B2B Articles - May 25, 2023
By Omar Sofradzija, Content Specialist
At first blush, working with a B2B lead generation agency might seem like working with a typical B2B marketing group. But it’s not.
The relationship, methods, and outcomes between lead gen teams and traditional marketers differ fundamentally. Clients who know and understand those differences can unlock ROI and growth solutions like valuable metrics, and new opportunities, not just a witty catchphrase and the ambiguous and subjective “quality” content everyone promises.
To highlight those critical differentiators, Ironpaper content specialist Omar Sofradzija picked the brains of Associate Director Hannah Emme and Account Director Jessica Phillps to break down what approaches and benefits clients should expect when working with a B2B lead generation agency, in general, and in comparison a traditional marketing agency.
Lead generation is simply a means to an end and not the end product itself. The goal should be to grow your operation by optimizing opportunities through sales and marketing teams engaging your customers — not just boosting meaningless marketing metrics.
That also means more than just finding leads. “We’re following that lead from start to finish. We don’t just hand them off to the client and go about our business,” Jessica says. “And we’re really diving into the full user journey and really emphasizing that, start to finish. Sometimes that does include help on the sales side or training of their sales team and things of that nature … we’re helping them grow.”
Lead gen efforts should take a broad-cross-silo view of pain points, value points, and more to create difference-making growth solutions that can be quantified.
Collaboration is central to effective and efficient lead gen work. It shouldn’t be an empty phrase. A lead gen agency is a fuel additive that turbocharges your operation. That means it must blend with your teams to make them (and their outcomes) better. Likewise, you can't just delegate and disappear.
“We’re really here to be strategic partners as an extension of their team and not just a digital marketing agency that’s creating emails and handing them off or creating a campaign and then launching it out into space,” says Hannah. “There is a consistent relationship that we’re building around the direct relationship with the client and with the work that we’re doing with them.”
Agencies may use agile approaches that break projects into stages to allow continuous improvement through efficient and ongoing feedback. That ensures constant alignment with business goals and between agency and client. Even if an agency doesn’t use agile or SCRUM methods, they constantly return to the data to iterate as they go.
“They should expect us to communicate with them from start to finish of a project and open up the conversation for feedback and alignment at some point within the process,” Jessica says. “So if it’s writing a content offer, we would provide them maybe with an outline first to make sure we’ve hit all of the key elements that we want to talk about. And we align with them on that before we move on to the next step.”
Your business isn’t a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter operation. Lead-gen efforts shouldn’t be, either.
“We’re not applying the same strategy or approach to any of our clients,” Jessica says. “There are a lot of agencies that do that: you sign on with them, and they literally roll out the same five things for every single client.”
That’s a formula for an ill-fitting suit. Instead, a lead gen agency should get out measuring tape and size things up before offering a detailed plan based on your and your customers’ particular pain points, value points, opportunities, and challenges. “Trying to be as specific and tailored in our approach as possible to fit the specific needs of that client, I think that’s what’s the most important,” adds Jessica.
For lead gen to truly work, it must be informed by what you know about who you are, what you do, and who you serve. Jessica notes that some legwork must be done in taking a deep dive into your business.
“We will ask a lot of questions, we will test a lot of things, and ultimately decide collaboratively with the client what works best and what provides the ideal outcome,” says Jessica, adding there will be “layers we want to uncover” about a client: “All that goes back to trying to make ourselves as much of an expert as quickly as possible” by leveraging your knowledge.
Along the way, Hannah says, “We’re going to probably challenge some of their assumptions about what their business needs.” Why? Jessica says, “If we feel like something is not going to drive that growth, then it’s our job and our responsibility to let [clients] know that.”
But those vetoes should have a rationale attached. “We might not always say ‘yes,’ but it’s because we have a big picture in mind, and that’s something we develop with them so that the goals are aligned,” says Hannah. “It’s about having your requests challenged in a way that picks it apart and gets to the meat of what’s actually valuable.”
