For any successful business's marketing and sales strategy, strong lead generating capacity is the foundation that holds up the entire funnel. For a business that's been watching their leads beginning to dry up, the inability to come up with a more approach solid lead generation can be distressing. So there's absolutely no shame in asking for some outside help— and a lead generation company can offer just that.
With the time, skills, and resources to focus on building high-quality leads optimized for your industry and size, a good lead generation company is an invaluable partner. The challenge lies in separating the real deal from the all-talk, no-action amateurs that will sell themselves better than they will ever sell your products.
Our solution to this? Be informed and ask your prospective vendors the right questions. To help you get started, let's look over 7 crucial ones to ask when choosing a lead generation company.
This blog post is part of “Your Definitive Guide to Lead Generation” blog series.
1. What type of company are you?
There are two main types of lead generation companies: major account and small sale lead generation companies.
Major account lead generation companies:
- Target clients who sell “complex” products or services, the upper-level “decision makers” in a company
- Sell higher-priced items to these high-value sales leads
- Provide a professional, “solution-oriented” selling style focused on return on investment for a long and highly involved business cycle
- Have processes that are more complex to implement and operate
Small sale lead generation companies:
- Target smaller purchases under $10,000
- Work with a shorter sales cycle, or even no real cycle at all due to the simpler “commodity” nature of the purchase
- Make up the majority of lead generation companies
If you’re a B2B company with a more sophisticated process for handling your sales leads, you might need the higher level of expertise, precision and support that you can get from a B2B major account lead generation companies.
B2B vs B2C Sales Leads
Additionally, there are some major differences between B2C leads and B2B leads, so make sure that the company which you're examining has experience handling the kind of leads your business is built around. More generally, it is a good idea to determine whether your potential partner is the best fit for your company's style and culture.
2. What is the price of your services?
This one may seem fairly obvious, but the price of lead generation services varies so widely that it can intimidate a potential client. Price depends on a multitude of factors: company size, industry, reputation, how many services they're providing, degree of lead qualification, etc.
This is another reason why it's important to understand the company's processes before you hire; conversion rates and the distance which it will “carry” your leads matter as much as the quantity of leads generated. In other words, focus on cost per customer acquisition rather than cost per lead generated.
Consider also that some companies offer tiered packages, while others present quotes after doing research on your specific business; explore your options to see what works best for you.
Need more guidance on lead generation for your company? download our ecommerce marketing intro to lead gen guide
3. What are your techniques/process?
While lead generation companies have a generally similar approach, their methodologies can differ significantly. When seeking your best-fit company, consider the range of approaches and those you personally prioritize.
Types of Lead Generation Services
Services offered by lead generation companies include:
- social media
- web page optimization
- paid search
- email marketing
- outbound techniques like cold calling and pay-per-click
Some companies go beyond and also offer services like event promotion, creation of content like e-books, and B2B appointment setting.
Inbound vs. Outbound
One major decision to make is how much of a company's process you'd like to be devoted to outbound vs. inbound lead generation. While research shows that inbound marketing yields higher ROI and produces higher quality leads on average than outbound marketing, you may choose to maintain an outbound component in your strategy.
In addition, tracking, reporting, and support services are offered by some companies. We personally believe these are practically a must, as they help target your audience more precisely and provide actual feedback on the effectiveness of a campaign, but your business should still consider whether it's necessary to pay for all of these.
Finally, go over expectations for how much of the funnel will be handled by your partner. Ironically, lead generation companies can often be expected to have a hand in lead nurturing, as well. Does your prospect have any sort of strategy in place for this, and how will they work together with your business's in-house sales team?
Most simply, the main thing to look for in your research is a company with transparency-- those who offer vague answers when asked about even the most basic components of their process are not to be trusted.
4. How are leads qualified?
Your and your future partner's ideas about the target audience of your lead generation campaigns should be well aligned.
