Lead Management and Generation Process
Developing a solid Inbound Marketing Game Plan is essential to lead generation process, but for this blog, we will drill into some more specific strategies and tactics.
Lead management is made possible by the sales tools you have put in place and defining systems and standards for moving leads efficiently through the funnel. Consider the following when defining your lead-management process.
Determine the procedure for entering and updating leads in the CRM throughout the funnel, and for assigning ownership of a new lead to the appropriate sales representative.
Integrate the lead into the agency's time-tracking solution. This makes it possible to assess the efficiency of your business development efforts.
Apply lead scoring to prioritize opportunities.
Define follow-up procedures, including how quickly and in what manner sales representatives must respond.
Establish call scripts and template e-mails for efficient communications.
Create rules for list segmentation and lead nurturing.
Internet research Discovery
Agencies have a variety of ways to gather information about leads. In addition to Internet research, savvy firms utilize technology such as online surveys and website contact forms to develop a deep understanding of their leads’ needs and goals before they even conduct the first meeting.
A strategic discovery process can differentiate agencies early on if companies are assessing multiple providers. The agency that comes to the table more prepared and confident, and demonstrates a greater understanding of the leads business, has an immediate advantage over the competition.
If your agency has access to lead-intelligence analytics, the discovery process begins as soon as a website contact form is submitted.
You can immediately assess the level of the lead of interest in your agency based on their online behavior, and depending on the custom fields in your lead forms, you may already know answers to key questions such as budgets, title, timeline, needs, and goals.
Also, look at services such as SurveyMonkey to conduct prospective client audits. We have had tremendous success using an online survey that has a mixture of multiple-choice and open-ended questions.
It takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete, but there are no required answers, so companies can skip any questions that do not seem relevant or that they are not prepared to respond to at that time.
The survey is designed to address five key areas, which are the primary factors we use to qualify leads:
Foundation: What are the strength of their existing website, brand, infrastructure, and internal marketing capabilities and capacity?
Platform: How extensive is their reach and influence among target audiences, specifically as it relates to online marketing?
Expectations: What are their priority needs and goals, and how do they align with agency services?
Potential: What is the potential for the agency to have an immediate and sustained impact on their business?
GamePlan strategy: What strategies and tactics are we going to propose based on the other four factors—foundation, platform, expectations, and potential?
Sample Lead Survey Questions
Following are example qualifying questions we use in the Thesis Scientist lead survey:
In one or two sentences, define what makes your company unique/remarkable?
How would you rate your brand positioning in primary target markets? In essence, do audiences clearly understand your organization's products/services and value proposition?
How would you define your growth goals for the next 12 months? Basic, moderate, or aggressive?
How would you rate support from your leadership team for digital marketing strategies, such as social media, search marketing, and content marketing?
What do you see as your organization's top-priority needs as they relate to engaging an agency partner? For example: ranking higher on Google, creating original content, getting buy-in from leadership for social media, generating more leads now, raising our profile, improving the website, or launching a blog.
Approximately how much is your monthly budget for agency services?
Please provide estimated numbers for the following elements: employees, active customers, average monthly lead volume, blog subscribers, Facebook page likes, Twitter followers, YouTube channel subscribers, and LinkedIn company followers.
What are your top sources for new leads?
Briefly describe your current lead nurturing activities. This may include automated e-mails, phone calls, free trials, online demos, and more.
How many hours per week does your organization spend monitoring and participating in social media? This includes activity on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, forums, blog reading, and commenting.
Do you provide training and education to employees on how to effectively participate in social media?
Do you have content creators/copywriters on staff who are responsible for, or have the ability to create online content, including blog posts, ebooks, white papers, case studies, press releases, webinars, and e-newsletters? Provide any details to help us understand your organizations copywriting capabilities and capacity.
What are your primary success factors to measure the effectiveness of your agency partner? In other words, how will you determine the agency's value to your business?
We will cover the proposal more in-depth later in this blog, but strong proposals are essential to increase conversion rates. It is best to have a standard template, which is then customized to each company's needs and goals.
Every proposal should feel completely personalized to the prospect, but each should be completed as efficiently as possible by your team.
The key is to give just enough details to convince them you are the right firm, without providing a wealth of free consultation they can turn around and give to another agency to implement. It is a tricky balance.
Like proposals, presentations should be standardized, but then continually adapted based on your prospects preferences. Some contacts want to read the proposal first, whereas others prefer to see a condensed version in PowerPoint form through Skype or GoToMeeting.
If you have gotten this far in the process, go into the meeting with the intent to close. If you did not want the business, you should not have invested the time it took to get this far. Have the mindset that you are going to leave with an agreement. Consider the following questions, and come prepared:
Is there an agenda?
