All lead generation tools and services are not created equal. Recently, I spoke with someone who was considering using an automated lead generation service provider. It reminded me that the distinctions between lead generation providers might not be obvious to people outside of sales.
There are many different lead generation services, making apples-to-apples comparisons a bit tricky. Some operate only on social media, some only via cold calling, some serve only certain types of businesses or industries, and some lean heavily on AI and automation. Some deliver a list of leads and then leave you on your own, while others can help you see them through to conversion.
Understanding which options are best for your agency is imperative. But where do you start?
If you are an agency leader researching lead gen options, here are some questions to consider:
- What types of businesses does the provider typically work with, and in what verticals? (If they say “all,” be wary.)
- What is the provider’s experience with agencies (and what size and type)? It is very different to sell tiered monthly subscription-based services than selling five to seven-figure multi-year agency contracts. The landscape, sales cycle, and sales process could not be more different. Strategies that may work with small purchases will not translate to larger, more complex B2B purchases.
- What is the provider’s experience with long sales cycles? How do they tackle 6-18 month buying cycles, and what lead nurturing strategies have been successful for them?
- What is their strategy for reaching out to different people in the same organization over extended periods? How do they customize their messages for people in different roles and functions?
- How do they help set you up for a successful outreach campaign? What assets do they need, or can they help you create, to generate interest? Do they work with whatever you have, or do they provide critical feedback and suggestions for improvement? Is the lead gen campaign disconnected from the agency's website and assets?
- What channels and strategies do they use for outreach?
- How do they balance AI and automation technology against manual customization to create relevant, targeted messages that read like they came from a human? Are emails deployed en masse?
- Does the lead gen provider dictate who you will be reaching out to, or does your agency? What considerations go into that decision-making process?
- What is their list creation process? How carefully do they qualify and research companies and individuals on their target lists? Will you have the ability to review and approve each person they contact?
- How are leads handed off? Are they qualified before you get them, and if so, how?
- What support, if any, will you be given once a lead is passed to you?
Lists, Messages, Strategies, and Reputation:
What you need to know about lead generation for agencies
Some might say lead gen starts with lists (at TDP, we’d say lead gen starts with strategy).
If you’re like me, you get a lot of junk sales emails on LinkedIn. I’m constantly targeted by salespeople on LinkedIn and via email and form submissions on our website. Without exception, they are tone-deaf garbage. The worst thing about it is that they all mistake TDP for an agency. Where did the disconnect occur? Primarily at the list creation stage.
That brings me to Rules #1 and #2 of lead generation:
Rule #1 - Know who you are reaching out to.
Rule #2 - Make sure they are an appropriate match for your services.
Before you build a list, who are you reaching out to and what is the strategy behind it?
- Do you have a right to win their business?
- Do you have experience and proven results in their vertical?
- Why do they need your help right now?
- What can you do for them?
To answer all of those questions, you have to understand the person you are reaching out to:
- What is their role, and what challenges are they facing?
- What is going on in their business – what is their business model? What’s happening in their industry?
- What are their goals? How does that intersect with your agency’s capabilities and offerings?
Before you interrupt someone with one more email, where do you see the opportunity to genuinely help them? Those are a lot of questions requiring upfront research, but if you haven’t done that work, you need to consider your likelihood of success and whether you should be emailing them at all.
Will your outreach strategy take these considerations into account?
Most people doing lead generation outreach rely on subscription and proprietary databases. While these are considered more reputable than purchased lists of unknown age and quality, the contact information in these databases can still be questionable, posing a risk to deliverability rates and your sender reputation.
Given the challenges with list hygiene (particularly amid the mass turnover associated with “The Great Resignation”), more leads must be manually sourced (or cross-checked) to ensure accuracy and higher rates of connection.
How will your list be sourced?
Finally, think about list size. A list of 1,000 potential leads may sound great, but when you consider the groundwork that should be done in order to create relevant connections with those leads, it becomes impractical.
