Unrealistic expectations and misconceptions can derail a lead generation program before it even gets started. Here’s how to set up your program for success.
There are many ways leads can come into a professional services firm. Being discovered by a potential client with a stated need that is actively searching for the solutions you offer is hands down the best type of lead you can get. But relying solely on inbound leads can leave a lot of business and revenue on the table.
At Rattleback, when we talk about lead generation, we are specifically referring to a system for proactively opening conversations with new prospective clients. The keywords here are proactive, conversations, and new. And they matter because no matter how much high-quality thinking a firm is publishing, most can’t keep the client pipeline as full as it needs to be to achieve their growth ambitions. For a variety of reasons, many companies that stand to benefit from what you have to offer simply can’t or won’t find you on their own.
So, the onus is on you to find them. And lead generation is how you do it.
lead generation campaigns usually fail due to ill-defined expectations.
Now, if you’ve given lead generation a go in the past and failed to get the results you’d hoped, you are certainly not alone. Lead generation isn’t easy. Or fast. it takes some trial and error to get it right. Further, lead gen is also one of the most misunderstood levers for driving growth.
To help clarify the concept, we took on the challenge of breaking down the lead generation process into just five steps for our Rattle and Pedal five-step podcast series. Through this exercise, we solidified that the keys to success with lead generation really come down to the fundamentals of good marketing. The five steps are extremely straightforward. The trick is giving each the attention it deserves and resisting the temptation to jump ahead in the process.
Step 1: Agree on your ideal client
Deciding with whom you want to do business is fundamental to any marketing activity. But it takes on a bit of a different flavor with lead generation. Often, with thought leadership, we focus heavily on psychographics of the audience and what they are thinking and feeling. This works well with a discovery model where people are finding you because they are specifically looking for a solution to a problem you can solve.
However, with lead generation, you need to put energy into defining firmographics and demographics first. In other words, you have to figure out what types of companies are most likely to hire you, and which people within those companies are most likely to need what you offer. Remember, with lead gen, you’re doing the work to find them. The more you can paint a strong picture of the types of organizations and the types of people within those organizations who are most likely to be good clients for your firm, the better you can direct your efforts and dollars to get in front of them.
While this isn’t rocket science, it’s surprising how often this step gets overlooked. And without this upfront legwork, the investment you will make in lead generation is highly unlikely to pay off. For more on this read Identifying Your Ideal Client.
Step 2: Set clear business goals
Most professional service firms will say they need more leads. Period. But that’s not nearly specific enough to define the parameters by which you will ultimately judge a lead generation program’s success.
It can be helpful to start with the end in mind by setting a revenue goal and working backward from there. For example, if you want to generate $5 million in new client revenue this year, how many new client wins will it take to get there? And how many sales-ready and marketing-ready leads will it take to get to those wins? How many preliminary conversations are needed to move leads into the sales-ready category?
Obviously, doing the math means you need to know something about your conversion rates. And this can get a little tricky for many firms. It’s one thing to say you close 30% of sales conversations. But if those conversations are with highly qualified leads, it skews what the data really mean.
It’s okay if you don’t fully understand your conversation rates just yet. The data you glean from your lead generation efforts will give you valuable baseline information to drive these insights and tighten up your assumptions. But you do need to be realistic and clear when defining the types of leads you will get for your lead generation efforts. Some will have a stated need. But others will be earlier in the buying journey, i.e. they will fit the firmographic and demographic profile defined above, but they will need a little more nurturing to get to the sales-ready point.
Step 3: Make an investment plan
If you’ve been clear about your business goals in step 2, then it’s much easier to decide how much you are able and willing to invest to reach them. It’s important to recognize that the investment you make is a function of the risk you take. The larger the investment, the riskier it feels. On the other hand, the more you put in, the more you are likely to get out. The key is to make these decisions with eyes wide open and fully understand the implications of them.
Once you’ve determined how much you’re willing to invest, now it’s time to determine where you’ll invest it. Assuming you’ve defined your ideal client, this becomes a matter of figuring out where those prospects aggregate. What do they read, watch, and listen to? What conferences do they attend? Whom do they trust? Where do they hang out? LinkedIn and Google are often excellent platforms for honing in on your ideal clients (assuming you’ve been able to develop a clear firmographic and demographic profile). But they aren’t the only tools that exist to point you to the people you want to find. For example, we recently helped a client trying to connect with U.S. fire departments to track down the top conferences and associations for fire chiefs in the states. Then we built out sponsorship campaigns around those events. Be sure to consider all your options and what makes the most sense for your business.
Finally, consider timing. How quickly do you need to generate leads to achieve your stated business goals? How long is your sales cycle? Is there a time of year when prospects will be more receptive to your message? Answers to all these questions will help you time your investment for maximum ROI.
Step 4: execute your campaigns in quarters
In our experience, three months or one quarter is the ideal time to run a lead generation campaign and get a solid idea of the results it is generating. To gauge results, use a high-value piece of content at the heart of the campaign for the quarter, offered in exchange for the prospective client’s contact information. This could be a meaty e-book, white paper, or webinar that addresses a hot topic or burning issue for your prospective clients. The number of downloads or registrants will point to how well your campaign is performing.
However, don’t make the mistake of assuming every download is an indicator of buying behavior or is coming from a highly qualified lead who is ready have a conversation with your firm. Think back to step 2 and how you’ve realistically defined the types of leads you can expect to get from proactive lead generation. Many will require a little more nurturing before they are ready to talk—or even before they actually take the time to read the paper they downloaded. It’s critical to be ready to build the relationship beyond the moment of conversion, ideally with a sequenced nurturing campaign composed of a series of emails, LinkedIn messages, and/or traditional direct mail pieces designed to speak to leads in different phases of the buying journey.
You will, of course, want to do some targeted outreach to some of the leads you generate. Having a methodology for scoring leads that come into the system based on who they are and the actions they take will help you determine which leads will be most receptive to a phone call.
Step 5. Measure, reflect, and refine
After three months, you can begin to draw some meaningful insights from your campaign data regarding the number and quality of leads generated and the conversion rates. Be sure to set aside time to do the analysis, have the discussions, and make some critical decisions based on what you learned.
Remember that there are a wide range of variables that determine the success of any lead generation campaign: the quality and relevancy of the asset itself, the creative execution, tactics, frequency, and resource allocation, just to name a few. Based on the results, have open, honest, and straightforward discussions about what needs to be changed or tweaked to get even better results the next quarter.
For most professional services firms, maintaining a healthy and robust pipeline is a long-term, continuous effort. And lead generation can and should play a strategic role in that effort. But getting it right takes time. If you don’t get the numbers or the perfect leads right out of the gate, don’t get discouraged. And don’t give up. Make strategic changes to your campaigns and keep measuring the results. Learning and modifying along the way will eventually make you an expert at lead gen and will help keep your funnel full of prospects worth nurturing for the long-term.
Just because you publish it, doesn’t mean everyone will come.
Don’t get me wrong. Regularly published, high-quality thought leadership is an imperative for professional services firms of just about every type. But for most firms, it’s not enough. Lead generation, when done properly and with the right expectations, will dramatically increase your odds of connecting with a larger pool of potential clients, some that need your services right now, and some that will need you in the future.
To learn more about lead generation download our Lead Generation Handbook.