The marketing landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. What would earlier be done over the phone or in-person is now done largely online. Clients who would earlier find your agency through referrals are increasingly turning to the internet for creative solutions.
In this evolved marketing landscape, email is your secret weapon. A well-planned email marketing strategy can help you capture, qualify and close leads at scale. For an agency to thrive in 2018 and beyond, email marketing isn't just important, it's necessary.
In this in-depth guide, I'll discuss how you can create a compelling email marketing strategy for your agency. I'll show you how to acquire emails and qualify leads. I'll also share tactics to optimize and scale your email marketing for maximum impact.
Why Email Marketing?
For your agency to grow, it needs a steady supply of high-quality leads.
Most agencies, however, rely on unscalable lead sources.
For example, a HubSpot survey found that a majority of agencies rely on referrals and cold outreach to get leads.
Although effective, these sources are neither scalable nor predictable. You might have 10 referrals in one month, none in another. A growing business can’t thrive in such unpredictability.
Conventional marketing has another problem: it is interruptive and unpersonalized.
At a time when clients are increasingly taking control of the buyer’s journey (57% of buyer’s journey is finished before they even talk to sales), traditional push marketing feels intrusive. Your clients want to be able to consume your marketing messages on their own schedule, not yours.
A typical agency sales process is also lengthy and focused on client education. Conventional marketing fails at this task, leaving your sales team to do the heavy lifting of educating clients.
Finally, traditional marketing is hard to track. You can’t easily tell what’s the ROI of a trade show booth or word of mouth.
Email marketing is an antidote to all these problems.
A well-planned email marketing funnel can help you get leads in a scalable and predictable manner. Once you’ve set up the funnel, you only need to drive targeted traffic to it to generate qualified leads.
More importantly, this email marketing funnel is non-intrusive. Clients can choose to consume (or ignore) your emails at their own leisure. You can also personalize each email extensively to improve conversion rates (and keep clients happy).
Email marketing is also content-focused. That is, it is designed to help customers, not just sell to them. This is diametrically opposite to the sales-focused, interruptive nature of traditional marketing.
To sum it up, email marketing for agencies works because:
- It is scalable and predictable
- It is non-intrusive
- It can be personalized extensively
- It is easy to track its ROI
- It is focused on helping instead of selling
In the sections to follow, I’ll share concrete examples of how email marketing accomplishes all of the above (and more).
The Email Marketing Funnel for Agencies
If you’re going to use email as a way to get new clients, you have to look beyond email as just a source of leads. You have to see it as a complete system to capture, qualify, and nurture leads.
To do this, you need to create a marketing funnel:
Broadly speaking, a marketing funnel has three stages - Awareness, Consideration, Conversion. In terms of content consumption, these stages align with the three stages of the buyer’s journey.
This funnel starts in the Awareness stage with prospects first learning about your business or their own needs. Once a prospect hands over contact data (usually in exchange for some content), it becomes a lead and enters the funnel.
As the lead progresses further down the funnel, it learns more about your business (and vice-versa). In this Consideration stage, your primary goal is to capture more data. This is accomplished by sending the lead targeted content offers in exchange for additional data.
With this data, you can score, qualify, and segment leads. A lead that consumes a lot of Decision-stage content (refer to the buyer’s journey here) can be pushed to sales. From the perspective of marketing, this Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) is a Conversion.
If the data shows that the lead isn’t sales-ready yet, or hasn’t shown clear interest in your services, it can be pushed to a separate funnel for nurturing.
In the next section, I’ll cover the two most important parts of email marketing - capturing emails, and qualifying leads.
Part I: Capturing Emails
Any email marketing campaign starts with a single ingredient: email addresses.
Hence, the first stage of the marketing funnel - call it ‘lead generation’ or ‘Awareness’ stage - deals precisely with capturing emails.
Of course, convincing raw traffic to give away their emails is never easy. You also don’t want just any emails; you want emails from decision makers in markets you actually serve.
So how do you target the right lead targets and convince them to share their emails?
I’ll share some answers below.
How to Capture Emails
Conceptually speaking, the process to capture emails is remarkably simple:
- Create content offer (lead magnet) that would interest your target market
- Place this offer behind an optimized landing page or opt-in form
- Direct targeted traffic to this offer via paid or free sources
If you can consistently do all of the above, you're guaranteed to get a steady supply of leads.
