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Imagine you’re in a room with 100 leaders of professional services companies and you ask them to list their 3 biggest business challenges. I can almost guarantee that 99 out of 100 will have “lead generation” on their list. In fact, for most, it’ll probably take the #1 spot—followed swiftly by “people” but that’s the topic of a different CMap guide!
The dream of every CEO or Managing Partner is to have a repeatable, predictable lead generation engine, driving a steady flow of quality leads into the business.
Lead generation is a tricky topic for most businesses, but it’s even harder for most professional services companies because:
What’s more, when professional services leaders have tried to hire salespeople, they’ve often been stung—hiring people who promised the earth in the interview but delivered very little. Interviewing and managing salespeople is a skill set in itself!
Their experience on the marketing front typically isn’t much better. When it comes to marketing, most professional services companies either haven’t done any marketing at all, or they’ve maybe done a bit but only really dabbled. They’ve rarely hired an experienced, talented marketer and they don’t fully commit to marketing with support, time and budget.
The result tends to be “organic” growth—e.g. slow growth that happens to you rather than growth you drive and control—and most of your business coming from repeat clients
Not being good at lead generation causes 2 major problems:
That’s the bad news out of the way. Now let’s get to the good news…
The good news is that if you can build a repeatable, predictable lead generation engine, it will be one of the most powerful and liberating things you can do for your business.
You’ll stop worrying about where new business is going to come from. You’ll be able to confidently set and hit targets. And perhaps most importantly, you’ll be able to win more clients and reduce your dependence on the clients you’ve already got.
You’ll also be able to proactively move in whatever strategic direction you like—e.g. moving into a brand new sector—because you’ll have a lead generation engine that you can point at it … and unleash.
Between our background of founding, growing and selling our own professional services company—a tech consulting firm called J-Media that we sold in 2018—and our experience at CMap, where over the last 10 years we’ve helped more than 400 professional services companies to grow and thrive, we think we’ve got the answers you need. In this book, we’ve distilled our learnings into a simple, practical guide to get you started with effective and predictable lead generation.
For professional services companies, the key to building a repeatable lead generation engine is “value-based marketing”, also known as “content marketing”.
In this guide, we’ll explain what value-based marketing is and how to do it.
We’ll also explain how to combine value-based marketing with sales outreach—including calls, emails and automated sequences—to convert leads into real, qualified opportunities.
One unique difficulty faced by professional services companies vs. product companies is that, in the professional services world, your prospective clients can’t try before they buy—so you’re asking them to buy on faith.
All of us would prefer to try something before we part with our money, and in the product world, people can do precisely that.
We can take a car for a test drive, and we can usually get a free trial of software to assess if it will fulfil our requirements. But how do we do this when considering hiring someone to deliver a service?
Unless you’re going to offer to do projects for free—which we typically wouldn’t recommend—the best ways to give prospects confidence are:
This is where value-based marketing comes in.
Value-based marketing essentially consists of creating and sharing content that your target market will find useful and valuable.
For example, let’s say you provide consulting services to the hotels industry. You might write an eBook on “How to Repurpose Your Hotels Assets for Highest Use” and give it away for free. Of course, to be effective it needs to be something that gives your prospective clients some valuable insights/advice on a challenge they will likely have, thereby (a) showing your expertise and (b) giving them a positive view of you because you’ve given them something valuable for free.
Since your prospects are buying on faith, what enables you to separate yourself from the competition is trust. It’ll probably come as no surprise that consumers who read educational content from a brand are more likely to build an affinity with that brand, trust that brand and ultimately purchase from that brand. This psychology is called “Brand Trust”. This means, for marketing, creating high-quality educational content for your prospects to be exposed to and consume should be at the forefront of your strategy.
In summary, the way the value-based marketing process works is that you create some valuable content and put it on your website so visitors can download it for free, in return for their name and email address—which they enter into a web form.
Once they fill in the web form, you send the promised content—e.g. your eBook—to the email address they entered, thereby ensuring they gave you a valid address. No email address = no free guide.
You then follow-up gradually over time by emailing them additional, relevant content to further establish yourself as a source of useful information and knowledge. The key is that you must send relevant, valuable information. This is what we refer to as “value” messages.
