This is it. The definitive guide to agency lead gen. If you’re starting from square one, be sure to check out our previous guide on how to start a digital agency first. We also published a guide on how to write a digital agency business plan, perfect if you’re in the planning stages. Both guides are great for helping navigate the early days/months of your agency.
But if you’re at the growth stage looking to build up your client roster, then this guide is perfect for you as it outlines a diverse range of tactics and strategies you can use to promote your agency and secure new clients. Not all of these ideas will be relevant to everyone so we suggest you pick and choose a few and try them out for yourself.
Over the years we’ve spoken to countless agency founders and found out from them what their advice is on the topic of agency lead gen. SEOptimer is also trusted by over 2,000 digital agencies around the world so we are in the privileged position to be able to see agency lead gen working first hand from some of the most successful digital agencies in the industry who leverage our software.
Three overarching concepts
Before we run through all the agency lead gen ideas, there’s three overarching concepts that you should keep in mind no matter what lead gen tactic you’re using. Think of these as the prerequisites that you should master before employing any of the agency lead gen tactics.
There are over 16,000 digital agencies in the US alone. For most clients looking for a digital agency, they are likely to come to the conclusion that capabilities and to some extent pricing are quite similar between potential agencies. The main question they will be trying to answer when evaluating potential agencies is what sets each agency apart from each other.
Having an Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is one of the most important assets for any agency. Take your time to craft a truly unique USP and consider how you stack up against your competitors and whether you are differentiated enough.
Become the authority in your niche
As the old saying goes, people buy from people they trust. And nothing builds trust like authority. If you can position yourself (and your agency by extension) as the leader in your niche, you will be in a much stronger position to generate leads and new business. There are three main types of niches that agencies adhere to:
- Industry niche - eg: digital agency working only with fintech clients
- Service niche - eg: SEO agency working only on organic search projects
- Location niche - eg: digital agency working only with clients in San Francisco
Always add value
If you're laser-focused on lead generation it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘selling’. Of course that’s the optimal outcome however the hard sell can turn prospects off because often people don't like the feeling of being sold to. Instead, the best practice approach is to focus on adding value upfront.
By adding value when implementing these lead gen tactics or engaging with new prospects, you're positioning yourself immediately as a trusted provider. This makes the sales process more natural and less salesy.
18 Rock Solid Ideas for Agency Lead Gen
1. Word of Mouth (WoM)
Tactic: CLIENT REFERRALS
When asked about the most effective source of new agency leads, 'client referrals' is consistently one of the highest sources as reported by agency owners.
An agency study from HubSpot surveyed over 700 agency owners and asked them what sources were the best for generating new agency leads. An astounding 90% of agencies cited referrals:
Client referrals might not provide the highest quantity of leads but they are most likely to be the highest quality / most qualified lead source. Scott Edinger, Founder of Edinger Consulting says:
"New clients that come from referrals advance through the sales process faster, have more forgiving negotiations and healthier margins, and tend towards greater loyalty."
The value of client referrals is the in-built trust that they bring. Of course this tactic won't be relevant to new agencies who don't have existing clients but even with the first client you work with, it's important to proactively ask for referrals if they are a happy client!
For agencies with many clients, it can be worthwhile setting up client referral or affiliate programs that automate the comms and further incentivize previous clients to refer new leads.
2. Capture leads on your agency website
Tactic: EMBED AN AUDIT FORM
Your agency website has the potential to be a lead generation machine. A contact form on your agency website is a decent start but there's no value exchange when a prospect fills out your contact form. A much more effective way to capture the lead is to add immediate value to the prospect upfront.
This can be done by providing the prospect with a free comprehensive site audit outlining the ways they can improve their website. Best of all, this audit can be generated automatically and emailed to the prospect. SEOptimer's Embeddable Audit Tool does exactly this, helping to turbo-charge your agency website and increase your lead generation rate.
Agencies who use the Embeddable Audit Tool can also customize it with their fonts, colors and layouts check our previous Customer Examples article for some inspiration. The audit form can be setup to capture custom form fields with lead info automation pushed to your CRM via Zapier.
3. Network, speak at or sponsor relevant conferences
Tactic: EVENT MARKETING
Within your niche industry, service or location niche there are likely to be existing conferences or networking events worth attending. This is a good first step but a better one would be to position yourself as a thought leader at these events by pitching a compelling topic to the event organizer that you can speak about.
