If your consulting firm had more leads, you’d close more projects. Therefore, investing in lead-generation activities and programs seems logical for your consulting firm, right? Maybe. Let me share what my team and I have learned.
Every day, consulting firm leaders much like you tell me that lead generation is their number one obstacle to growth.
Sharon, for instance, one of two founding partners at an operations strategy consulting firm, asserted to me last week, “We need more leads at the top of our business development funnel.”
“Almost all our business comes from personal relationships, and that’s not sustainable,” Sharon continued. “Thought leadership marketing is unreliable and too slow. We need leads. Once we’re in front of a prospect, we almost always close them.”
Sound anything like you and your consulting firm?
Over the past year, my firm experimented with some of the lead generation approaches that are frequently promoted to firms like yours and mine.
You know the ones: they promise to produce huge amounts of business through LinkedIn campaigns, automated email sequences, scripted outreaches, free chocolate sundaes, and so forth. They don’t depend on carefully nurtured relationships or impressive thought leadership.
We’ve learned four essential rules (so far).
4 Essential Lead Generation Rules for Consulting Firms
Rule 1: Cold Outreach Can Generate Leads!
Your well-crafted messaging campaign for email or Linkedin can spark conversations with completely new prospects—contacts with whom your consulting firm had no prior relationship.
Conversations are, of course, the starting point for uncovering and pursuing consulting project opportunities, so this is good news.
Net: Don’t reject cold lead generation efforts immediately. They do have merit.
Rule 2: Expect Long Cycle Times and Low Close Rates
When you attempt to pull in prospects through SEO or you start a cold outreach campaign (a.k.a. lead generation campaign), your close rates will drop precipitously.
Most of the leads you currently close start as warm contacts and they’re well-qualified. You’re winning business from people who already know you or are referred to you. They trust you to some degree when you step into the business development journey with them.
In contrast, prospects your consulting firm engages via cold lead generation efforts require more conversations over many more weeks or months before they sign on the dotted line.
Net: Budget for considerable incremental time and effort when you’re evaluating whether to launch a cold lead generation campaign.
Also stock up on endorphin-inducing chocolate to compensate for the harder, longer, more discouraging sales cycle.
Rule 3: Leverage Current Awareness
Cold lead generation approaches produce better results if you already have some renown.
We found that a disproportionate percentage of the individuals who responded to our lead generation campaigns previously read my books, followed my articles, or subscribed to my monthly chocolate truffles service. (Just kidding on the truffles. Sorry.)
Not surprising, in retrospect. If a prospect has already heard of your consulting firm, read your books, or seen you speak, then your email or LinkedIn message isn’t actually cold.
Net: Execute on your thought leadership marketing before you invest in a cold lead generation campaign.
Rule 4: Lead Generation Isn’t the Solution to Impact Woes
Remember Sharon? She also told me, “We need more leads. Our offering is really hard to sell.”
She says her offering is hard to sell and her conclusion is her consulting firm needs more leads? No. She needs better product/market fit!
And yes, this is the same consultant who claimed her company closes most prospects.
She’s not unusual. The vast majority of consultants significantly overestimate the percent of opportunities they close.
In other words, pay attention, because this is relevant to your firm too:
Most consulting firms that believe they have a lead generation problem actually have an Impact problem!
If you’re turning to a lead generation campaign because your consulting firm is not winning enough business, then you’re likely to be dissatisfied with the results.
First, confirm that your consulting firm is solving the Right Problem for the Right People with the Right Solution at the Right Time; that you’re Fishing Where the Fish Are.
When you consistently win over 40% of all warm opportunities that your consulting firm surfaces, then consider embarking on a lead generation campaign.
Net: Increasing your consulting firm’s volume of leads isn’t a good strategy to combat a poor-selling offering.
One additional rule we’ve learned from our clients: lead generation is slightly more effective if your offering is fairly commodity and low fee (i.e., under $10k). That doesn’t apply to my firm, though, and probably not to yours.
Have you tried cold, lead generation campaigns? If so, what’s worked or not worked for you?
Text and images are © 2021 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.