Then, you drop the occasional “pitch” message—such as inviting them to a webinar, offering them a free consultation, suggesting a meeting, etc.—in among the “value” messages.
The mistake most people make is getting someone’s email address and going straight into “pitch mode” when the person has never heard of them and they haven’t established themselves as someone they might want to listen to.
For example, we get a lot of accountants approaching us in the hope of winning CMap as a client. Because we’re a software company, almost every email pitches us on their services for R&D tax credits.
R&D tax credits are something we’ve already been doing for years, so given that we’ve never heard of the person who’s emailed us, nor have we heard of their company, we rarely read their email beyond the first few words.
However, if we’d heard of the company and we already had a good impression of them—either because we’d seen a case study of how they helped another software company, or we’d previously read some of their content and found it useful—we might’ve paid more attention and read their entire email.
Typically, the most effective cadence is 3 value messages followed by 1 pitch message e.g. value, value, value,
pitch, value, value, value, pitch—and so on.
If we take our free eBook example, the process and timing could look like this:
OK, so that that’s the general idea. Let’s dive a bit deeper, starting with content ideas.
Day 1 - Website visitor fills in a form to get your free eBook
Day 1 - You immediately send the eBook to their email address
Day 3 - Guide follow-up message e.g. Did you read it? Was it useful?
Day 7 - Value message 1 — e.g. If you’re interested in [eBook topic] then you might be interested in [related article]
Day 14 - Value message 2 — a useful insight or idea
Day 21 - Value message 3 — a case study with a very similar client
Day 24 - Pitch message 1 — e.g. offer of a free consultation on [service you offer related to eBook topic]
Day 28 - Value message 4 — a useful insight or idea
Day 35 - Value message 5 — a useful insight or idea
Day 42 - Value message 5 — a useful insight or idea
Day 45 - Pitch message 2 — start salesperson outreach sequence (explained in more detail later)
Day 49 - Drop into long-term nurturing process e.g. value emails every two weeks to all prospects, interspersed with “pitch” emails such as webinar invites, offers, etc.
OK, so that that’s the general idea. Let’s dive a bit deeper, starting with content ideas.
At the very heart of value-based marketing is content. It all starts with creating content that you believe will be useful to your target audience and demonstrates your expertise. The goal is to establish yourselves in the minds of potential clients—and your existing clients!—as experts and thought leaders.
Once your potential clients have (a) heard of you and (b) developed a positive view of you—e.g. they have found your content useful—you’re in a much better position to win them as a client.
If you haven’t guessed already, this guide is a “thought leadership” piece. At CMap, we help professional services companies to win more business, deliver it more profitably and make better business decisions. We primarily do that with our software, but we also write books like the one you’re reading now and give them away for free to provide the sectors we serve with valuable, actionable advice and—hopefully!—demonstrate that we’re useful people to know.
Here are some examples of thought leadership content:
There are many ways to do it, and the great news is that one piece often leads to several accompanying or “repurposed” pieces.
Let’s take the eBook you’re reading right now. Of course, we start with the book itself. Then, we create a variety of shorter blog posts from it. Next, we explore certain areas in more detail in other guides or blog posts e.g. “20 Great Examples of Thought Leadership Content”. We can also take quotes from the eBook and—using free software like Canva—turn them into visually-appealing social media image posts.
Moving beyond that, we could do a live webinar on the methodology we’re describing in the book. If we record the live webinar—and you always should!—we can then make the video available forever on your website.
You get the idea. A good marketer should be able to take one primary piece of content—like this book—and generate at least 10 other items from it easily.
Creating content like this is the perfect example of leverage, as you do the work once and you can then use it time and time again…
Of course, just creating the content isn’t enough—you need to get it in front of your prospects too. Also, if you’re going to create a valuable eBook and give it away, you ideally want to know who’s downloading it.
So, let’s talk about that next…
You could write the most compelling content ever produced—but if your target audience never sees it, it’s all for nothing.
Beyond producing great content, you need to ensure you reach your target audience and there are 2 primary ways to achieve this. Let’s say you’ve written a free guide. You can:
1. Drive people to a landing page on your website where they can download your guide in return for their name and email address
2. Build an email list and send it to them
This approach is all about getting people to exchange their name and email address—as a minimum—in return for your content.
