By Sarah Aboulhosn
Marketers are busier than ever. Every new season brings new trends and projections for what channels, platforms, and mediums will produce the highest conversions and be the next big thing in lead generation.
As the means for generating leads changes, the conversion process is also changing. This is causing companies, and most of all marketing agencies, to reassess how they capture and convert leads. Marketers have to find new ways to build relationships and nurture prospects to gain their trust. Businesses are being more selective about which agencies they choose to work with and are taking into consideration things like personalized service, audience segmentation, and how they are a cultural fit within the agency.
Internally, agencies are coming up with new strategies to secure their own leads and fill their pipeline with quality prospects that are a cultural and fundamental match to their brand. On the client side, agencies have become more creative to help their clients come up with fresh new strategies to secure leads that are qualified and convert—even the biggest agencies go through a lot of trial and error before figuring out the most effective practices in finding new clients.
So how exactly are marketing agencies identifying new clients in an ever-changing market? To find out, we asked 17 leaders at top marketing agencies what they consider to be the best practices of lead generation, their favorite approaches to lead generation, and how these strategies impact their overall marketing strategy. Whether it be for themselves or their clients, there are always new techniques and creative avenues to consider when trying to generate high quality leads that convert.
Global B2B events organizer
It’s important to approach lead generation from an integrated perspective and intertwining inbound and outbound marketing strategies reduces the reliance on the delivery mechanism, explains Mary Wallace, UBM’s director of marketing technology.
“With changing search algorithms, relying on just inbound marketing is a recipe for disaster,” she says. “At the same time—outbound marketing is subject to escalating stringencies in email deliverability and demands both high quantity and quality of content to make an impact.”
Wallace believes the key is to focus on leads and their needs. “At the start of the journey, understand what the need is and continue the conversation through nurture campaigns and events, positioning your company as the best possible solution for that need,” she says.
Subscription-based outsourced marketing services
RSM Marketing’s strategy involves brand engagement, which includes SEO and social media content designed to attract people to their website, and email marketing campaigns that create a funnel to the website.
According to Steve Howard, director of brand engagement, “We drive most of our advertising, social media, and email traffic to a landing page that captures leads. What’s most effective is when all of these strategies are working together to point to one call to action. Usually, these different channels reach different audiences, so it really expands our reach, while helping to still meet one common goal across channels.”
Growth services agency
New York, N.Y.
Ladder.io implements a full funnel analysis and utilizes the “7 Pillars of Growth Hacking,” according to Ed Plotts, director of growth. The seven pillars, which are optimization, traction, product/market fit, listening to your market, measurement, team, and mindset, come down to optimizing systems and processes that address a weakness in the current system and work to fill those gaps. It relies heavily on continual ideation, prioritization, testing, and analyzing.
“We look at our entire funnel, from Google Analytics to social media, find weak and strong points in the data, and decide where to attack to show the strongest returns. We scale up the strong points and determine how to best segment our channels and content pieces to reach their ideal audience,” says Plotts.
The agency also priorities branding and messaging and how it positions itself and the work it does for clients. “Ladder has had a lot of success in shifting how we present our messaging. Rather than positioning ourselves as an agency, we saw a spike in leads when we began identifying ourselves as a client’s ‘growth team,’” says Plotts. “It really resonates with people to know that we are working with them to help them grow, rather than just being an outsourced part of their strategy.”
Higher education marketing services for colleges and universities
Up&Up Agency has a unique take on lead generation in its belief that authentic branding is the most effective way to drive lead generation.
“In our experience, lead generation companies check the box and get a bunch of leads, which may be a fit for the institution, but often times, are not. Our approach starts at the brand level,” says CEO Adam Landrum. “Our perspective is the brand should be authentic, and because it’s authentic, it will be unique.”
Once Up&Up positions clients’ brands by building brand awareness in the marketplace. Campaigns range from traditional outdoor and out-of-home media to digital marketing, SEO, and AdWords.
Says Landrum: “The result is not just more students, but more of the right students that end up being a better culture fit. This ends up increasing student retention, alumni engagement, and alumni who want to give back to the community.”
The James Agency
Full-service advertising & marketing agency
The James Agency approaches lead generation by first defining the audience and then creating messaging that leads conversions.
“After we identify and segment our audience, we analyze that information in a meaningful way, and assign value to each lead to determine which leads are the most valuable to our clients,” explains Doug Loback, senior digital strategist. “Paid search is the most successful and interesting method we use. It has an almost immediate impact on lead generation, and it’s also a great tactic to attract new leads that might have not otherwise found your site.”
Digital marketing agency
August generates the majority of its leads from referrals from previous work, speaking engagements, and by being an industry thought leader.
“We don’t position ourselves as technical developers, but as a strategy and design firm that happens to do tech really well,” says Zoe Warne, co-founder and director of creative services. “We’ve found a lot of success generating leads by promoting case studies and the great work we’ve done for our clients. It helps a lot when we highlight great customer stories on our website, as well as in our speaking engagements.”
Catapult New Business
Agency business development firm
Jason Howell, vice president of sales at Catapult New Business, believes in a 360-degree approach to lead generation. He says, “We’re focused on direct outreach, and we work with clients to increase their qualified opportunities by putting together strategic plans that make sense for companies with a high volume of outreach.”
Youtech & Associates
Integrated marketing and development agency
Youtech & Associates’ approach to lead generation is based on a customized approach designed for each client and their specific needs. “Typically, if it’s a new company, we’ll want to focus on brand awareness and marketing ROI. Over time we’ll ramp up the efforts to increase ROI, so that they see a good return in the future,” explains Michael Norris, vice president of marketing.
According to Norris, one thing that works across a variety of industries is SEO. “We’ve been able to generate leads from optimizing content and searchability for most of our clients across the board. It’s a strategy that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” he says.
