Generating a sufficient number of qualified leads is a top concern for most professional services executives. Often the whole process can seem unpredictable, even random. You invest time and money and have little to show for it.
Some firms, however, have a steady flow of qualified leads that result in prime clients. One of the key differences is that these high growth firms have a well crafted plan. And the centerpiece of that plan is a structured lead generation process.
The Lead Generation Process Defined
A lead generation process describes how you identify, nurture and qualify potential new clients — culminating eventuall in a request for proposal.
In many firms, the lead generation process is a marketing function, while closing the sale is the responsibility of a sales team or the professionals who will provide the service. In other firms, the lead generation process and closing the sale are the combined responsibility of firm principals or partners.
While the terminonology varies across industries, the process ususally has three fundamental components:
- Generating the “raw” lead
- Nurturing the lead
- Qualifying the lead
As you are designing your own lead generation process, you will need to consider all three. Many firms stumble because they neglect one of the three. So here's how to craft a well balanced plan:
1. Start by identifying your target client
The biggest stumbling block here is being overly broad. The broader and less specific you are, the more difficult it will be to generate qualified leads. Try to identify industry, firm size and the particular type of issue you are best prepared to solve. You do not have to identify all possible targets, only the ones you are best suited to help. Focus on your best target clients. The marginal ones will come along for the ride.
2. Research your target client group
Most firms want to skip this step, but that makes what comes later more difficult. Try to learn as much as you can about the challenges and concerns faced by your target audience, the language they use to describe these challenges, where they turn for help, and what their expectations and questions are.
3. Establish your qualifying criteria
How do you know when a lead is fully qualified? Some firms look for budget or perhaps the prospect's need for a specific service. Other firms are more interested in a prospect's psychological readiness. For example, are they frustrated with their current service provider? If you are not sure what your criteria should be, try looking at your history of current clients. What characteristics were shared by your best clients?
4. Determine your lead nurturing sequence
What if you uncover a firm that would be a perfect client but is not yet ready for your service? Consider what sort of information might they be interested in today that would set them up to be a client in the future? How can you began to establish trust and build rapport? Many firms overlook this critical component of the lead generation process. Common lead nurturing approaches to move early-stage prospects through the pipeline are e-newsletters and webinars. Different kinds of information are useful at different stages of the buying process. If you don't understand those needs, you have not done adequate research.
5. Identify traditional, offline techniques
What techniques have been successful with your client group. Here are some common candidates for your list:
- Trade shows
- Direct mail
- Industry networking events
- Advertising in trade publications
- Speaking engagements
- Articles, white papers and books
- Cold calling
Try to estimate costs and effectiveness. Your research should guide you if you have done it right.
6. Identify online (digital) techniques
While less traditional, these techniques are gaining ground rapidly. Often less expensive, they have offsetting benefits and shortcomings when combined with traditional approaches. Here are a few to consider:
- Lead generating website
- Search engine optimization(SEO)
- Pay per click advertising (PPC)
- Online white papers, ebooks, kits and guides
- Online networking (social media)
- Online video
- email marketing
7. Put tracking mechanisms in place
How will you know if your lead generation process is working? The only way to know for sure is to track a few key variables. Fortunately the tracking can be automated (at least for the online components). Even if you need to manually track some data (such as people you meet at a networking event), most contemporary CRM systems make the process relatively simple. What is most important to track? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Track lead generation activities. These are the things you do to generate and nurture leads.
- Track the costs associated with each activity (this will be useful below).
- Track the number of leads generated by each activity (many will generate few leads)
- Calculate the cost per lead for each activity
- Track leads that convert to proposals for each activity (conversion percentage)
- Track proposals that convert into clients (closing percentage) for each lead source
- Calculate the cost per client for each source
This set of variables will allow you to evaluate your lead generation process. Don't be surprised if you see some leads being touched by multiple techniques. This is very common. You may find that some techniques are very valuable in nurturing prospects — for instance, your e-newsletter or blog — even if they are not generating brand new leads.
When you have designed the lead generation process don't neglect to document it. A formal plan will clarify your goals and approach. It will also help you evaluate how well the plan was executed and ultimately how to make it better. It is just too easy to conclude that a technique doesn't work when the real problem is that you didn't fully implement it.
Without a plan and a data collection system, it is also very easy to cling to tactics that no longer work. Yellow pages anyone?
Follow these seven key steps and your chances of generating qualified leads that turn into profitable clients are greatly improved. For additional inspiration and ideas, check out the lead generation guide below.