Contacting 1,000 leads at once necessarily comes at the expense of relevance, personalization, and effectiveness. You will have better results by targeting a smaller group of closely related leads, designing a message for them, and then further customizing it for the specific person, role and company.
If you are promised a large number of leads, be wary. In lead generation, quantity nearly always comes at the expense of quality.
If you fail to target your list, your messages won’t be on point, either. This is why the upfront research on your contact list is imperative.
For example, we are a sales organization, so we don’t need a company to generate leads for us. And we serve agencies — but are not an agency — so we don’t need an outsourced provider to build cheap websites in bulk for us. Yet, the number of emails and form submissions we get from bulk lead-gen service providers trying to sell us on these services when they haven’t even taken the time to understand our business is amazing. It makes you wonder whether the businesses funding those efforts are aware of how poorly they are being represented.
How will your lead generation service provider represent your agency?
There should be connective tissue between your target lists, your email message, and the content you use to generate interest. All of those assets should be built on a common strategic foundation.
We are big proponents of creating email cadences that work both as standalone messages and as a larger story. Each touch should be impactful whether someone reads one email or the entire series. Our messages are designed to connect prospect challenges with agency solutions while leveraging agency proof points.
When you don’t do the upfront planning to align the components of your lead generation outreach program, it's easy to end up with disjointed, unclear messages that are agency-centric and not focused on demonstrating proof of results.
How will you craft messages that break through?
“It is critical that the content your team produces is “outcome-based,” in that it focuses on the problems clients are facing rather than the products that the field is selling.” — Ian Gross, James Piacentino, and Mathias Bombardi in The New Rules of B2B Lead Generation (Harvard Business Review)
Automated lead gen and mass email tactics may be effective for selling smaller-budget products and services. However, for ongoing services and bigger-budget sales like those provided by most agencies, it’s more important to be relevant and thoughtful at each touchpoint.
Agency new business is a complex sale, typically involving many touchpoints over long periods (six to 18 months is not uncommon). Every one of those touches is an opportunity to compel or repulse a potential prospect. Inspiring trust and generating interest doesn’t happen by accident.
Here are some considerations regarding lead generation tactics:
- What assets should you reference and share?
- At what intervals should you reach out, and how many touches are enough?
- What should your call to action or “ask” be at each touchpoint?
- What can you do to overcome deliverability challenges?
- How can you use multiple channels to improve the likelihood of a response?
According to Vorsight, only 3% of your market is actively buying. 56% are not ready, 40% are poised to begin.* How do you connect with the 40% and the 56%?
*That’s for B2B prospects in general, not specific to agencies.
One of the often-overlooked benefits of lead generation outreach (when done correctly) is that it helps raise awareness of the agency with audiences that might not otherwise have had them on their radar.
It’s tricky to catch the right person at just the right moment when they are contemplating a five to seven-figure engagement — that moment may only come once or twice a year. It’s one of the reasons lead conversion rates for agency new business can lag other types of sales.
But getting someone’s attention and showing them what your agency can do, even if it's just for future reference, also has value and can create a ripple effect for future opportunities — particularly if the relationship is nurtured with periodic relevant information.
If your agency is being quoted or published in industry publications, winning awards, winning new business, or launching exciting initiatives, an outreach initiative to generate new business leads is a great way to extend the reach of your success.
On the flip side, sending a thoughtless message can affect the recipients’ opinion of the sender and their company, jeopardizing future opportunities. That’s why agencies must engage partners they can trust to represent their brand positively and professionally every single time.
With so many lead generation options available, the challenge is to understand your agency’s goals and find a provider that can help support them. Hopefully, this post provides your agency with the information it needs to ask the right questions of potential lead gen service providers.
- What You Need To Know About Effective Cold Calling for Agency New Business
- Why Marketing Emails Don’t Generate Agency New Business
- Tips and Insights for Better Agency New Business Emails
- Email Lead Nurturing for Agency New Business
- 4 Ways Agencies Mess Up New Business Outreach & How To Fix It
- How To Get More New Business By Talking About Solving Client Problems