This is the flip side of being questioned: your thoughts matter, and your lead gen agency should actively seek them out.
“Ultimately, the client is the expert in their line of work, their product or service, whatever it may be. And we’re the expert in growth marketing,” Hannah says. “And I definitely see the best success when that partnership involves them sharing information that we might be able to find on our own, but our team doing the same. And that goes back to not just being production-oriented or saying ‘yes’ all the time.”
A lead gen agency is “trying to make ourselves as much of an expert as quickly as possible,” Jessica says. “That means sometimes finding the holes in their businesses or finding where the major gaps are, and how we can insert ourselves to bridge those gaps.” That starts with sharing what you know.
A lead gen agency should seek sustained growth and not just one-off wins. To build and track success over the long term, a lead gen team benefits significantly from a tech stack that centralizes data and measures and analyzes sales/marketing/customer interactions.
“It’s important that the client understands that they have to have the right tools,” Hannah says, such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system like HubSpot that’s rich in real-time data collection that sales and marketing teams use in their day-to-day tasks.
“In general, just that they have something centralized for marketing, to be able to run their efforts out of and to put everything back into that central platform, so that we can actually drive the results that they want to and we want to, and to make those connections and insights,” Hannah says.
An optimal lead gen process is iterative. While launching initiatives and gathering data, lead gen teams need to adjust the details to optimize outcomes and extract lessons from both wins and losses.
“We learn from failure as much as we learn from success, if not more,” says Hannah.
As a result, there should be an ongoing, interconnected evolution in just about everything: campaigns, mediums, messaging, and audiences. The intention is to discover and develop opportunities along the way through supported data. Even if an initial effort works well, testing will provide data ensuring it wasn’t a fluke.
When you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life, or so goes the old refrain. Likewise, a lead gen team drives better results when they care about what you do and who you serve. So, an agency should express a clear understanding that they’re about empowering real people – in this case, businesspeople and their customers – and not simply anonymous incorporated entities and demographics. “We’re human” cannot be an empty cliche.
Some agencies can “feel robotic, or they only care about the relationship to the extent of what is outlined in their contract to accomplish,” Hannah says. “I truly think it matters that when we say we are human, we mean it. We care about our clients, the people, and the business. And we listen … we’re not just here to fulfill a media buy and send you the recording or whatever the case may be.”
A lead gen team’s ability to truly build relationships with their clients can empower extra effort (and results) driven by passion. “Caring for clients often affects how we show up for our clients and find that solution stack that fits best for them,” says Jessica. “Because it’s not one-size-fits-all, it‘s not always easy. But we have a great group of people who are not only intelligent but proactive, but they care. All of these characteristics we try to uphold in hiring have a lot to do with it as well, in how we build those relationships with our clients.”
A solid lead gen agency won't just do the aforementioned “quality” work. They’ll also quantify what makes it work for you by providing regular reporting and metrics that align with stated business goals. KPIs can take many forms, including:
“We will always be sharing results that ladder up to the goals that were set with the client,” Jessica says, whether it’s informally during regular client calls or in specialized formal slide deck presentations. “For any partnership, we are regularly sharing metrics. The insights and action items that could be derived from those insights are even more important than that.”
That means “we’re not going to launch a campaign and then wait two weeks to show results,” says Hannah, adding that lead gen clients should expect to get updates soon after a campaign starts. “As soon as we start collecting data, we have something to look at and something to start getting takeaways from and creating insights out of. The results they can expect are in smaller steps because that allows us to build more quickly.”
Ultimately, all the questions, data collection and sortation, and lead gen opportunities are about better knowing how to get the most out of your business by doing the most for the right customers. While lead generation provides near-term tactical sales windows, the knowledge collected along the way allows for strategic and data-informed decision-making on how to impact your market best going forward.
Jessica says, “If you truly lean in, expect to learn much more than you currently know about your audience.”
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