Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

The Ladder of Lead Generation

Share on twitter
Share on facebook

In this issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter we discuss the costs and benefits of using various public relations, advertising, and selling activities in driving business development for your agency, and we examine what the use of each says about your firm.

If you were to take all the things you do, and have considered doing, to drive new business and you placed them on a ‘ladder’ of preference with the items you most prefer at the top and the items you like least at the bottom, I’m willing to bet your ladder would look something like this: In your upper rungs you would have public relations and other non-paid exposure activities. In your middle rungs you would place advertising and other paid promotional programs. And in the lower rungs you would likely place the sales tactics of unsolicited enquiries. Let’s take a closer look at the rungs, and then examine where you are on the ladder.

Publicity – The Top Rungs

The items at the top of our ladder of lead generation include writing a book, publishing an article, getting quoted as an expert and other activities that as a group can be characterized as public relations or non-paid media. The benefits of these top rung activities include prestige, cost (little or nothing), the furthering of the perception of you as an expert in your space, and their ability to cause the phone to ring as prospects seek you out for your chronicled expertise. These top rungs are the coveted territory of the experts.

The shortcomings of these activities include the difficulty of getting to this esteemed place – it takes a long time to establish a reputation as an expert – and passivity – having the phone ring is wonderful, but waiting for it to ring can be painful and may be relying too much on the initiative of others.

While not all experts make it up to these top rungs, it is safe to say that you will not get here without a focus or a specific claim of expertise. The world is drowning in, and consequently ignoring, most ‘experts’ on the broad topics of branding and marketing communications. When a demonstrated expert in legal practice marketing speaks, however, law firms pay attention.

Paid Exposure – The Middle Rungs

Ads, sponsorships, trade show participation, and some direct mail are all middle rung tactics designed to induce inquiries and/or create recognition that eases other outreach efforts. The appeal of these activities is largely their reach. The drawbacks include cost, difficulty in measuring return on investment, and the fact that paid messages do not have nearly the credibility of the non-paid activities of the top rungs. The double-edged sword (cost and benefit) of these middle rung activities is that once you commit to paid advertising or messaging of any kind, you need to commit to the message itself. One of the reasons advertising agencies rarely advertise is their difficulty committing to a message that might be seen by many different prospects. Broadly positioned firms like to reserve the right to match their positioning – their claim of expertise- to the varied needs of their vast target group. When you are paying for the media, however, all of a sudden you get serious about crafting the message that goes in it lest you waste your money.

Unsolicited Enquiries – The Bottom Rungs

The bottom rung activities of unsolicited enquiries, which include telephone introductions, unsolicited emails, and the old-fashioned personal visit of the door-to-door salesperson, are largely free. They can also be highly effective. So why are they at the bottom? For a few reasons. Reason number one is immediacy. Back in the early days of your business when marketing money was scarce and you needed a client or two quickly, what did you do? You likely picked up the phone. Direct and targeted, these activities – the activities of selling – offer the most thorough approach.

Reason number two: for many these activities are painful. My easy telephone introduction is someone else’s distasteful cold call. The difference, as discussed in Telephone Time, the November 2004 issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter, is one of perspective and of planning. When you have a plan to nurture early-stage buyers (those a long way from buying) then you view your telephone introduction as merely the first step in that relationship. Your perspective is one of farming (planting a seed), and your success ratio is high: every introduction is a seed planted. Without a plan to nurture early-stage prospects your objective in using the telephone is to find late-stage prospects (those close to buying), or worse, to convince someone they have a need. In this example your perspective is one of hunting, and your success ratio is low: every call that does not result in a likely sale is a failure. Adjust your expectations when making these calls, serve to introduce – not convince, and when the inevitable late-stage opportunity does present itself, rejoice.

The third reason we place these activities on the bottom rung is they can be a lot of work. Compared to the idea of giving a speech and having audience members line up to hire you afterward (it’s nice to dream!) or compared to the ease of running an ad, the concept of rolling calls seems arduous.

In short, the items at the top of our lead generation ladder are the long term approaches that experts employ to get prospects to seek them out. The items at the bottom are the harder working, more immediate activities of reaching out to prospects. The top is rare air – the domain of the well-positioned, consistently marketed firm. The bottom is common ground – the domain of the inconsistently marketed, the poorly positioned, or those with immediate needs.

Moving Up the Ladder

Over time your activities should shift from predominantly immediate, sales-based, lower rung approaches to longer term, publicity-based, higher rung ones. With enough top rung activities at work, you may never have to drop down to the lower rung techniques of paid media and unsolicited enquiries again. But to do this requires a solid positioning, and a defined marketing plan. Any marketing plan, whether populated with top rung approached or lower rung ones, needs to be implemented deliberately and consistently – even in good times. The industry is populated with expert agencies that lost sales momentum during the good times only to have to lean heavily on cold calling and other more immediate techniques to regain traction. Continue to plan out your business development activities at the start of each year, and make an effort to shift your activities up the ladder from year to year.

Let me use a trade show as an example of climbing the ladder. Last year you might have been a paying participant, walking the floor looking for leads. This year you might choose to display at the show and advertise in the trade show publication. Your goal for next year might be to pursue opportunities to write an article for the magazine or speak at the event. Your ultimate goal would be to be asked to provide the keynote address. Your efforts from year to year should be striving to take you higher and higher up the lead generation ladder.

Leveraging The Top Rungs

Let me part with one last thought on the effectiveness of your top rung activities. Remember that your prospects need not read your book, hear your speech, or read the article in which you were quoted for their perception of your expertise to be heightened. They merely need to know of it. Just as sophisticated marketers leverage an event sponsorship with a media or promotion budget that is often ten times that of the cost of the sponsorship, your marketing plan should similarly leverage your top rung activities. Beyond the activities themselves, your marketing plan should account for how you will tell your prospects of your speaking engagements and articles.

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.

Learn how to win

without pitching and apply value-based pricing.

You will get a curated collection of Blair’s best writing, videos, and podcast episodes immediately after signing up.

Then, you’ll receive Blair’s latest work as it’s published.


12,000+ agency professionals:

Recent Thinking

The Magic Email

I think together we can make a few million dollars this week, quickly, simply. Use this simple email template that you can use to raise deals from the dead.

Red, White, Black and Blue: The Land of Mixed Signals

In light of where things are in America, I feel the need to point out that if you’re familiar with and have benefitted from my work, Creative Strategy and the Business of Design, and my #thinkhowtheythink philosophy, a sharecropper named Mr. Ben Frank Davis is where it came from.

You Don’t Really Partner With Your Clients

Many agencies like to boast on their websites and in their pitch decks that they “partner” with their clients. It’s bullshit of course. What they mean is they aspire to have their clients treat them like partners instead of vendors. I get it. It’s good to have a goal. But putting it on the website