Let’s start by breaking down what a “landing page” and a “webform” are.
A landing page is a dedicated page that people are directed to from an external source. It’s laser-focused on one outcome—getting the visitor to complete a predetermined action. In this example, being compelled to download your eBook in return for their name and email address.
There are 2 ways people arrive at landing pages:
It’s important that the page delivers on its promise. The copy on the page needs to be compelling, clear and focused on convincing the individual to complete the desired action—providing their email address. This is where webforms comes in...
A webform is a place where people enter data for you to collect in return for an action.
You’ll have used a webform if you’ve ever made an online purchase, providing your name, address, etc., in return for the items to be processed and dispatched.
To get a webform for your landing page, you need a webform tool. This will be standard functionality for all good CRM and Marketing Automation applications—and there are plenty of other cost-effective tools out there.
A note of caution: In an ideal world we’d learn everything we could about the person completing the form. However, the more you demand, the less likely the individual will be to complete the form.
The 2 fields you absolutely want to make sure that you capture are:
Beyond that, exercise caution. You can always include additional fields in your webform e.g. company name, job title, location, etc., but we’d typically recommend setting these as “optional fields”, reducing the friction that might cause some to hit the back button rather than complete your form.
Remember, the core aim is to get the individual to provide their email address so they enter your contacts database and you can begin marketing to them.
There are a number of ways you can drive traffic to your landing pages, including:
Getting into the detail of each of these areas is going beyond the scope of this eBook. However, you’re only a Google away from an abundance of high-quality articles that will get you right up-to-speed.
This approach is all about rolling your sleeves up and building your own super-targeted contact database. Here’s how this works...
The first rule of list building is: “don’t buy lists from brokers”. The second rule of list building is: “Seriously, DON’T buy lists from brokers!”
A readymade, targeted list sounds like the dream—doesn’t it? The reality is invariably the opposite. Brokers rely on obtaining data derived from the Standard Industrial Classification code that a company is registered under. You’d be stunned at how often a company’s registered code doesn’t stack up with what they actually do … at all. What’s more, these lists are rarely cleaned with any regularity—despite what the brokers might claim—resulting in data that is massively out of date and often useless. Trust us, we’ve been burnt by this in the past. Benefit from learning from our mistake.
If you break the first two rules of list building and opt for the data broker route, don’t be surprised if you’re trying to contact people that haven’t been around for years—decades even!—or your email deliverability is so poor it ruins your all-important Email Sender Reputation, meaning your emails start getting sent to spam folders or outright rejected by Internet Service Providers.
Ultimately, a good quality list is something you build for yourself. Yes, it takes time, but the quality and outcomes it generates are—in our opinion—absolutely worth it. Here’s how you go about doing it...
This forms the criteria for a highly targeted list of people you can send super-relevant marketing activity to.
Often, the perfect place to start building your list is LinkedIn. You can search for companies and individuals based on parameters like industry, location, company size, etc. This can form the basis of creating an initial hit list before you spend a little time validating the accuracy e.g. are they an actual Asset Management services company … or are they just a vendor to the industry that incorrectly categorized themselves? Find the contacts that fulfil the roles you want to engage with and go about building your list.
In terms of obtaining those all-important email addresses, this fantastic blog from HubSpot: “How to Find Almost Anyone’s Email Address (Without Being Creepy)” is a perfect starting point.
Be prepared to make phone calls to obtain personal information. Be truthful, explaining you’re hoping to contact the individual to discuss your services, but in order to do so you need their email address. Surprisingly, you’ll find people are often quite willing to offer an email address rather than risk lining someone up for an unsolicited call.
If you want to take things up a level and money is no object, you may want to check out services like Seamless.AI and ZoomInfo—other products are available.
Seamless.AI and ZoomInfo use machine learning(AI) to help sales and marketing teams identify potential new customers, including—in many cases—providing their email addresses. While not cheap, these services can significantly decrease the time it takes to build your lists and increase the accuracy of the data contained within them.
