Is there “one best way?” The answer is …
In my career, I have helped my employers and my clients generate tens of thousands of leads using a wide variety of strategies and tactics. Just a quick side note: none of these involved cold calling or dialing for dollars—they all had their roots in identifying, reaching, and motivating prospects to take action, ranging from sponsoring award programs to conducting surveys, and a lot more.
Looking back over all of those leads, I’ve created 5 categories for their sources. You may have used (or are using) one or more of these right now:
- Leads from an Offer
In the world of CPA, consulting, staffing (and other professional service firm) marketing, an offer will generally be a packaged form of thought leadership like an eBook, white paper, or checklist, that requires a prospect to complete and submit a form in order to get access. Just about all firms using this type of lead gen approach are doing it online, using inbound marketing best practices, marketing technology for lead acquisition, and various digital marketing tactics for promoting the offer.
Generally speaking, anyone willing to fill out a form and provide their contact information might be considered a warm lead.
- Leads from Networking and Referral (1:1) Marketing
This is, and will most likely remain, the most widely used approach for generating leads because any referrals that come into the firm will most likely be ready to buy. 1:1 marketing is the social strategy that existed long before social media strategy, and even though it takes a lifetime of development, it’s an approach that will never go out of style.
Some firms use various forms of “meet and greets” to accelerate the matchmaking process between firms that could be likely referral sources. Even though it’s not difficult to hold this type of event, getting younger partners and rising stars to sustain and maintain relationships that may be sparked after an hour of two of cocktail weenies and craft beer is a difficult task.
- Leads from Branding
Old school, traditional investments in marketing by professional services firms for branding are typically executed in the hopes that when a prospect sees your firm’s print ad, billboard, or sponsorship of a community event, they’ll be more inclined to call you when they have an issue that needs resolution.
Getting an “over the transom” inquiry that has its origin in spending you’ve done for branding is fantastic, but it doesn’t mean that you’ve made a sale!
- Leads from Reactive/Interruption Marketing
Interruption marketing—unsolicited direct mail, email spam, print or broadcast advertising, and the like—is on the wane for professional service firms, because nobody wants to be interrupted with a marketing or sales message that they don’t want. It’s a sad day when I hear about a firm that does a snail mail lead gen program where they are going to follow up the mail with a phone call.
I’m not sure why the firms that use this approach think that interrupting a prospect twice will somehow put them in a position to better sell their services.
- Leads from Trade Shows
Leads from trade shows are an unusual type of beast as they combine elements of offers, 1:1 marketing, branding, and interruption marketing. With a strategy that calls for pre-show and post-show marketing, I believe that trade shows should be a part of the lead generation marketing mix for a professional service firm niche practice.
Be prepared, however, for what could be an initially high investment in a trade show display, and the costs of getting floor space in the show.
Best Kept Secret: What’s the Best Way to Generate Leads?
I have scads of plaques, awards, commendations, and the like from a bunch of different associations and publications for the creative lead generation programs I’ve developed.
Even after all that, I have a confession to make: I don’t know the answer to this question.
There’s not “one true way” to generate leads, although you might get a different story from older partners who have spent a lifetime building relationships and a network that drops lead in their lap. But frankly, that gives (impatient, gotta have it today) younger partners and rising stars little comfort that they have to wait 20 or 30 years before their personal lead machine cranks out opportunities.
Inbound marketers might give you another story, saying that a true lead is one where a prospect’s online search has landed them on your doorstep where they can be converted to a lead with a compelling offer. Yes, this is an incredibly strong and state of the art way to generate leads, but can it carry a firm’s entire lead generation strategy on its back? Probably not.
As far as reactive marketing and matchmaking goes, here’s my take: meh. These might be appropriate tactics for creating awareness and brand building, but they’re increasing becoming a waste of time, money, and resources.
So here’s the secret: there is no one best way … you need to have a mix of different strategies and tactics to build a comprehensive lead generation program.
What Role Should Marketers Play in Lead Generation?
A critical role played by marketers in lead generation is development and publication of what I call “proof of existence” marketing … collateral, websites, case studies, partner and SME bios, testimonials and other materials that demonstrate proof of experience and capabilities. That’s really important stuff, but truth be told, it’s just marketing infrastructure that every firm professional service firm should have.
Marketers should help in organizing and facilitating matchmaking, and if the firm is hell bent on interruption marketing, they should be responsible for managing vendors and approving creative executions used in any outbound marketing activities.
And when it comes to the role of marketing in most professional service firms, that’s where it stops.
In my opinion that’s terribly shortsighted.
Managing partners, niche practice leads, and the management committee of firms should be asking a lot more from their marketers when it comes to lead generation. At the top of this list should be a seat at the strategic table where your marketers can provide input on creative and differentiated ways that the firm can turn prospect pain into an opportunity to craft thought leadership that can be used at the core of an offer.
They should be responsible for promoting that offer, using marketing technology like HubSpot for lead acquisition and management, measuring activities, and then, assisting in the strategy, process, and tactics for nurturing an acquired lead through the sales pipeline.
Learn More About Online Lead Generation
Since hanging out a consulting shingle starting with VitbergLLC and now with LeadG2, I’ve helped CPA and other professional service firms generate over 6,000 leads online. I’ve taken this experience and turned it into a webinar hosted by IndustryNewsletters, and I’d like to invite you to a seat.
You can learn a lot more about the role of marketers (owners, partners, and subject matter experts) at the webinar, and hopefully, you’ll walk away with an idea or two on how to complement your current lead generation strategies and tactics with a state of the art online lead generation program.