Is it in person or virtual?
How many people from the client's side will be in attendance?
Are the decision makers in the room?
Are you ready to field questions, and effectively address objections?
Who will be in the meeting from your team? Who will be the lead presenter?
Have you done an internal practice run?
Have you tested all the audio and visual elements?
What next steps are you proposing?
How will you hook them in the open, and close them in the end?
Understanding the Buying Cycle
In order to maximize the lead-generation and nurturing process, and increase the probability of conversion, it is important to understand how organizations make marketing-services buying decisions.
Let's take a look at the five standard stages of a buying cycle and consider how agencies can tailor their marketing and sales activities based on each phase.
Stage 1—Awareness: The organization recognizes they have an unsatisfied need, unresolved pain point, or new marketing challenge.
This realization may be due to internal stimuli, such as the CEO pointing out they are nowhere to be found on the first page of Google results; or external stimuli, such as a savvy marketing agency identifying risks and gaps in their social media presence.
Stage 2—Search: Research begins for information that will help further define their needs, identify prospective agency partners, and make an educated buying decision.
Agencies with strong Inbound Marketing GamePlans have a distinct advantage at this stage because prospective clients commonly turn to Internet searches and social networks to support their research efforts.
Stage 3—Evaluation: They are now entering the decision-making stage. Potential partner agencies have been selected, and are being evaluated based on criteria such as pricing, capabilities, experience, staff, proof of performance, and reputation.
Agencies that have gathered the greatest intelligence on the lead, and done the best job of customizing the business development experience, rise to the top of the list.
Stage 4—Decision: The prospect has entered the final decision phase. This is commonly the time when they will ask for referrals, finalize scope, and negotiate the terms of engagement.
There are still a number of factors that can cause the deal to fall through at this point, so it is important to prepare for objections and continue to instill confidence in the buyer. In some cases, this stage can drag on for months, depending on the prospects of internal processes.
Stage 5—Postpurchase Behavior: Once the purchasing decision has been made, it is time for performance to meet expectations. There is a natural honeymoon period in which the client and agency get along great, but, as weeks and months go by, you better be delivering on your promises or relationships can quickly sour.
Anticipate postpurchase challenges and concerns as part of your process, and work to reduce the likelihood of them occurring after the sale. Continually seek opportunities to add value to your client, and never forget the importance of building strong personal relationships.
Satisfied clients who feel appreciated are far more likely to stay and provide strong referrals to their friends and peers.
Developing a solid Inbound Marketing Game Plan is essential to lead generation, but for this blog, we will drill into some more specific strategies and tactics. Keep in mind that the most effective lead-generation campaigns are focused on creating value, not selling.
Where are your best leads coming from now? Are there opportunities to generate more leads through these channels?
Based on your historical (or forecasted) conversion rates and average revenue per client, how many leads do you need to generate per month to sustain and grow your agency?
How do you identify and prioritize quality leads?
Now, let's take a look at ways your agency can fill the top of the funnel with qualified leads.
Pricing strategy: Make the price value based, simple, and transparent.
Turn your pricing into an asset in your sales efforts.
Brand positioning: What comes to mind when someone hears your agency name? Is your brand unique and memorable? Does it stand for something more than just marketing services? Do people feel an emotional attachment to it? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself when defining your brand.
Your messaging and actions should separate your agency from the competition. Create unique experiences online and offline that help you to stand out among the masses.
Referrals: There is nothing quite like a great referral, especially if the referring source—peers, vendors, clients, and industry contacts— understands your brand and knows what a good lead looks like for you.
Although it is acceptable to ask for referrals at times, the most valued leads come from contacts that believe so strongly in you and your agency that they go out of their way to send you opportunities.
You can consistently earn referrals by keeping your agency in the minds of current clients and building a reputation based on proven performance, loyalty, honesty, and innovation.
Content marketing: Nowhere in marketing is it truer than in content creation. Model agencies use blog posts, ebooks, videos, podcasts, original reports, and more to continually create value for their audiences and differentiate their brands. Content marketing is the premier lead-generation strategy available to agencies today.
Take the necessary steps to optimize your agency website—page titles, URLs, headers, copywriting, ALT image tags and meta descriptions—but concentrate your SEO efforts on generating inbound links and ranking for long-tail keywords, which you target through original content.
Personal brands: Give your team the freedom and support to build powerful personal brands. Help them to effectively engage online, expand their connections, and bring value to their networks.
Service marketplaces: Emerging online service marketplaces can be ideal sources for project work, specifically for soloists and specialists.
Ecosystem partners: Develop relationships with agencies throughout the marketing services ecosystem. Look for opportunities to collaborate with prospective partners who share your philosophies and values and offer complementary services.