Get started with LinkedIn, or jump straightintoSeamless.AI, ZoomInfo, or an alternative, and you’re well on your way to building a phenomenal contacts database that’s going to fuel your company with quality leads.
It’s fair to say that list building is not an insignificant undertaking. This is where temps, contractors, apprentices, students, etc., can come in. These people can be hired to complete this specific piece of work, mitigating the impact on your employees. If done diligently, the cost of building the list should ultimately pay for itself many times over.
You may be thinking: “hold on … GDPR”! The good news is that—at the time of writing this eBook—“legitimate interest ”enables you to market to these individuals.
The key is that the data and communications must be relevant—you need solid justification for processing data for marketing purposes. However, since you’re looking for specific cohorts of individuals to market to with highly-relevant activities—and you’re certainly not adopting an “anyone and everyone” scattergun approach—you have established legitimate interest.
We advise that you do your own research to make sure you’re comfortable with the ins and outs of GDPR and your ability to conform with the regulations.
Highly targeted lists brings us neatly on to list segmentation...
We’ve discussed the importance of targeted, highly relevant lists above, but it’s worth taking a little extra time to go deeper on this topic.
Relevance—without question—is key. This is especially so if you’re emailing a list you’ve built rather than people who’ve explicitly opted in.
The key to being successful with value-based marketing is to send super-relevant content, so that normally means slicing and dicing your list into smaller, more focussed lists.
Think about the emails you receive. You probably find messages that are specifically about your industry capture your attention more than something generic and potentially irrelevant to your business. You want to make sure that—wherever possible—your email falls into the “specific” rather than the “generic” category.
For example, in the accounting world, R&Dtax credits is relevant to the CFO of a software company, but isn’t relevant to the owner of a bookstore. On the flip side, content about business rates on retail outlets might be relevant to the bookstore owner, but probably isn’t relevant to the software company.
In order to get the right content in front of the right audience, you need list segmentation.
Let me talk you through an example at CMap. We serve a variety of industries: accountants, consultants, architects, engineers, etc. Only very rarely will we send the same communication to everyone, as whilst there are many similarities, there are equally many subtle—even large—differences that divide our audience. For this reason, we split people into sub-lists for our core markets e.g. a list for architects, a list for consultants, a list for accountants, and so on. This makes it easy for us to tailor our communications to make sure they’re as relevant as possible to the individual recipients.
We advise that you give some thought to this and structure your database accordingly with targeted sub-lists where relevant. Don’t get too caught up on it. You don’t want to end up with hundreds of pigeonholes, each containing just a handful of people. But … you do want to make sure your lists enable you to send targeted messages to specific audiences.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting the wheels in motion and sending your first emails. But there’s atactic that helps to take lead generation to the next level: “sales sequences”—sometimes referred to as “cadence”.
A sales sequence is an orchestrated pattern of engagement e.g. the marketing emails, follow-up emails, supplementary collateral, tasks, phone calls, etc., that you’re going to deploy and the spacing between them.
Sales sequences will vary depending on who you’re engaging with and what you’re engaging about. For example, if a C-suite prospect has engaged with a piece of content, a “strike while the iron is hot” approach may be used—as for this persona you’ll often find today’s priority might not make next week’s agenda. In other cases, following-up right away maybe inappropriate and pushy.
The eagle-eyed will have spotted the suggested use of “phone calls” in your sequences. A lot has been said in recent years along the lines of “cold calling is dead”. The truth is it still works—albeit not as well as it used to.
Buying has changed, with the buyer able to discover a lot more for themselves before needing to speak to a salesperson. This doesn’t mean that calls have no place in your approach … but you’ll find that using calls following-up after you’ve laid the groundwork with value-based marketing are a lot more effective.
For example, we host regular webinars for clients and prospects. Some of the attending prospects naturally convert to demo requests—which is our ultimate goal. However, we’ve found that many more convert when—rather than leaving it to chance—we proactively follow-up with a phone call.
From a salesperson's perspective, calling a prospect that’s engaged with your content, expressed interest in a specific area, took time out of their day to attend your webinar, etc., is a dream phone call.
When it comes to these hot prospects—commonly referred to as “high scoring leads”... although this term is typically underpinned by sophisticated marketing automation tracking contact engagement—a well-timed phone call can be just what’s required to generate an opportunity.
