This article outlines 2 limiting mindsets that block lead generation, outlines the 4 best lead sources and presents an example lead generation mix.
Each year we take a handful of firms through our marketing review process. While the review process was initially designed to look at the firm’s marketing model — its strategies, marketing assets (thought leadership, website) and tools (technology) — we’ve found over time that it also yields interesting insight into the mindsets and beliefs that firms bring with them to their marketing efforts. Ultimately, mindsets and beliefs tend to drive behaviors and outcomes. Some firms bring beliefs that propel their success. While others bring limiting beliefs that constrain their success. In this case, how your firm thinks about leads shapes how effective you will be at generating them. This article covers:
- What’s a Lead?
- Your 4 Best Lead Sources
- The Optimal Lead Generation Mix
What’s a Lead?
Because a lot of firms think almost entirely in terms of projects, they tend to believe a lead = a potential project. On the surface this makes sense. They’ve been told that theirs is a project-based business. They run their finances around projects. Their software is built around projects. They develop pursuit plans around projects. They build and collapse teams with other organizations to pursue those projects. Often, they physically market themselves as little more than a collection of projects. Their websites prominently feature examples of their project work. And, while this may make sense in terms of how the business is managed, it makes very little sense in terms of how it is marketed. A project can’t buy itself.
Problems with the Lead = Project Mindset
The lead = project mindset tends to leave holes in the marketing of the firm. When firms think this way, conspicuously absent from their marketing is actual language describing why the firm is in business at all. Absent is language that describes who they serve and how they work. Absent is language that describes the problems they’ve built the firm to solve. Absent is language that introduces people who might hire you to people they might work with. Absent is language that presents your firm in terms potential clients understand. As it turns out, all this language is the stuff clients really want and need to make a connection with your firm. It’s the language that propels them to talk to you or eventually hire you.
A Lead is a Person
I say this about 1000x a year so if you’re heard this, skip ahead. But, a lead is a person. It’s a person that might be interested in hiring you now because they have a specific need your firm is capable of fulfilling. It’s a person that is interested in learning from your firm’s knowledge and expertise through its thought leadership. And, therefore, it’s also a person that could hire you at some point in the future. Your objective, as a marketer, is to educate and inform potential clients on the substantive issues they face. If you do this well, you’ll be rewarded with leads. If you do this very well, you may change the very conversation in the market about those issues and generate far more and better leads than your peers.
Your 4 Best Lead Sources
A lead source is how your potential client first found you. Over the years we’ve encountered a lot of senior leaders who operate under a second limiting belief that relates to lead sources. This is the belief that the only way for their firm to generate new clients is through referrals and networking. Now, this belief is understandable because it’s largely drawn from their experience of how they built their practice.
But, it also stands in stark contrast with how clients tell us they actually find firms through our research. Yes, clients ask their peers. But, they also read leading business journals, search the web, read firm blogs, listen to podcasts, and attend events. They learn from a wide range of sources. Anywhere a client goes to learn could be a potential source of leads for your practice.
That said, this doesn’t mean that you should be marketing anywhere a potential client could go to learn about your services. Clearly, that would spread your marketing resources too thin. In our experience, there are 4 main lead sources for most firms and there is an optimal mix of leads that most firms should be striving for.
#1 – Referrals
While referrals are usually your most efficient lead source, they should be a minority of your total lead profile. Yes, referrals are clients most trusted way to find consulting firms. And, they’re generally the quickest path from new lead to new business. But, for most firms, it’s difficult to proactively cultivate a steady flow of referrals. As a result, they tend to appear erratically and inconsistently. This is mainly because your referral sources are generally only going to refer you when they’re asked. Also, a referral tends to be provided in a 1-1 situation. So, they don’t scale very well. While you certainly want to cultivate referrals, if they’re your primary source of new business you probably aren’t generating nearly enough leads for your firm’s long-term needs.
#2 – Speaking
No client is ever going to hire you without first speaking with the subject matter experts in your firm. Seeing your experts speak at an industry event or a firm-operated event helps accelerate that process. It gives clients a chance to see how people in your firm think and to “kick the tires” a bit on a relationship with your firm.
#3 – Publishing
Seeing your firm published in a prestigious industry or business journal (online or off) infers a level of credibility to your firm’s expertise. It’s not just you or your clients saying this works. A 3rd party has essentially validated that the thinking in your article is valuable and insightful. Additionally, it opens you up to a broader audience than you could reach on your own – an audience beyond your network.
#4 – Search
I’ve said this before, Google is the closest thing your firm has to SuperBowl advertising. While clients may not search for firms like yours everyday, clients search for answers to questions they’re thinking about 100 times a day. We search so frequently that we hardly even notice it anymore. As a result, search should be your largest source of leads by far. This is because search enables you to literally connect your thought leadership with a client at the moment they’re thinking about an issue. In the history of marketing, no channel has ever existed that could enable you to do this as effectively as Google. So, you should make the most of it.
Search enables you to connect with a client at a much earlier point in the buying cycle than many of your other forms of lead generation. And, it enables you to shape how the client thinks about an issue as they learn. This also means that there is a longer time period from the point a lead is generated via the web to the time that person actually hires you. This time gap coupled with the impersonality of the medium (relative to seeing you speak or someone referring you) tends to make search your least effective form of lead generation relative to the other 3. That said, search is still a far more effective source of leads relative to things I purposely left off this list like social media, tradeshow marketing, or paid advertising.
The Optimal Lead Generation Mix
As I suggested above, referrals should represent a small slice of your lead profile (less than 5%). It’s the most effective, but the most inconsistent way to generate leads. And, it’s also the most reliant on the networks of your senior partners. So, it’s hard to scale in a meaningful way.
Search should represent the majority of your leads. Of the 4 main sources it is least effective (you will get a mix of ideal clients and less good fits). But, it is the most reliable because you are almost entirely in control of what drives search outcomes — content. If your firm is producing a steady flow of high quality content around the issues you’d like to own in the market, over time you will get found for those issues. Also, it allows you to create a path to new clients that doesn’t rely at all on the networks of your partners.
While speaking and publishing may be more effective lead sources than search, they’re less reliable because you’re often at the mercy of someone else’s editorial calendar or event marketing efforts. In the end, an example, optimal lead generation profile looks something like this:
Your lead generation profile may look nothing like the one I shared here. And, that’s probably perfectly fine if you’re getting the results you’d like for your practice. If you’re not, and it doesn’t, ask yourself a few questions:
- Are we relying too much on a single source?
- If so, what additional source(s) would you like to build?
- What do you think it will take to be successful in this new source?
- Do you have the organizational structure and capabilities to be successful?
- What new sklls or resources will you need to be successful?
Make your decisions based on effectiveness, volume, and your desired time horizon. While it may be quick to hire a call center to start prospecting clients, there’s a reason that option is left off this list.
Finally, don’t confuse your lead generation profile with your new business profile. You should close 80%+ of your referrals. By contrast, only 4-5% of the leads you generate from search (or less) may end up becoming clients. And, that’s okay. Stay true to your professional services marketing objective — educate and inform — and business will follow in time.