Think back to the last 12 months in your agency. Do you remember how many clients you brought on during this time? Maybe you don’t know the exact number, but try to think of approximately how many clients your agency signed in the past 12 months.
Now try to remember where the majority of those clients came from – your main customer acquisition channel.
Today, we’re going to be diving into the various channels modern agencies are using to bring in new projects, and the pros and cons of each.
It’s no secret, referrals have long been the largest customer acquisition channel for a majority of agencies since the agency model began. So much so in fact, that most agencies don’t even attempt to do anything to bring in new customers, instead just waiting on new referrals to come in. While referrals are great though, they aren’t without their downsides.
Pros – Referrals can be the easiest sale you’ve ever made. Usually when someone comes to you on referral, they already know what they want, and they already trust you based on the recommendation they received about you. A sales call from a referral can be unlike a sales call at all – it’s usually just for them to do some due diligence on your company, explain the scope of the project and ensure the budget fits. Agencies without dedicated salespeople are often even more reliant on referrals as they believe they don’t have the time or energy on the team to devote to bringing in new sales outside of referrals.
Cons – While referrals are the easiest deals to close, they often can be the most scarce type of leads to come by. While some agencies have advanced referral systems, many simply wait until a new referral comes in before they have a shot at signing a new client. The problems here are obvious – waiting on referrals to arrive to you means you have no control over when you land a new client or how many you’ll be able to win. If you find yourself in a situation of needing to sign a new client within the next 45 days, you’re making a big gamble hoping someone is just going to send you a good referral in that time. It’s also a pretty unpredictable way to grow a company since you can’t influence when the referrals come. You can always go out and ask current and previous clients for referrals, but you can only do that so many time before you annoy them.
Lots of agencies, particularly those offering PPC management services have considered running Adwords and Facebook ads campaigns for their agencies. These would be the best and most knowledgeable people to run such campaigns, but even then a lot of them still struggle. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
Pros – PPC campaigns allow you to laser-target your ideal prospects in a way that isn’t really possible with other methods. If you’re looking for say, CEOs in Chicago between the ages of 30 and 40, then you’re going to find a whole lot of people who match who you’re looking for. You can display relevant ads to them, and hope they become interested in your service. There really isn’t a better way to target people by their interests.
Cons – This is potentially the most lopsided Pro/Con list, with paid search favoring the con side of things. It’s no secret that paid search tends to work much better B2C than it does B2B. Whether you choose Facebook ads or Adwords as platform, it’s very likely that your cost per click (or however you’re defining the billing) will be quite high, especially when compared to your return. That’s not to say that you can’t make a return here – just that you can easily spend a lot, and not be as likely to actually attract new customers with this method. We aren’t saying that this method can’t work at all, but that you’d be better off optimizing your other customer acquisition channels before spending your resources on this one.
Content Marketing/Inbound Marketing
A few years ago, content marketing was one of the biggest buzzwords in internet marketing. Everyone was shouting from the rooftops that content marketing was one of the most important things to any business in the modern age. The buzz around it all has died down a bit but content marketing remains as one of the best ways to attract new customers….as long as you’re patient.
Pros – Having a great content strategy is an excellent way to build trust with your potential customers before you even have your first direct interaction with them. People who approach you about your services already have an inherent interest, and people knowing a bit about your company means you don’t need to spend as much time earning their trust. An expertly strategized content marketing plan also helps to address objections your customers may have, before they even think of them. If you’ve ever spent way too long on a sales call with a prospect due to objections on things they just didn’t fully understand, you’ll begin to love your inbound leads more than all the others.
Cons – There’s two major cons with this strategy and both of them involve time. The first is time to create all that content – it’s difficult! Even for fast and prolific writers, coming up with an endless supply of topics, editing, formatting and publishing everything can take a really long time. Additionally, going from 0 to 1 with content marketing can feel excruciatingly long. It’s not uncommon for companies to spend 6-12 months writing and publishing content every week before they begin to see their efforts pay off. When it does though, it’s often enough for them to lay off their other channels a bit and keep focusing their efforts on their content.
Outbound Lead Generation
Outbound lead generation is nothing new, but it’s gaining popularity again in the past few years with the introduction of new tools to help make reaching out to cold prospects even easier. Many people are averse to outbound lead generation, thinking it’s just spam. While you can certainly do outbound leadgen that counts as spam, you can also run great campaigns that provide value to your prospects. Just like everything else here, it has its own list of pros and cons to consider.
Pros – Outbound leadgen (cold email, Linkedin outreach etc) can be one of the fastest ways to making sales for a new or growing company. It’s not uncommon for people to run a cold email campaign and to have signed a client within a month. Given that most sales cycles are usually a month on the short end, it means it’s the fastest way to get in contact with your ideal prospects. With outbound, you also have an essentially unlimited number of prospects at your disposal. In the off-chance that you do run out, you can always just switch targets and instantly have hundreds of thousands of new prospects in front of you to reach out to.
Cons – Simply put, running these kinds of campaigns can be very complicated, with lots of moving pieces and things to be aware of that aren’t always well published. For example, there’s several additional types of authentication you need to set up when running campaigns via email, and some very strict guidelines to follow when running campaigns on LinkedIn. To make things more complicated, Google and LinkedIn often update their algorithms, and we know of several people who have had their accounts compromised. You can of course stay up to date with these changes to stay ahead of them, but unless you’re running dozens of these campaigns for clients, it can be very tough to stay current in this industry. It can also be VERY difficult to remain consistent with your campaigns, as they take quite a lot of manpower to run correctly, even with all the tools out there now to help.
So what’s the takeaway then? What should I focus on?
From our work with dozens of other agencies, here is what we’ve found to be the best combination of strategies to create a comprehensive plan to ensure you’re never short on clients again.
First, don’t ignore any referrals that come in, but immediately get out of the mindset that this should be your biggest driver of new business. Second, get an outbound lead generation campaign started immediately, to a list of your best prospects, with a targeted message. While your outbound campaigns are running, you should be starting your content marketing strategy to have your leads coming to you inbound. And once all this is set up and in place, if you want to experiment with paid search, then have at it.
The result is that you still can manage to talk with new referrals coming in, but you also have a steady stream of interested new customers coming in from your outbound leadgen campaigns. After around 6 months of your content marketing strategy being in effect, you should start to see some real payoff from this, to the point where you’re receiving more leads that are easier to close than from your outbound lead generation campaigns.
Most companies currently struggling with their sales numbers don’t realize they are only about 6 months away from having a reliable and repeatable process for bringing in new customers. Most know they need to be investing in getting more leads coming to them, but don’t have the time to wait for inbound to start working – which is exactly why we recommend bridging the gap with outbound in the meantime.
This isn’t just a theory of ours though – it’s something we’ve seen happen time and time again as we’ve helped our clients do exactly this. If you think you could use some help breaking out of the feast and famine cycle, and being over-reliant on referrals, we can help. Feel free to book a call on my calendar so you can explain to me the struggles you’re currently having.