Determining a "qualified lead"
A well-fitting prospect's lead qualification guidelines are not only specific and well-developed, but in agreement with your own. Let's review the two categories of qualified leads:
Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs), which are often identified by a marketing department as showing a considerable amount of interest in a business or its products
Sales-qualified leads (SQLs), viable prospects who have been vetted by a sales team after being passed to them from a marketing team.
Tracking techniques, including lead scoring, segmentation, and list management, greatly assists in the acquisition of quality leads. The more narrowly you define a “qualified lead,” the better; for instance, perhaps an SQL should not only express interest in your content or product, but also be willing to provide information to your company via landing page form.
Internal Lead Databases
Generally speaking, a company that has its own internal lead database most likely holds credibility. However, there is no guarantee that this database will be relevant to you in particular, so it's important to find out as much as possible about how the company obtained its lists as well as how many leads are in them.
While a company that built its own database from the will have experience in maintaining it, one which got its database from another source may be lacking in techniques that ensure the quality of the leads. (Noted, outside lead sources can be valuable, so be cautious without completely dismissing a partner that makes use of them!)
5. What technology do you work with?
Particularly in the modern age, maintaining some digital component of a lead generation strategy isn't just recommended; it's downright mandatory! A competent lead generation company should have a full set of digital tools to automate, manage, and track all aspects of their services. The scope and quality of the technology used can tell you a lot about what the company values and how up-to-date it may be with both strategy and execution in regards to lead generation.
Software should be easily integrated with your own, and ideally will be able to work within your pre-existing customer relationship management (CRM) system. Demonstrated flexibility based on your preferences for which tools to use is a major positive sign of the prospect's technological savviness.
6. What experience and reputation do you have?
A time (and client!)-tested company will, unsurprisingly, be more likely to have experience and provide results.
You can set your own guidelines for this; one article suggests choosing staff with 5 or more years of sales experience, and a program management team with over 10 years of experience in managing sales lead. The company’s expertise should also include every step of the sales cycle, including lead generation, qualifying leads, and closing sales.
Of course, age isn't the most significant component of a solid reputation— that's what client feedback is for. It's completely reasonable to ask for one or even multiple referrals before finalizing your decision in order to understand whether the company delivers on its promises. A comparison of current and former clients, as well as the promises which the company made and what it actually delivered, will help you understand whether your prospective partner is the real deal or just talk.
When speaking with these clients, seek out those similar in nature to your own company, and ask them questions about both quantitative and qualitative success. Questions for the lead generation company itself, meanwhile, can include:
- How many appointments have they set?
- How many leads have they generated for others?
- What percentage of those leads are qualified?
- What percentage of leads go on through the sales pipeline?
7. If any, what are your guarantees/terms of service?
Before signing off with a lead generation company, it is vital to discuss expectations on both sides of the table. It may be helpful and reassuring to receive some kind of results guarantee from the company early on, but beware of promises that sound vague or just too good to be true.
Setting up communication is crucial, including format, frequency, the people on each side who will be responsible for staying in contact, and the information that your business expects delivered on whatever basis it is you've agreed on. Openness to inputs and suggestions is a must for many clients; don't be afraid to ask openly about a prospect's flexibility to avoid unpleasantness in the future.
Looking into the longer term, find out whether the company is interested in an ongoing partnership or only willing to take care of the current project at hand. It may feel awkward to bring all of this up on the “first date,” but it will ultimately only make the decision process easier and help you understand what you will be signing into quicker.
Now Get Out There and Start Asking
With these questions in mind, you'll hopefully be well-equipped to find a company that's right for you and enter a lead generation partnership that lasts a lifetime (or at least for the duration of your contract). Be sure to explore any other concerns you may have by taking the time to come up with your own questions; when it comes to making an informed decision, there's really no such thing as being too inquisitive.
Still have more questions about developing your lead generation strategy? Our ECommerce Marketing: Intro to Lead Generation guide will get you on your way to understanding all of the key pieces of a quality campaign.
Originally published August 22, 2017, updated March 25, 2020
Tags: lead generation Inbound Marketing b2b lead generation lead generation companies sales leads lead generation services