How to balance the long-term wants and short-term needs of your firm and pick the right lead generation tactics.
Most consulting and IT services firms want more qualified leads in their sales and marketing pipeline than they have. But when asked how many leads they want, firm leaders usually just say “more.” When pressed again on where those leads might come from, the answer is even fuzzier — “It doesn’t matter; we just need more.”
But, as I pointed out in this article weighing the pros and cons of inbound and outbound lead gen programs, all tactics are not created equal. While inbound lead generation tactics can establish you as THE expert on a given topic, they can also be lumpy, inconsistent, and unreliable. By contrast, outbound lead generation tactics are more predictable. But they also tend to be more costly. And they frequently position you as JUST ONE OF THE options to solve a client’s problem; radically changing the power dynamics in the sale.
The reality is to hit this year’s revenue targets and enable your firm to hit future years’ growth targets you will need a mix of inbound and outbound lead generation tactics. But how do you pick the right tactics? And how do you prioritize the ones you pick?
Let’s start with a short, non-comprehensive list of the potential lead generation tactics you can choose. I find it helpful to prioritize these in terms of the reach they provide and the authority they infer:
Plan for Your Longer-Term Business Goals
Generally speaking, I’m a firm believe that marketing’s top priority is building next year’s revenue. Yes, marketing should be working in concert with the business development team to hit this year’s revenue targets. But fundamentally partners and business development people are under intense pressure to deliver this quarter’s book of business that it’s difficult for them to prioritize lead generation activities that will shape the firm’s business two to three years from now.
To start, think about your firm three years from now. Where do you expect revenue to come from? What markets would you like to “own.” What types of clients and individuals would you like to do business with? What issues would you like to be known for solving? What issues represent the most pressing ones to those clients and the best growth opportunities for your firm? Of course, this is the backbone of your thought leadership strategy. But, it’s also the basis for your lead gen stack.
When you think over the longer-term (two to three years), prioritize the lead generation tactics that provide the most reach AND authority—earned media. Next consider those tactics that offer primarily reach OR authority. It’s important that you don’t try to boil the ocean. Don’t try to do everything. Pick one tactic from each of those three quadrants. For one firm, a good lead generation mix might combine article placements in business publications, a self-published blog, and an article series on LinkedIn. For another firm, a good lead generation mix might combine pursuing speaking opportunities, hosting a regular webinar or podcast series, and investing in a YouTube channel.
Regardless what tactics you choose, remember your central marketing goal—educate clients on issues that matter to them, and let leads and opportunities come to you over time. Any inquiries or wins you generate in the short-term from this selection of tactics are just a bonus in the longer journey.
Then Focus on Short-Term Revenue Targets
All that said, every firm has very real revenue targets right now. And you can’t afford to ignore them. In this capacity, marketing has to work with practice leaders and business development managers to support their efforts to drive qualified leads now and close business this year. Start by getting agreement on how much revenue you want to sign this year then work back from there. What’s the average monthly value of a client? How many new client relationships will you need this year to hit that revenue target? How many opportunities will you need to close that many new relationships? Finally, how many qualified leads will you require to yield that many opportunities?
If you have some decent historical data, it should be pretty simple math. For instance, if you need $5M in new revenue this year, and you have a 40% typical win rate, then you need $12.5M worth of new opportunities. If your typical client spends about $500k in fees with you in a given year, then you’d need 25 new opportunities on which to propose. If 75% of the qualified leads you talk to become opportunities for the firm, then you’d need to add about 33 qualified leads into your system to hit your $5M new revenue target.
From there, look at the yield from your past marketing and business development efforts. Investments you made in inbound tactics last year should generate some new inquiries this year. And, of course, firm partners and business development specialists will likely generate a good portion of those qualified leads through their own networking and relationship building efforts. For instance, perhaps you expect to get 15-20 leads from past years’ marketing efforts and this year’s new business activities. You’ll need to find 10-15 new leads from a new marketing tactic. Because you need those leads in the next three to six months you’ll prioritize those tactics in the bottom left corner of the grid—paid media. While paid media may be a bit costly at first it has a lot of added benefits in building your short-term pipeline. Paid social enables you to target your ideal clients directly and quickly with highly relevant thought leadership. Simultaneously, paid search enables you to target those same buyers when they’re actually thinking about the issues you’ve built your firm to solve. And sponsorships can offer a quick path to buyers within places they already congregate.
Allocating Tactics is a Balancing Act
Weighing the needs of your firm in the short-term with the wants of the long-term is always a bit of a balancing act. If you don’t hit this year’s revenue target next year may become irrelevant.
But if you put all your resources towards building a pipeline right now you could be cutting off much larger future opportunities down the line. While there’s no simple answer on how to resolve these tensions you’ll make a good choice as long as you take the time to critically evaluate the pros and cons of your options, understand how clients progress through their buying process, and avoid trying to do too much too quickly.