Conferences are well and truly back in person and now is the time to start planning what events to attend in the next 6-12 months and start brainstorming topic ideas.
For example, LeadsCon is one of the biggest lead generation conferences in the US and their 2022 conference had a session presented by Nancy Harbut, CCO at lead gen agency HBT Marketing. Her presentation "The 10 Best Customer Behavior Triggers You've Never Heard Of" was an intriguing topic and made it into the LeadsCon program:
The value of presenting at a prestigious conference like this is more long term but can potentially lead to immediate client conversations during the conference and at subsequent networking & social events. The other benefit is that once you've established yourself as a successful conference speaker, it becomes easier to speak at other conferences and future events since you are a known entity.
4. Publish great blog content
Tactic: CONTENT MARKETING
Publishing great content is not only recommended by Google but it's the driver of SEO. This very article that you're reading right now is an example of value-based blog content. It's targeted and comprehensive but most importantly is hopefully useful to agency owners.
Your agency blog
Many agency blogs are ghost towns with no articles or very infrequent articles. Some are too inwardly focused and more about self-congratulation. The best agency blogs are the ones that publish frequent, high quality articles. By 'high quality' we mean generally longer articles (1,000+ words) and provide value throughout.
Kaylee Randall, SEO Specialist from award-winning Australian digital agency, Digital8 says they focus heavily on SEO and content marketing to drive organic traffic to their site:
"Currently, I'm updating and improving our current blog posts while finding gaps in our content library. This tells me where we should add new content to eventually become a trusted hub of valuable information in our niche."
And it's paying off. Kaylee generously shared their results from Google Analytics. 55% of the agency's web traffic comes from organic search:
From a conversion standpoint, the agency generates an impressive 30 new leads per week with 2-3 leads a month directly attributable to traffic landing on blog articles.
"Since the vast majority of our traffic comes from organic search, I'd say that most, if not all of those leads come from our SEO efforts overall."
This highlights the halo effect that quality content provides. High quality articles naturally attract backlinks which build domain authority and increase search rankings overall. This is the power of a well-executed content marketing strategy.
Medium has become a popular destination for agencies to publish thought pieces. The benefit of publishing on medium is the in-built community and discovery aspect. But the downside is that your website doesn't host that content and you miss out on the potential SEO benefit. Your Medium article might still appear in search but if it is high quality and attracts backlinks, those backlinks will point directly to Medium.
Oklahoma-based content agency, People First Content publish frequent articles on their Medium blog and benefit from the Medium discovery engine and visibility within that community.
Writing guest blog articles on other popular blogs is another great way to increase your awareness and build your authority within your niche. Some blogs accept guest submissions directly on their site but it's bet to target blogs that attract your ideal clients or align to your niche. You should reach out directly to these blogs or the writers via LinkedIn or Twitter.
5. Publish an ebook, industry report, white paper or study
Tactic: LEAD MAGNET
Providing value via a free 'lead magnet' such as an ebook, white paper or some other in-depth digital asset is a popular way to capture leads. This method was popularized years ago by software companies but has since proven to be a successful lead gen strategy for agencies too.
Building on the previous idea of value-based articles, this tactic is a natural extension of that idea but instead the content asset is 'gated' behind a lead capture form. In the example below from digital agency Brenton Way, it's a simple email field. Once submitted, it unlocks the free content asset:
Jonathan Saeidian is the Founder of Brenton Way and says:
"We offer a variety of free guides and resources on our website that are helpful for our target audience. We currently have a 2% conversion rate from traffic landing on our website to signing up for a free resource."
6. Advertise in the trade press or local press
Tactic: TARGETED ADVERTISING
Targeted advertising in publications that your clients read can be an effective way to generate leads. Consumer Goods Technology is the leading news publication in the CPG industry. Banner ads like this example below from consulting firm Deloitte are effective at getting in front of decision makers in the CPG industry:
The advertising opportunities in your target industries might not be big trade press sites but might instead be smaller blogs or local press.
7. Paid digital advertising
Tactic: DIGITAL ADVERTISING
Search ads on Google are the most common form of digital advertising. Jason Ball is the Director of Considered Content, a B2B marketing agency and runs Google Ads campaigns to drive traffic to their agency site. However he's aware that few website visitors convert immediately. This is where he relies on display retargeting on Google's Display Network:
"You can use display retargeting to display banner ads on other well-known websites throughout the internet. Although it can take some time to master, display advertising has proven to be a useful awareness driver for the agency."