Digital marketing agency
CRISP takes a unique and interesting approach to lead generation. “We’re focused on two main audiences: Google and humans,” explains company president Brent Barbour. “For Google to serve the human experience, you have to be mindful of winning Google over first. Our approach capitalizes on SEO to use Google to get human traffic to our sites to generate a lead.”
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Digital strategy agency
Cameron Gawley, CEO and co-founder of Buzzshift, shares a common strategy his agency has noticed when driving warm leads to their site. “If you look at agencies and brands, a lot of them use paid media and creative strategies to help grow their brand. We’ve noticed that a common strategy among agencies is to drive warm leads from prospecting, a strategy that has changed a lot recently thanks to Facebook and Instagram,” he explains. “Having a core digital strategy in place, independent of any one channel is where it starts.”
According to Gawley, Buzzshift’s most successful lead generation campaigns depend on how content is distributed and how it drives people in. “Content needs to have a clear focus and call to action to make a real impact. Successful brands are figuring out how to connect with the right people at the right time in their customer journey by adding value upfront and selling later. Things like information videos and content at the top of the funnel will really help fuel the customer journey.”
Media and social agency
New York, N.Y.
DRUM Agency typically approaches lead generation from a media agnostic point of view. “We do a lot of customer research, gather insight about our target audience, build out specific segments, and understand the personas of who we are targeting,” explains David Randolph, Chief Strategy Officer at Drum Agency.
DRUM has also relied on old school, non-digital methods like direct mail to avoid email spamming and to scale a single message to attract millions of people within their audience at once.
Randolph says, “We make it a rule to try different tactics on a few platforms to maximize our efforts—especially on social media. It’s unrealistic to target all of the channels, so we try to do two of them really well and concentrate our efforts where we’re seeing results.”
Digital media advertising
San Francisco, Calif.
Mediasmith has made it a priority to increase awareness of the company to benefit its long-term lead generation strategy. “We want to get to a place where we’re attracting leads who already know who our company is when they’re exposed to us. Through content marketing, writing about issues within the industry and trying to set a standard within in the industry, we’re hoping to establish ourselves as thought leaders,” explains CEO and founder David L. Smith. “About 75% of our new business comes from people who approach us after having been exposed to our content or hearing us speak at an event, so our strategy seems to be working.”
“In our world, lead generation starts with providing our customers with a service, not imposing another software tool that they might have to learn,” says Bob Fabbio, company founder and CEO.
That’s why eRelevance has built a tech service that flips the ordinary lead generating model. Customers tell the agency whom they want to market to, the agency finds out what customer prospects care about by using a tool that leverages analytics, and then content gets personalized on digital channels and leads are generated.
“We’re not helping our customers find new leads, but rather taking their customer database and driving more demand from their customers to their prospects, and then nurturing and stimulating those prospects they have existing relationships with,” explains Fabbio.
Digital marketing agency
It’s a valuable asset to be able to rely on referrals and word-of-mouth as the majority of your lead generation, and comOn Group has been able to leverage its referral strategy and use it as its main source of new client acquisitions. However, when it comes to clients, it relies more on performance-based generation through advertising.
“For some our clients, we do projects related to lead generation and performance through omnichannel experiences,” explains Margarida Forte, communications manager. “We optimize our clients’ websites, apps, and help them build their brands and achieve their overall marketing goals.”
Modo Modo Agency
Advertising and marketing agency
When developing a lead generation strategy for clients, no two approaches are the same. Modo Modo Agency takes a channel agnostic approach that starts with an understanding of a client’s desired business outcomes. From there, the agency tries to learn as much as possible about the target customers and where they are engaged in the market. The information they find ultimately enables them to define a more successful lead gen approach.
“We’ve developed lead gen campaigns for clients that take many shapes—from highly targeted high-impact dimensional mailers to broader industry thought-leadership campaigns to integrated brand activations that have lead gen as an end-state objective,” says Jennifer Close, director of account services. “Whatever the mechanism, we work with our clients to capture and grow their market by putting market before marketing.”
B2B marketing and lead generation
St. Louis, Mo.
Engaging your audiences online through valuable content is the lifeblood of a good digital marketing strategy. While some agencies are amping up their content marketing with written, thought leadership articles, some agencies, like LinkedSelling, have found success incorporating video and webinars into their strategy as a way to provide value to their audience.
“For the past few years, our main source for leads has been by consistently hosting webinars. We get about 6,000 to 7,000 opt-ins per webinar, and generate interest for the event through paid ads on Facebook and Linkedin,” explains Ben Kniffen, president and COO.
By targeting business owners, entrepreneurs, founders, and other top decision makers, and educating them on the power of Linkedin to grow their businesses, the company has been able to convert webinar attendees into leads and later clients by continuing to offer value after the webinar. “We use the webinars to educate people as much as possible, and then ask if they want to sign up for a coaching call to continue the educational process,” says Kniffen.
Global digital marketing
From an SEO standpoint, some agencies look to drive relevant traffic to their clients’ websites that are highly likely to generate conversions. Search Laboratory balances creativity with science by combining PR strategies, content marketing, and link acquisition with data-driven technical recommendations for clients’ sites.
“The best and most successful campaigns are the ones that successfully combine these two approaches,” says Daniel Yeo, head of media and online relations. “The first thing that any client needs to succeed is a bespoke strategy, tailored towards their goals. Only once that part is sorted do we really start to focus on the creative side.”
Lead generation continues to evolve
As digital marketing trends come and go, lead generation is evolving from standard, generic tactics for list building into hyper personalized strategies that reach specific audience segments and focus on adding value to companies’ target audiences. Companies are working to create one-of-a-kind strategies that directly impact their clients’ goals and help them identify leads that are a qualified and a genuine fit for their organization.