribing to updates.
- Create free resources that draw leads to your website, like a listing title generator where you input item details and get a fully optimized title that highlights everything important.
These resources should fit into the rest of your content marketing strategy to be affordable, sustainable, and to drive the right kind of leads for your organization.
Tip: Lead magnets can serve dual functions, like rewarding consumers for subscribing to mailing lists or giving away eBooks as a thank you to your blog readers.
6. Launch an affiliate program
Affiliate programs drive leads by recruiting customers and users to recommend your product or service. In an affiliate program, you recruit affiliates to be the advocates of your brand to their networks and communities. They recommend you with a unique link that can track their referrals, and they’re rewarded for every lead they send based on your program criteria.
Affiliate marketing is incredibly effective, primarily because people trust their friends and family. If a company or influencer you trust recommends a tool, you’re more likely to look into and add it to your shortlist, versus if you see it in an ad.
That’s why many of today’s most successful B2B companies use affiliate programs:
- Shopify, a popular shopping cart and D2C website builder, offers an average of $58 per referral.
- BigCommerce offers $1,500 or 200% of a referral’s first monthly payment for enterprise customers.
- Jungle Scout, a platform to assist Amazon sellers, offers up to $150 for every referral and 100% commission on monthly subscriptions.
- SEMrush offers $200 for every affiliate-driven sale, $10 for every new trial activation, and $0.01 for every new registration.
- Bluehost, one of the world’s largest web hosts, offers $65 for every qualified signup.
- FreshBooks offers $200 for every affiliate-driven sale and up to $10 for every trial activation.
Essentially, some of eCommerce’s largest brands use affiliate marketing. eCommerce affiliate marketing means understanding your audience and their networks, setting up safety nets to prevent fraud and spam, and understanding the real value of a direct sale.
Today, 15% of all digital revenue is pushed by affiliate marketing. An affiliate program can capitalize on your customers’ networks, generate social proof, and leverage your affiliates’ expertise to generate very high-quality leads.
7. Monitor your brand
Brand monitoring and reputation management means watching brand mentions across the web, who’s part of those conversations, and what people are saying about you. This can add value in multiple ways:
- Reputation management – Tracking when and how people discuss your brand can help you spot problems and address complaints. You can respond to any concerns publicly to show you’re proactive and step in to resolve issues before they snowball into churn.
- Generate leads – Answering questions and participating in relevant industry discussions can generate brand awareness, show prospects that you care about their opinions, and give prospects the information they need to make a decision.
B2B eCommerce lead generation best practices
Getting ROI from your lead generation efforts isn’t always about using the right tactics, it’s about leveraging them in the right way. These best practices will help you streamline your B2B eCommerce lead generation by improving your process.
1. Know your audience
You need a complete understanding of your audience, their pain points, and their motivators. Chances are, you’re selling to multiple demographics, with their own problems, blockers, concerns, and sign-up triggers. Doing customer surveys, talking to your audience, and researching your market teaches you how to best connect with your leads at every stage of the customer journey.
Here are a few ways to get audience insights that can power your B2B marketing:
- Find out how your audience prefers to learn (blogs? YouTube?).
- Add end-of-webinar surveys to gather more information (how did they find you?).
- Listen to sales calls and note the terms and wording your customers use. Mirror their way of speaking in your content.
- Ask questions on social media and eavesdrop on your competitors’ conversations (social listening and monitoring).
- Call up some of your favorite customers and figure out why they decided to sign up, and what they like/don’t like about you.
2. Be responsive
There’s no value in generating leads if you don’t respond to them. Consumers have increasingly short attention spans and higher expectations. An Arise Google Consumer Survey asked 1,500 people about expected response times, with the following results:
- 80% expect a response within 24 hours
- 16% expect an immediate response (within 15 minutes)
- 37% expect a response within 1 hour
- 3% expect a response to take longer than 2 days
You need to stay on top of your response times across all the channels your leads are on. It may take some learning and adjustment, but nail down your processes and service level agreements. Define maximum acceptable response times, benchmark ideal response times, and confirm/record team assumptions.
You can divert all your inquiries from social media, live chats on your website, messages to your support email, and helpdesk tickets in one place with a tool like HubSpot.