Facebook Ads and LinkedIn Ads are the most likely and effective paid social channels utilized by digital agencies for lead gen. In the example below from Meta Ads Library we can see California-based digital agency Ignite Visibility running the following ads on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and the Audience Network:
Like the display retargeting tactic above, retargeting on social media is another great approach to serve ads to non-converting website traffic in the newsfeed after they've visited your agency website. All the main social media channels support the ability to retarget through Custom Audiences or Matched Audiences.
8. Publish great content on social media
Tactic: SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Organic social media marketing can be highly effective at getting in front of potential clients. Again, the trick here is to focus on adding value up-front and NOT selling. Most agencies are overly promotional on social media and focus on themselves and their achievements. While this might be nice content, it's not engaging nor is it shareable. What is engaging however is valuable content. Consider these examples on TikTok, Quora and LinkedIn:
Can the fastest growing social network home to dancing and lip sync video selfies generate agency leads? Absolutely. Just ask Corbin White, Founder of Zoco Marketing. Corbin started posting snack-sized digital marketing tips on TikTok during the pandemic and has since wracked up over 87,000 followers with some of his videos achieving over 100,000 views!
But the proof is in the pudding as Corbin tells us:
"I've been able to grow my following on TikTok to the point where it generates me on average 8-10 leads a month without using any paid ads."
Quora is the home of Questions & Answers online. If you want to establish yourself as an expert in a particular niche, it makes sense to answer questions in that niche. There are no shortage of questions on almost every imaginable topic. What's also great about Quora is the keyword relevance and visibility it has in Google search too.
In the example below, Group Marketing Manager at ETTC, Jurie Eksteen answers this question on Quora about successful marketing strategies for physical retail stores:
Being the default home of b2b on social media, it makes sense to have a well-optimized LinkedIn presence. Not only is it the perfect channel for thought leadership but it's also a great channel for adding value by commenting on posts and sharing content from others. In all these examples, the common thread is clear: always add value!
9. Build or engage in an online community
Tactic: COMMUNITY BUILDING
Facebook Groups have fast become one of the most important channels for building and fostering closed/private communities. While LinkedIn Groups are still around, they have fallen by the wayside with Facebook interestingly replacing LinkedIn, even for b2b closed groups. Part of the reason for this, is the continual functional updates Facebook have been to their Groups product over the years.
Slack / Discord
Another popular location for community-building is Slack and Discord. Brenton Way agency mentioned previously built a Discord server called The Marketing Collective which they describe as "a community for all things marketing" including advice, job posts, marketers offering services, collaborations, AMAs, engagement pods, discounts and weekly breakout rooms.
With over 2,000 members, the community is vibrant and growing! Jonathan, the agency's founder is also highly active in the Discord server answering questions and providing advice:
10. Cold email outreach
Tactic: EMAIL MARKETING
Cold email outreach is traditionally a numbers game but there are probably two different ways you can look at cold email outreach depending on how large your potential client list is.
If you aren't niched down (ie: you offer marketing services to a wide range of clients around the country) you can approach cold email outreach as a quantitative strategy. However if you are highly niched and only offer services to a few hundred or few thousand potential clients, you can approach cold email outreach as a qualitative strategy.
Quantitative Email Outreach
This strategy is all about volume and involves building lists of tens or hundreds of thousands of prospects for emailing. The reply rate will be very low but that's ok because you have a high volume of prospects to run through. Tools like lemlist can help organize your lists and run the email outreach campaigns with rules-based drips.
For agencies running this kind of email outreach, SEOptimer's Bulk Reporting Tool is perfect for running site audits by the thousands enabling the email outreach to once again, lead with value upfront.
Prospects' website URLs can be bulk loaded via CSV with whitelabel PDF reports and data exportable individually or as a zip file:
This kind of powerful functionality gives your cold email outreach campaigns the edge and helps you generate agency leads on autopilot.
Qualitative Email Outreach
When your potential client list is small, high quality and individualized cold email outreach can work really well especially when its coupled with other tactics like relationship building on social media.
If you think about the volume of spam you receive, the level of quality is actually quite low. By taking the time to craft custom email subjects and content you can drastically improve open and reply rates purely by being highly relevant.
11. Create strategic partnerships with other businesses
Tactic: PARTNERSHIP LEAD GEN
We previously wrote a comprehensive article about building strategic agency partnerships. It's probably one of the most underutilized lead gen tactics for agencies and there's several different ways that an agency can partner with another organization - not just agency & agency.
