B2B Lead Generation is any process used by a business to collect a group of new business' names and addresses to offer their services or products at. All those moments when a business asks for an email address in return for a white paper or guide to add to their mailing lists are moments when leads are being generated.
A B2B lead generation drive serves to enlarge existing databases of contacts, so that marketing drives can be expanded to include businesses that are not already part of an existing customer base. As customers can only realistically spend so much on one particular service or product for any expansion to occur more clients must be found. Indeed as customers' needs and financial circumstances change often more clients are needed just to stand still.
In its simplest terms B2B lead generation involves nothing more than collecting a whole heap of names and addresses. This list gets handed to a sales team who are told "here, there's a list of leads, off you go!" In the very worst case these mailing lists are created by automatically skimming the internet for business addresses then resold and reused again and again for years, making the data they contain virtually redundant. Old addresses, irrelevant customers don't really create a good sales prospect and, while a scattergun approach to marketing can eventually pay off, for many businesses it can be a time-consuming and costly affair.
More effective lead generation occurs by collecting data specifically about companies (directors and manager's names, business address, e-mails etc.) only when those companies have expressed some interest in the product or service being offered. These leads are much more likely to generate actual sales. If the names recorded for the company are those of director level staff and managers that either have the authority over purchases, or at least some influence, then the leads become qualified leads, and very valuable marketing assets to a company.
The means by which data is collected can vary the lead generation process used. Often data is collected in return for "free" offerings; white papers, guides on regulatory laws or best practice training. These can all be bartered online in return for company data. Collecting information at trade shows is another option, with potential customers being asked to give information only if they actually have an interest already and actually wish to be contacted. Companies in strategic partnerships can share their databases or third parties can be hired to provide their services in hunting down relevant companies that meet set criteria, along with the names and contact numbers of suitable contacts.