If you get plenty of inquiries on social and have a separate social media team, you can use Sprout Social or Zoho Social to connect your social media channels to a single dashboard – allowing your team to respond to everything in one place.
3. Optimize your nurture funnel
Once you’ve captured a lead, what happens next? Do you expect them to remember you out of the blue and head to your website to sign up? Or do you add them to a nurture sequence based on their interests, how they found you, and what stage they’re at in the buyer journey?
For many organizations, optimizing lead nurturing channels can add as much value as getting net new leads.
Look at how well your leads convert at different deal stages and how to increase that conversion rate. It could mean refining your ad targeting (reducing top-funnel leads, but ensuring they’re more qualified), segmenting audiences so they’re served with tailored (and more effective) content, or adding additional touchpoints to nurture your leads.
If 100 people discover your website from search engines (SEO), and 10 eventually end up as customers, you have a 10% conversion rate for that acquisition channel. If 100 people discover your website on search, 60 people sign up for your newsletter, and 20 of those 60 subscribers become customers, your email newsletter got you more customers than you would have without it.
Salesforce found that 6% of all B2B leads convert into sales. MarketingSherpa shows that conversion rate drops to just 3% for eCommerce leads. If you’re getting less than that, it’s time to look at how you nurture your leads through to conversion.
Narrow your focus
One way to improve the conversion rate through your funnel is by narrowing your ad audience. Tossing a wide net means you may get plenty of leads, but many of those aren’t a good fit for your business, and won’t end up converting. In fact, they may even drive your ad spend up.
When you narrow your focus to only target relevant audiences, you get fewer leads, but they’re more qualified and likely to need your services.
Capture their contact info
Even if someone isn’t ready to convert yet, it’s important to get their contact information so you can continue to reach out and serve them with valuable, relevant content that brings them closer to conversion.
Ask for email addresses to access a webinar or downloadable, sign up for a demo, or get a free trial. This allows you to engage with the prospect so you can build a relationship and create more touchpoints and opportunities to convert them.
Segment your email lists
Not all prospects have the same problems, wants, or needs. Segmenting email lists by business size, job role, industry, and problems can help you tailor the content you deliver. For example, if you work with Amazon sellers and D2C Shopify merchants, you would only send an Amazon ads webinar invitation to Amazon sellers.
Tailor your content
Avoid generalizing your leads. When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.
Andrew Maffettone of BlueTuskr used this approach for a client selling 3D body scanners. He noticed they were using generic ads, and not getting great results. Instead, of had them double down on fitness centers, and grew their order pipeline from four a month to 50.
Remember, your leads are only valuable if you can get them to convert.
4. Make it easy to convert
You put so much work into getting leads to your website, don’t lose them at the finish line. Poor UX and complicated website navigation could confuse your leads and cause them to exit before signing up.
Avoid bottlenecks with:
- Easy-to-use signup forms
- Clear calls to action
- Simple website navigation
- Easily searchable data and account information
Simplifying signup forms doesn’t always mean shortening them, but it doesn’t hurt. Marketo condensed a form from nine to five fields and saw conversion jump from 10% to 13.4% as a result.
However, CXL found that shortening forms can dramatically cut conversion if you remove the fields customers want to interact with. Before you remove anything, use heat maps to see how customers interact with your forms and test any new forms on a few customers to gather feedback.
You can optimize your CTAs by using A/B testing to check what works. Adjust your text, button size, color, and placement, and even button styles. If you have a button to sign up, try adding an email field with the sign up button beside it.
Pay attention to:
- The devices your visitors use (change button placement so it’s reachable by thumb on a mobile screen)
- Your users’ intent (if they visit a landing page looking for something specific, make it clear where to find it)
- Where users are dropping off (use heatmaps and tracking to see where you’re losing leads)
- Your marketing message (stay consistent with your offer, benefits, and wording)
- Other elements on a page (stick to one major CTA per page)
Finally, no one wants to sign up for something they can’t opt-out of. Make account details, including cancellation information, easy and easy to find.
Wrapping it up
Getting B2B eCommerce leads means you need to understand (and ease) the complex decision-making process that happens behind the scenes. A B2B purchase isn’t like impulse buying a shirt. It’s a complex journey of research, comparison, and checks and balances with multiple stakeholders. You need to know your audience, provide value at the right time, and figure out what works for you.