Niche markets: There are endless niche markets for agencies that choose to focus their energy on building capabilities and expertise in specific industries and geographic territories. Consider what unique knowledge and experience your agency has that could translate into a leadership position in targeted markets.
Publicity: The PR industry was built on the power of third-party endorsements. There has always been something magical about media coverage.
Earning placements for your agency in online and traditional media outlets can have a tremendous effect on brand awareness, comprehension, and preference. Use your content marketing efforts and social media involvement to position yourself as a thought leader and create publicity opportunities for your agency.
Networking (the traditional kind): Go meet people. Attend events for local organizations and niche industries. Look for unique venues that are not populated by competing firms.
For example, if you are targeting small businesses, find opportunities to get involved with a chamber of commerce. Another great networking approach is to volunteer for committees of nonprofits that inspire you. You can make strong connections while contributing to causes you care about.
Prospects and Lead Nurturing
As I mentioned earlier, there are endless variations on the sales funnel. In the Blueprint model, leads turn into prospects as they move through the funnel and are qualified as true sales opportunities. These prospects fit the agency's target buyer personas, including the classic marketing MAD-R characteristics:
Money (M) to afford your services.
Authority (A) to make buying decisions.
Desire (D) for your services, and to work with your agency.
Response (R) to your agency's marketing efforts.
Prospects are most likely in the evaluation stage of the buying cycle and preparing to move into the decision phase. They are fully aware of their needs, have researched agency options, and are now looking for the best match.
Your job is to convince them you are the right fit by alleviating concerns, anticipating objections, building their confidence in your agency, and creating as much value as possible. So how do you accomplish this?
Connect and engage on social networks.
Take a personal interest in their success by getting to know what motivates them in their lives and careers.
Use automated email drip campaigns to share relevant blog posts, case studies, ebooks, webinars, and other original content.
Invite them to attend webinars and events that fit their interests and needs.
Offer them free insight into their current marketing efforts.
Build customized proposals that demonstrate your knowledge of them and your ability to take their marketing to the next level.
How to Handle Client-Reference Requests
It is common at this stage of the buying cycle for prospects to request client references.
Although connecting prospects with satisfied clients can be a great way to give them confidence and put your agency over the top, it can become an inconvenience for your best clients. This is especially true for smaller firms, which have a limited number of clients to offer as references.
There is not a standard solution that works for every agency, so consider the perspectives of both audiences—prospect, and client—when crafting your policy for references. Start by taking proactive steps to reduce the need for prospects to seek them in the first place:
Encourage satisfied clients to share online reviews and recommendations.
Compose client case studies that demonstrate results.
Share your online portfolio of approved client work.
Enhance your website with content that shares insights into your processes and methodologies, expertise, thought leadership, and in-depth profiles of the people behind your agency team.
If a prospect insists on speaking with references, I recommend only providing them if: (1) you are 100 percent convinced you to want them as a client, and (2) you have confirmed they have reached the decision-making stage, and this is the final step before moving forward with the engagement.
In this scenario, do your best to communicate your desired expectations to both parties, both in the request to your client and time suggestions for the prospect.
You want to convey your openness and transparency while demonstrating to the prospect that you value and respect your clients’ time. Your client-reference policy should be flexible. There will always be opportunities that present exceptions to the rule, plus there is always potential value in connecting like-minded professionals.
Do your best throughout the sales process to build confidence and trust, and keep the feelings of both the prospect and your client in mind when faced with this final step.
Agency Sales System Essentials
In its most basic form, a sales funnel consists of leads, prospects, and customers. Agencies need to fill the funnel at the top, nurture in the middle, and convert at the end.
Every agency, no matter its size, can benefit from having a formal system in place to manage its new business development efforts. However, growth in model agencies is driven by the need to attract and retain top talent. So it is important that agencies work to find balance when building their sales systems and plans.
If you grow too quickly, without the proper infrastructure and personnel in place, you run the risk of failing to deliver on promises to clients, stretching account teams too thin, and inflicting irreparable damage to your brand.
Meanwhile, if you struggle to maintain a strong pipeline of qualified leads, you may face difficult challenges that can lead to cash flow crunches, cutbacks, and talent turnover.
The key is to concentrate on creating a sales system that meets your current needs for lead generation and is scalable with your long-term growth goals. Let's start by considering some basic questions relevant to assessing and building your agency sales system. We further explore the following topics in this blog:
What are our top lead sources? Where are your leads coming from now? This may include referrals, service marketplaces, website contact forms, downloadable content, social media, organic search, networking events, paid to advertise, and more. Your agency Inbound Marketing GamePlan should be focused on activities proven to generate the highest quality leads.
