Professional services firms have been relatively slow to adopt online lead generation techniques. It’s not surprising given that many commonly used online lead strategies such as contests or sweepstakes are simply inappropriate for many professional services firms and their clients.

Further, many professionals still hold the mistaken belief that the only way to generate new client leads is through referrals and networking. Hello… the world is changing! A new model of business development is already generating significant flows of qualified leads for many professional services firms. 

What is Online Lead Generation?

Online lead generation is a collection of online tactics designed to draw interest and ultimately business development conversations to your business. There are a vast number of online tactics that your team can deploy, many of which we will cover in this post. The key to effective online lead generation is a deep understanding of your target audience’s interests and more importantly, pain points. When those are fully understood, it becomes more clear which strategies you should focus on.

Online Lead Generation Techniques that Work

Like traditional lead generation, the new model is founded on demonstrating expertise and building trusting relationships — but these goals are accomplished online. While online marketing will continue to evolve, here are ten proven lead generation techniques that are working for professional services firms today.

1. Search Engine Optimization

Many potential clients want to learn how to solve the challenges they face. If a prospect is even remotely computer literate (and these days what executive doesn’t have a computer or a smart phone?) one of the first things they do is Google their question, problem or issue. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) gives you the tools to match qualified clients with your online content. And if you play your cards right, you’ll end up on their short list when they are looking to purchase services.

2. Pay Per Click Advertising

Another proven way to get on your prospects’ radar is to buy your way onto search engine results pages for relevant keywords. This technique gives you greater control over the keywords with which you want to be associated. As the name implies you only pay when someone clicks on your link. Many times, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) leads are of higher quality because the potential client is often searching for a specific solution. In addition, PPC is completely trackable and typically less expensive than traditional print advertising. That’s an attractive combination.

3. Lead Generating Website

Most professional services websites are not designed to generate leads. As a matter of fact many are almost “anti-lead generators.” Jargon-filled, firm-centric website abound in the professional services — and they are completely passive and unhelpful. If visitors do not understand what you do or what problems you can solve for them, they will go elsewhere. Contrast this with a lead generating website that is designed to make it easy for clients to understand your value proposition, download valuable information and request a proposal. The impact on online lead generation can be dramatic.

4. Online Networking

I could have called this technique “social media,” but I wanted to make a point. The essence of social media is not which platform you choose. It’s the quality and reach of the networking you do. While the style of interaction may vary greatly from Twitter to LinkedIn to Facebook, it is still about making the right connections with the right people. Online networking can produce the reputation and referrals associated with traditional business networking. Expect to get results in proportion to the level of your investment of time and attention.

5. Webinars

A webinar is the online equivalent of a seminar or other educational event. The lead generating webinar is typically offered free of charge. Because it requires registration, you can collect basic information on a session’s attendees. Like its offline cousin, a webinar should be educational — not a thinly-veiled sales pitch. The key to a successful webinar is to select topics that are of great interest and value to your ideal target client. Over time, attendees come to trust your firm and will be likely to consider you when they have a relevant need.

6. Industry Research Reports

A proven online lead generating strategy is to offer executive summaries or full research reports on the industries you serve. You benefit in two ways. First, these documents are an excellent lead generator. Second, they boost your credibility and strengthen you online brand. Be sure your research topics are of exceptional interest to your target client group. In addition, these research studies can be an excellent vehicle for partnering with a trade association or a noncompeting firm to reduce your marketing cost and increase your credibility.

7. Online Marketing Videos

Video is everywhere today, and for good reason. It is an ideal marketing medium for professional services firms. Nothing builds credibility like a flagship client explaining how your firm solved their problem. It’s almost like automating the referral process. Video can be used to present your firm, explain complex services or introduce your team. In each of these roles, video can play an important lead generating and lead nurturing function.

8. White Papers or e-Books

One of the most common online lead generating techniques, white papers can establish credibility and generate qualified leads. You can offer the white paper on your website (either available free or behind a registration screen), or you can distribute it through third-party services. White papers also make great pay-per-click offers. A variation on the white paper is the e-book. Typically longer than a white paper, it serves a similar function. If you e-book goes into great depth on a subject, it can generate a great deal of buzz and establish your reputation.

9. Email newsletter

If your email newsletter offers high-quality, educational content, you can generate a significant number of new leads when people sign up. And your e-newsletter is a great way to nurture the existing leads on your list. Many firms also use newsletters to announce new services and make specific offers. To build your subscriber list, offer a free newsletter subscription on your website or in your email signature block. Just remember, the better your content, the more people will read it and remember  you — and the less likely it will be deemed spam.

10. Blogging

I left blogging for last because of its unique role in online lead generation. To be honest, blogs don’t generate a lot of direct leads. But blogging is probably the most effective driver of leads to your website. Because a blog allows you to create a wide range of keyword-laden content that can be found in the search engines, it can draw a lot of qualified prospects to your website (this assumes that you host your blog on your website — which I strongly recommend). You can further promote your blog posts on LinkedIn. Without a blog, your SEO efforts will be handicapped.

These ten online lead generation techniques alone could become the cornerstone of a robust marketing plan. Add in traditional marketing tactics, such as face-to-face networking and tradeshow marketing (if appropriate), and you have a formidable strategy for building preference in the marketplace. Online marketing and traditional marketing make a powerful combination.

Lead Generation Tools

Using lead generation tools can provide a number of benefits for B2B firms. One of the most significant benefits is that these tools can help businesses reach out to a wider audience and generate more leads. By using tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator or HubSpot, businesses can identify potential clients based on specific criteria and then create targeted marketing campaigns that resonate with these prospects. This can result in a higher conversion rate and ultimately, more sales.

Another key benefit of using lead generation tools is that they can help businesses save time and resources. Without these tools, businesses would need to manually search for potential clients, create marketing campaigns from scratch, and manage all of the data associated with these efforts. By using lead generation tools, businesses can automate many of these tasks, which frees up time and resources that can be devoted to other areas of the business. Additionally, lead generation tools often provide valuable analytics and reporting features that allow businesses to track the effectiveness of their campaigns and adjust their strategies as needed.

B2B Lead Generation

While the goal of lead generation is the same for B2B and B2C businesses – to attract prospective buyers and convert them into paying customers – there are several key differences in how the two types of businesses approach lead generation.

One of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C lead generation is the audience being targeted.  Because the target audiences between B2B and B2C firms are different, it’s clear that the messaging and tactics used in their lead generation efforts should be different, as well. B2B businesses may focus on creating content that speaks to the needs and pain points of their buyers, while B2C businesses may focus on creating more emotional or aspirational messaging that resonates with individual consumers. Conducting research on your target market is a helpful way to make sure that your lead generation messages are on point.

Another difference between B2B and B2C lead generation is the length of the sales cycle. In general, the sales cycle for B2B firms is longer than for B2C firms, ranging anywhere from two to 12+ months. Because B2B purchases often involve more stakeholders, more complex decision-making processes, and higher price points, it often takes longer for decisions to be made.  As a result, B2B lead generation efforts may need to focus more on building relationships and providing value over time, rather than simply making a quick sale.

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