Check out our article for some innovative examples of how agencies are forging strategic partnerships to supplement or even spearhead their agency lead gen strategy.
12. Provide commentary in the media
Public Relations or simply getting mentions in mainstream media is a more traditional yet effective approach for lead gen. In the digital world, the best PR mentions come built-in with a backlink to your agency site. Not only do you get the visibility that comes with a mention in the press but you also get a potentially high authority backlink to your site.
Tools like Help A Reporter and Terkel are great for connecting the press with sources. Typically press outlets are time-poor and if you can provide a great quote or perspective as a source, you have the chance to be picked up and published by a high authority site, therefore increasing your own domain authority.
13. Run virtual training workshops seminars
Tactic: EDUCATION MARKETING
Running training workshops and seminars is another great lead gen tactic to build your personal profile and establish yourself (and your agency) as a leader in your niche. Some agencies offer online workshops to their clients as a value-add. Not only that, but these workshops can also prove highly effective at driving new leads too.
With virtual workshops and online events so common these days, try to find a different and unique way to position your workshop so you get plenty of RSVPs. Free workshops tend to have a large no-show rate so you'll need lots of RSVPs to ensure you get a decent number of people turning up on the day & time of your workshop.
Online Workshop Ninja suggests a number of different workshop styles / formats which might help you think outside the box during your event planning:
14. Get listed in agency directories
Tactic: INBOUND REFERRALS & REVIEWS
There's no shortage of agency directories online that list basic agency details and services. Some also aggregate or host reviews and client testimonials. The biggest agency directory is Clutch. So it's important to ensure your listing there is complete.
In addition, maintaining a strong presence on other agency directories like GoodFirms and Digital Agency Network is ideal. Also, encouraging clients to leave public reviews for your agency on these sites is a strategy you can use to help build your listing and appear higher in the directory.
These agency directories also publish keyword-relevant blog posts and may become competitive in the SERP within your niche. Keep an eye on their content and reach out to their editors or blog contributors to ensure you are included in future relevant posts.
15. Join your local BNI chapter or business chamber
Tactic: RELATIONSHIP MARKETING
BNI is a global business networking group enabling members to leverage each other's services. The group is prolific and has over 10,000 local chapters and over 290,000 members. Being active in your local BNI chapter can help grow referral lead gen. And as we stated right at the top of this article referrals come with in-built trust and usually represent the highest quality leads.
In a previous customer case study, we spoke to Andrew Jackson, CEO & Founder of North Shore Digital who cited BNI as playing a key role in their initial client growth. You can read more about Andrew's thoughts on BNI on their site.
Aside from BNI, there's also your local chamber of commerce - representing another great networking opportunity with local businesses.
16. Run a local in-person meetup
Tactic: LOCAL EVENT MARKETING
Meetup is the leading platform for launching, running and growing both in-person and virtual meetups:
You might not even need to create a Meetup group from scratch. There might be a relevant group that already exists in your niche but it has become inactive. For various reasons the original organizer of a group may step down, opening up an opportunity for you to step up as the organizer of an existing group. Meetup outlines the details of how this works here.
17. Join vendor panels and respond to RFPs
Tactic: RFP LEAD GEN
Responding to a Request For Proposal is not technically a lead gen tactic as it's basically skipping the lead stage but since RFPs are competitive, it can be considered loosely as a type of lead gen. In fact some digital agencies specialize in only responding to Government RFPs and joining approved vendor panels.
If Government work is of interest to you, consider starting at FindRFP to shortlist relevant Government projects.
18. Advertise on traditional channels
Tactic: TRADITIONAL ADVERTISING
Let's not forget traditional advertising channels like direct mail, out of home or radio. Of all the traditional advertising methods, direct mail is a type of cold outreach that may work for potential prospects.
Consider the example of targeted direct mail sent to marketing managers when they start a new job at a company that fits as a potential client. You can easily track this type of personnel movement with LinkedIn and trigger a custom letter and printed site audit sent in the mail to them as a 'welcome offer'. Sometimes these old-school methods have a way to be interruptive as the majority of outreach has become electronic over the years. Who knows, it's worth a shot?!
We hope you enjoyed this guide and that it's given you a few ideas to generate leads for your business. If you end up trying one of the agency lead gen ideas above, get in touch with us on Twitter @seoptimer as we'd love to hear how it went!