Going a little deeper on marketing automation. The ideal place to run this activity is with marketing automation software, like HubSpot or Marketo. While not cheap, they’re exceptionally sophisticated products that open up a new world of possibility. A word of caution: if you invest in marketing automation, ensure you have an experienced pair of marketing hands onboard to run it, otherwise you’ll only scratch the surface of what’s possible or—even worse—end up with an expensive, failed experiment.
If you’re not ready to buy marketing automation software—don’t worry—you can manually control sequences e.g. in Excel.
Here’s an example sales sequence for following-up on webinar attendees:
Phone Call 1: First reach out—N.B. ensure you know what the webinar was about, who spoke, and know some relatable points that will engage the prospect in the conversation
Email 1: The opening email thanks the prospect for attending the webinar, provides a link to the recording, reconfirms that they “probably” attended because they’re interested in X topic, asks if they would you like to chat, and provides a link to an online calendar to book a time slot
Phone Call 2: Call the prospect for a second time with a value-add e.g. a related blog post
Email 2: Reply to Email 1 expressing you hope the prospect found it useful, provide an additional value add e.g., a related blog post, ask if they would like to chat, and provide a link to an online calendar to book a timeslot
Phone Call 3: Call the prospect for a third time with full-focus on pitching the desired outcome
LinkedIn InMail 1: Use whatever has been learnt in the initial phases of the sequence to get the prospect to engage
Email3: Follow-up with an actionable piece of ungated content that the prospect can use in real-life e.g. “here’s a playbook for running X topic”
Phone Call 4: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
LinkedIn InMail 2: Try again with another LinkedIn InMail—at this point the more channels the better to increase our chances
Phone Call 5: last phone call attempt
Email 4: Last email attempt
A little tip—Online calendars like Calendly make it easy for prospects to book a time to chat and save on unnecessary, time-consuming back-and-forth.
The sales sequence above is only an example. The frequency and volume of your touch points will depend on the persona you’re engaging with and the outcome you’re aiming for.
Now we know everything we want to consider, let’s look at a suggested action list to help you get started. We’ve split this into 2 distinct sections:
Suggested content actions:
1. Brainstorm content ideas that you think would be relevant to your clients. Would one piece be useful to all of them? Do you need different pieces for different sectors? Do you need different pieces to support your different service offerings?
2. If you’re struggling for ideas to get started—it gets easier once you’ve established a rhythm—check out this handy “Blog Ideas Generator” by HubSpot
3. Once you’ve nailed down some ideas you think will be useful, pick one … and write it
4. Consider doing a periodic“ content blitz” e.g.bi-annually senior management each take a day or two out to write content that’ll cover your marketing efforts for the next six months
5. If freeing up time for writing is a problem, identify are liable freelance copywriter with relevant experience—that way, all you need to do is come up with a clear outline, deliver a brief, set aside time to review their work … and they take care of the rest
6. Take things up a level by starting to build your first sales sequence templates—overtime you’ll identify tried and tested approaches you can template to reuse quickly and easily
Suggested data & process actions:
It’s at this point some people worry that by creating a truly great guide, which theoretically provides your prospects with the means to do conduct your service for themselves, you make yourself redundant.
Our advice here is not to worry about this and trust that they’ll still use your services, only they’ll be a more informed—and trusting—buyer.
Lead generation is a fascinating and far reaching topic—and sits towards the top of the board agenda for almost every professional services company.
With hard work, patience, and by following the tried and tested blueprint laid out in this eBook, you can transform the business development function of your company, creating a steady flow of quality leads to follow-up and explore, allowing you to decrease dependence on clients and be more picky about the work you win.
We established that the best way to do this was through value-based marketing—supplying quality, useful content—to a highly targeted list of ideal prospects.
We also established that you should build your own laser-targeted, segmented contacts databases to ensure your messaging and content is as relevant and engaging as possible.
Finally, we discussed how you can use sales sequences to take your efforts to the next level, combining multiple channels to orchestrate your activity.
We’re always happy to talk, so if you have any questions or would like to discuss any particular areas in more detail, please feel free to get in contact.