This post outlines the most effective lead generation tactics based on our research with AMCF and The Bloom Group so you can diversify (or simplify) your efforts.
Whenever we onboard a new client, one of the things we’re looking to understand is where leads are coming from. While this may seem like a simple question, a lot of firms really don’t know. Principals and business development people just sort of do their thing, and leads materialize through “word of mouth” or some other means. Marketing teams do a whole bunch of stuff, but it’s really hard to tell what’s having an impact. Over the years, I’ve noticed that most firms fall into one of two camps:
- One Trick Ponies — Virtually all their business comes through one lead generation strategy (usually relationship-based business development).
- See What Sticks — They’re doing practically everything you can think of, and just hope that something sticks.
I think it’s fairly obvious why being a One Trick Pony is problematic — anything that could put that approach at risk could significantly damage the firm’s ability to deliver on its revenue goals. Here are some examples I’ve seen:
- Many firms rely almost entirely on the handiwork of a few rain makers. These folks have built tremendous networks and are very adept at developing relationships within those networks to generate leads, new client relationships and revenue. The obvious point of failure occurs when something happens to one of those rain makers (they leave, they retire, etc.). While there’s always talk of scaling that model to add more rain makers, for a lot of reasons that’s usually very difficult. Hiring them can be nearly impossible. And, growing them is equally difficult because much of that knowledge can’t be transferred.
- I’ve seen firms that relied heavily on hosting their own training programs as entry points into greater consulting relationships. While I’ve often seen that work well for sometime, those strategies can start to dry up as training gaps are filled within client organizations (i.e. you’ve trained everyone on what you do).
- In the past, a lot of firms had success with outsourced SEO (in the absence of developing high quality content). Generally speaking, this consisted of bundling keywords into site pages and building back links from external sources. As Google started to place content quality higher and higher in its focus for delivering search results, many of these programs dried up entirely. While SEO can still be an effective tactic for generating leads, investing in SEO services without developing unique, high quality content, is no longer effective.
At the other end of the spectrum, the See What Sticks model also proves problematic for a few reasons:
- Firms find themselves beholden to a multi-dimensional activities calendar that starts to become all consuming. They’re doing so much that all the discussion becomes about the activities themselves rather than the outcomes they’re intended to enable.
- It becomes really difficult to determine what is and isn’t working. So, while outcomes start to become second class citizens in the marketing effort, connecting the activities to outcomes becomes even more difficult. Getting to outcomes starts to feel like we’re just chasing our own tail.
Which Lead Generation Activities Work Best?
Whether your firm is looking to diversify its lead generation efforts by adding tactics or streamline them by paring some things back, we do have some data we can use to make those decisions. In our 2015 research with The Bloom Group and AMCF on thought leadership marketing in consulting firms, we asked marketers to rate 24 marketing tactics (both online and off) in terms of how effective they were at generating awareness and leads. Bob Buday, thought leadership marketing expert and co-founder of the Bloom Group, analyzed this data to identify which tactics were frequently identified as most effective. Below, I’ve broken those 24 tactics into thirds to make it a bit easier to consume. While every firm is different, this data is an effective starting point for identifying which tactics might make the most sense to add to your mix, and which might be better to jettison.
The Top Third — Speaking and External Publishing Leads the Way
- Speaking at external conferences
- Our own seminars and in-person events
- Media mentions (PR)
- Articles published in external online publications
- Research reports
- Case studies
- Articles published in external print publications
The Middle Third — Owned Web Content Dominates the Next Tier
- Email newsletters
- Interactive tools
- Interactive graphics
- Web videos
- Articles on our website
- Articles published through white-paper syndicators (e.g., TechTarget)
The Bottom Third — Promotions and Paid Media Among Least Effective
- Print or broadcast advertising
- Articles published in our own print publications
- Email marketing campaigns
- Online advertising (e.g., web banner ads)
How Many Lead Generation Tactics Make Sense?
The mix of lead generation activities that will work best for you will depend largely on the size and type of your firm (consulting, accounting, AEC). Generally speaking, I would suggest investing in no fewer than 3-4 lead generation techniques and no more than 8-10 — even in a large firm. While it does not appear in the lists above, I usually consider relationship building and business development as 1 of those lead generation strategies.
Here are some suggested next steps:
- If your firm is a One Trick Pony that is really effective at relational business development, look at the list and identify a small handful of activities in the top 2/3 of the list where you feel you already have the skills necessary to be successful. Commit yourself to adding those lead generation activities to your marketing model in the next 90 days.
- If your firm is in a See What Works mode, take a look at the bottom 1/3 of the list and identify what activities could be pared. Assuming you have the CRM or web data to back it up, take a look to be sure that the activities you’ve identified fit the criteria within your own firm. Then, simply stop doing them going forward.