Top 10 lead generation mistakes made by professional services

By John Doerr

Williamson: [handing Roma lead cards] I'm giving you three leads...
Ricky Roma: Three? No, I count two.
Williamson: There's three leads there...
Ricky Roma: I'm waiting for the new leads.

- Glengarry Glenn Ross, David Mamet 1992

Leads, leads, leads. It seems it is all about leads once the referrals and the circle of family and friends aren't enough to keep our firms growing. Yet, when it comes to generating leads, most professional services firms get it all wrong in ten very common ways.

  1. Spending on marketing activities that don't produce ROI or are "vanity exercises" (e.g. excessive graphic design and image advertising). Open up your local business journal, without a doubt you will see an advertisement for a professional services firm trying to "generate awareness." This organization is "generating awareness" among the 25,000 readers who may (or may not) be targets for its services.

    Meanwhile, the funds to create the ad (and to run the ad week after week) can surely be much better spent by reaching out to the smaller, more targeted pool of, say, 1,600 key prospects your firm wants as clients.

    For the most part, spending on general awareness ads produces a very low ROI if any.

  2. Holding unrealistic expectations about the results various marketing tactics can produce. I recently saw an ad in Harvard Business Review for a major law firm touting the nature of the firm as offering "solutions" versus just "services." Many people saw that ad...and did nothing, because they were asked to do nothing.

    If, however the ad had focused on new research in intellectual property protection for technology companies that could be downloaded as a white paper, the ad could have been used to generate leads for the firm.

    People will accept an offer - white paper, case study, article, book, research, sales call - from an ad. They will rarely, if ever, pick up the phone and go from ad to becoming a new client.

  3. Not implementing any lead generation efforts because of inefficient decision-making. I can't tell you how many times I have met with a service firm to talk about lead generation and these companies are hot to trot with their lead generation efforts – they want more leads and they want them now. We have a couple of good meetings; I keep in touch with them and offer value in my own selling through white papers, seminar invitations, articles, and calls. Then, six months go by, a year goes by, three years go by, and they have still done nothing.

    All too often in services firms there are too many decision-makers who can't get on the same page and decide what to do when it comes to marketing and lead generation. So, they end up doing nothing or even worse running another awareness ad in the business journal.

  4. Not being able to sustain implementation over the long-term. As much as you might like to shorten the sales cycle, buying complex, trust-based services takes time. Leads need to be nurtured over the long-term so you are top of mind when the elusive time of need arises.

    All companies want more leads and want them now. As a result, they plan and implement a lead generation campaign, but impatiently dig up the roots after two weeks to see if it's growing yet. (This is not a good way to grow a tree.)

    Lead generation efforts must be sustained over months to make them 1) work and 2) improve over time.

  5. Relying on one tactic only. In Managing the Professional Services Firm, author David Maister lists "first string" marketing tactics, which include small scale seminars, speeches at client industry meetings, and proprietary research. Maister calls direct mail and cold calls "clutching at straws tactics." By themselves, they are. Very few prospects will go from receiving direct mail, an e-mail, a cold call, or even a first conversation straight to being a client.

    But the best way to get people to take advantage of those "first string" offers is a combination of "grasping at straws" tactics.

  6. Poor implementation (e.g. poorly written marketing copy, poorly designed or poorly targeted campaigns). Let's say you decide to run a small scale seminar (a "first string" marketing tactic). You spend months preparing the content, practicing your delivery, putting together the invitations, and booking the facility. Then, the day comes and two people show up. So what happens? You give up on seminars and declare, "We tried that, it didn't work."

    On the contrary, seminars can and do work, you just implemented the marketing of the seminar poorly.

  7. Dropping leads and failing to nurture leads. According to a research report by BPM Forum, over 80 percent of generated leads are never followed up on, are dropped, or are mishandled. Professional services businesses are particularly adept at neglecting the leads that they already have in-house, just waiting to be called.

    It's also been my experience that with proactively generated leads 25 percent are short-term while 75 percent are long-term leads. If you're focused on the short-term, you might be missing out on 3/4ths of your opportunities.

  8. Not communicating your value in marketing. We often hear from our clients that they want their prospects to perceive that they are credible and distinct, so they end up writing marketing messages that say, "I'm credible and distinct." Or, "I'm trustworthy." Or, "I'm innovative, yet solid."

    If you want your clients and prospects to believe you are credible and distinct, you need to demonstrate that you are credible and distinct. You can do this by providing value directly in your marketing and selling efforts. When you interact with a prospective client, or send any message to them, that prospect is evaluating what it might be like to work with you. Help them understand that working with you after they become your client is much the same as what it's like working with you before they become your client.

  9. Not integrating various marketing tactics well. Lead generation is a multi-step process. It takes multiple touches to draw prospects into the seduction of your services. These touches need to be well planned with a consistent message, at the right frequency, with the right mix of offers. Not all prospects will be interested in attending a seminar or reading a white paper. While others will want to do both before engaging a conversation with you.

    Consider this; do you think a prospect will accept a meeting with you from a cold e-mail? Probably not. But will that same prospect provide you with their contact information in exchange for a new white paper that is relevant to their business? Probably. And, will they accept a follow up call to discuss the content of the white paper, or an in person meeting to discuss how the topic applies to their business and situation? More than often the answer to this is yes.

  10. Planning poorly for lead generation. Value in marketing. Consistent messaging. Integration. Targeting. Lead nurturing. All of this is for naught if it is not well planned, measured, and tested.

    Planning for lead generation is not the kind of thing that happens one time and is forever etched in stone for the year ahead. When it comes to marketing and lead generation, some tactics work better for some companies than others…and you never know which ones work best for you until you test them.

Avoid these top ten lead generation mistakes and you won't end up like Ricky Roma waiting for the new leads. You will already have them.

Want to know what to do in regard to lead generation? Download our newest white paper, Making Lead Generation Work for Professional Services, to find out.

About the author

John Doerr is president of the Wellesley Hills Group, a management consulting, marketing, and lead generation firm focused on helping professional services firms grow. He is also the founder of RainToday.com, an online source for insight, advice, and tools for service business rainmakers, marketers, and leaders. Doerr can be reached at jdoerr@whillsgroup.com.

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