Let’s backtrack for a minute.
Long before you sent over that sales proposal to a new client, they came across your agency through search, social, or some other digital channel. They clicked through to your site because you produced a piece of content that was relevant to their business.
They made their way to your agency’s homepage and, finally, discovered that you offer a service addressing one of their specific business needs. Just like that, you’ve got a new client in the pipeline.
Don’t you wish it was that easy?
The reality is, digital marketing is hard. There are literally hundreds of tactics peddled across marketing blogs every day that agency owners hope will be the missing element of their lead generation strategy.
This blog post isn’t trying to do that.
No SEO hacks, social cheat codes, or email optimization tips. Instead, we’ll provide three distinct frameworks for you to think about how your agency’s positioning, content, and distribution strategy can work together to target the best new clients.
First things first. Your agency’s positioning is the foundation of your marketing plan. It defines your company’s service offering and the target clients you are trying to reach.
Do you specialize in one service or offer many? Are you willing to work with clients across many verticals or just one? Are your target accounts small businesses or corporations? Do you have an ideal client criteria, or have you gone as far as naming the companies you want to work with?
As we’ll explore below, these questions inform not just your positioning, but also your content and distribution strategies.
Service Offering: Highly commoditized, like graphic design or social media management
Number of Target Accounts: Thousands
Lifetime Value of a Customer: Four figures
Intent-based targeting aims to attract a large number of non-targeted prospects. In other words, you know what your target audience and ideal client looks like, but you haven’t gone so as far as listing specific companies you’d like to work with. If your agency offers an in-demand, highly commoditized service that could be helpful to thousands of potential clients, this level of targeting is right for you.
Because your agency offers a service that’s relevant across industries and verticals, your content strategy, and the content you produce, should appeal to a similarly broad audience. If you offer a highly specific white paper or webinar on your site for example, you might confuse or turn off some visitors who would actually be a good fit. Your content needs to cast a wide net to reach your target client.
So, with innumerable potential clients out there, how do you isolate the ones that need your services?
Intent-based targeting relies heavily on inbound marketing channels, namely organic SEO and Google AdWords, which allow you to promote the right message (your solution) at the right moment (when prospects are actively researching solutions to a problem).
Inbound marketing is the most scalable way to bring in high-value leads when there are thousands of potential prospects.
Service Offering: Somewhat specialized, like inbound marketing for nonprofits or mobile game design
Number of Target Accounts: Hundreds
Lifetime Value of a Customer: Five figures
If your agency offers a somewhat specialized service that would appeal to hundreds of different prospects rather than thousands, list-based targeting is for you. Because the number of target accounts you’d like to work with is more manageable, you can create a list that allows you to reach these higher-value clients more directly.
To start, you need to create that list of target accounts. Once you’ve considered and put together the ideal criteria for your clients, you can research companies that fit the bill using tools like LinkedIn, Datanyze, Crunchbase, BuiltWith, and Mattermark.
Your list will provide a good foundation. However, a list of companies alone won’t get you very far. In order to execute a list-based strategy, you need to build out a lead database that includes the contact information for the stakeholders you want to reach at each company.
The good news: there are platforms like LeadGenius and LeanData that can help you do that. Just feed them your ideal client criteria and they will come back with crystal-clear lead data.
For those of you on a leaner budget, outsourcing lead generation to a freelancer on Upwork is a popular alternative. Persist IQ’s guide to using virtual workers for lead generation is a good place to start.
The content you produce for a list-based targeting campaign must be designed for personas and pain points that appear frequently within your listed accounts. By producing more specialized content, you’ll appeal to and connect more quickly with your targeted audience.
On the distribution side, your lead database becomes a huge asset when you run highly targeted campaigns. With tools like Facebook’s Custom Audiences, Twitter’s Tailored Audiences, Google Adwords Customer Match, and AdRoll’s CRM retargeting, you can promote content exclusively to your target accounts.
This way, you eliminate wasteful spending and get your message in front of the right audience quickly.
Service Offering: Very specialized, like C-level staffing for Fortune 100 companies
Number of Target Accounts: Tens
Lifetime Value of a Customer: Six figures
Does your agency offer a highly specialized service that would appeal only to dozens of different companies? If so, account-based targeting is for you.
Like with list-based targeting, account-based targeting requires you to name your target accounts and put together an associated lead database. What’s the main difference? In a list-based targeting campaign, you’re going after just a few key decision makers at a target account. With account-based targeting, you want to go after as many decision makers as possible.
An account-based approach acknowledges that there are many stakeholders involved in a big-time purchasing decision. In 2015, CEB discovered that an average of 5.4 people are required to formally sign off on a new purchase for their company.
Engagio, founded by account-based marketing pioneer and Marketo founder Jon Miller, cited this number to be as high as 17. The bigger the deal, the more stakeholders you’re going to have to turn into internal champions of your agency.
When it comes to executing an account-based campaign, it’s essential to produce, design, and deliver content—in the form of case studies, research reports, white papers, and even web design—with a specific company in mind.
On the distribution side, account-based targeting is very similar to list-based targeting. Platform-native tools like Custom Audiences are critical. On LinkedIn, you can even go as far as running ad campaigns against people who work at individual companies. New tools like Vendemore, DemandBase and Terminus are robust options for scaling an account-based campaign.
Of course, crafting a campaign for a target market of one is a serious investment of time, resources, and money, but the payoff can be huge.
According to DemandBase, account-based marketing campaigns have a 75% higher close rate and 26% higher deal size. If you run a highly-specialized agency, or are going after big accounts exclusively, check out the 26 account-based marketing resources to learn more about the tactics behind this level of targeting.
A Process Emerges
Now that we’ve gone through the three main targeting strategies, you might have noticed a process emerging:
- Ensure you have a strong understanding of your agency’s positioning, both in respect to the services you offer and the clients you’re going after.
- Produce content that fits your ideal client personas, whether broad or very specific.
- Choose the distribution channels that will get you in front of your ideal clients as quickly and efficiently as possible.
With your positioning, content, and distribution working in harmony, benefits beyond digital marketing success will permeate your company.
First, your sales team will be happy to be involved in determining your ideal client criteria and, in the case of list- or account-based targeting, they’ll be able to name accounts they want to go after before the marketing process even begins.
Your creative team will also feel confident that the sales and marketing teams are going after high-quality work. Best of all, you’ll be able to navigate the sea of marketing blogs with a keen eye for tactics that are relevant to your agency.
Slow down, take a step back, and think about which level of targeting is right for you.