How many leads do we generate per month? Know your current lead flow. Based on your conversion rate, are you generating enough leads to sustain growth?
Agency leaders, even if they are not responsible for business development, should have 24/7 access to lead volume and opportunities in order to effectively forecast workflow, staffing needs, and revenue.
What percentage of those are quality leads? Qualified leads, also known as prospects, have appropriate budgets, authority to make purchasing decisions, and the desire to work with your agency.
Unqualified leads, sometimes referred to as suspects, are nothing more than a distraction, pulling valuable agency resources away from more productive activities. If the majority of your leads are low quality, then you may need to revisit your lead sources and how your agency is positioning itself.
How do we rank and prioritize leads? As your lead flow increases, it becomes important to have standard methods to rank or grade your leads. These methods ensure prompt follow-up with high-priority individuals and reduce time spent on less desirable ones.
If you use sophisticated sales software, lead scoring may be a built-in feature. Otherwise, you can develop your own formula based on factors such as referring sources, industry, size, and service needs.
How do we track their progress through the funnel? CRM systems have made it efficient to track and report on leads as they advance through the funnel. Larger agencies with the significant lead flow (and revenue) may rely on higher-end platforms such as Salesforce and SugarCRM, whereas others are able to customize simpler solutions such as Highrise.
The key is to have a reliable platform in which you can post activities, track opportunities/deals and segment leads based on their position in the funnel.
How do we gain intelligence into our leads? If you have the right marketing software, such as HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, or Eloqua, once your leads have completed an online form, you have the ability to determine key data such as pages viewed, number of visits, forms completed, content downloaded, and events they have registered for on your site.
You can even have e-mail alerts sent to your team to notify them when a lead returns to the agency site. All these lead intelligence can be connected to client conversions to give greater insight into the true ROI of your marketing and sales activities.
Who is responsible for lead generation, nurturing, and sales? Whether you designate official titles or take a more informal approach, someone needs to own each element of the funnel.
It is common for the onus to fall on the founder or leadership team in the early growth phases of an agency, but that can become an undue burden as the agency expands and other priorities creep into their daily routines.
Are our salespeople receiving the proper training and education? There is a rare breed of rainmakers who are seemingly born with the innate ability to sell, but most agency personnel will need formal training to excel in this area. Selling is both an art and a science that requires experience, education, and intimate knowledge of the agency.
In order to create a scalable sales system, agencies need to find and groom the right people for the job. We will review core competencies of top salespeople later in this blog.
What are we doing to nurture leads? Adding prospective clients to your agency's monthly e-mail newsletter is not lead nurturing.
Instead, use original content such as blog posts, ebooks, videos, and webinars to deliver value to leads and pull them along through the funnel. Also, evaluate marketing automation solutions, which make it efficient to stay top of mind with prospects.
How efficient and effective are your sales efforts? Do you know how much time it takes to convert a company from lead to client? Or how much new revenue is generated each year from your leads?
You can gain incredible insight into your business development efforts by applying the same time-tracking principles. Enter every lead into your time-tracking platform, and track activities just as you do for clients.
This creates a wealth of information that you can use to assess lead quality, nurturing processes, and the efficiency and performance of your sales team. It also enables you to adapt your Inbound Marketing GamePlan and make more educated marketing investments.
Every agency, no matter its size, can benefit from having a formal system in place to manage its new business development efforts. Concentrate on creating a sales system that meets your current needs for lead generation, and is scalable with your long-term growth goals.
Agency leaders should have 24/7 access to lead volume and opportunities in order to effectively forecast workflow, staffing needs, and revenue. Agencies need a reliable CRM platform in which they can post activities, track opportunities/deals, and segment leads based on their position in the funnel.
Selling is both an art and a science, which requires experience and education, as well as an intimate knowledge of the agency. You are always selling. You are selling an idea, vision, service, agency brand, personal brand, and believe that your firm is more capable and qualified than the next one.
Your account teams are your most valuable salespeople. Their performance, behavior, and ability to build strong client relationships determine if an account stays or goes and whether clients provide referrals and testimonials.
Tech-savvy agencies are able to gather and leverage lead intelligence at every stage of the funnel and use that information to enhance their nurturing efforts and dramatically improve conversion rates.
Defining and building marketing and sales strategies around buyer personas enables agencies to better target communications and content while improving lead generation and conversion.
The agency that comes to the table more prepared and confident, and demonstrates a greater understanding of the leads business, has an immediate advantage over the competition.
You can consistently earn referrals by keeping your agency in the minds of current clients and building a reputation based on proven performance, loyalty, honesty, and innovation.