1. Create a Highly Targeted Content Offer
Email marketing is based on a simple exchange. Your audience gives you their email addresses. You give them content in return, i.e. the lead magnet.
The more targeted your content offer, the easier it will be to convince your audience to give up its email addresses.
To create such targeted offers, you first need to understand what your audience cares about. What are its problems and concerns? What kind of content does it like to consume? Where does this audience hang out online?
As I’ll show you below, there are several ways to find targeted content ideas.
A. Borrow Content Offer Ideas From Your Competitors
A competitor with a strong email marketing strategy can be a blessing in disguise. Instead of learning about the audience from scratch, you can use ideas tried and tested by your competitors to create more compelling offers.
A good way to start is to look for all lead magnets created by your primary competitors. Since most lead magnets are in the form of PDFs, use this query to find them:
Site:[competitor’s website].com filetype:pdf
For example, here are the results of this query for HubSpot.com:
For more in-depth research, dig through the competitor’s resource archives to find all their content offers.
Here’s Workamajig’s resource archive, for example:
Now create a spreadsheet. In one column, add the title of every lead magnet you find. Note the competitor’s name, the lead magnet type (how-to, whitepaper, workbook, content upgrade, etc.), focus area, and complexity level (beginner, intermediate, advanced).
If possible, try to guess the lead magnet’s target audience as well.
Your goal is to find common patterns in your competitors’ lead magnets. Are there any topics that come up again and again across competitors? Is a successful competitor creating a large number of lead magnets on a particular advanced topic? What core concerns are these lead magnets trying to address?
Answering these questions can help you come up with your own content offer ideas.
For instance, if your competitors are creating a lot of social media-focused content, it probably means that the target audience is interested in this topic.
This is a little used but powerful tactic for discovering compelling lead magnet ideas.
B. Use Client Surveys and Sales Data
More than anyone else, your sales team would have a good idea of your target market’s concerns, questions, and interests. Their input can be a valuable source for identifying possible topics for content offers.
Alternatively, you can survey your website visitors to understand their concerns. Use tools like Qualaroo and Typeform to create on-site surveys asking visitors about their content preferences, pain points, and problems.
Another source of content ideas is your existing client base. Interview your clients to figure out what issues they were facing when they came to you first. Map their entire customer journey from the first touch to the final deal. What were their original problems? Did this change over the customer journey?
Use this data to supplement your competitor research when brainstorming content ideas.
3. Analyze Your Existing Content
Your existing content can tell you a lot about your target market’s preferences. If a topic gets strong traffic or engagement, it indicates that your target audience is interested in it.
Head over to your analytics software and find your most popular content. If you’re using Google Analytics, you can find this by going to Behavior -> Site Content -> Content Drilldown.
Look for patterns. Do some topics get more traffic than others? What type of content has the highest engagement (average time on page)? How long is this content? What is its complexity and its target audience?
This, along with the data you capture from your competitors and client surveys can help you figure out what kind of lead magnets would work for your audience.
4. Find Content Ideas on Buzzsumo and Quora
Besides the above, you can also get an idea of a content offer’s impact by analyzing the success of similarly themed content.
One way to do that is to search for your content offer topic on a tool like Buzzsumo.
For example, if you’re planning to create a guide to using Facebook to generate business leads, you can search for keywords such as “Facebook for B2B”. Use the left menu to filter results by content type.
Look for the number of shares for each of the results. Then click on the ‘View Sharers’ link for each result to see who all have shared that article on Twitter.
Ask yourself: do these sharers fit my buyer profile? If yes, it’s a good indication that content on similar topics would interest your target audience.
Similarly, you can also search for your topic on Quora to see gauge audience interest. A lot of answers, answer views, or related views shows high interest.
Combined with the data you captured earlier, this should give you a great idea of what content offers would work.
The next step is to create the content offer, then place it behind a landing page to collect emails.
2. Create a Well-Optimized Landing Page or Opt-in Form
Your lead magnet is the ‘bribe’ you offer your audience in exchange for their email addresses. In order to collect emails, however, you need to have some sort of form.
This form can be:
A dedicated landing page, such as this one:
An on-page opt-in form, such as this:
What kind of form you use is up to you. You’ll use dedicated landing page if you’re directing traffic directly to the lead magnet. Landing pages also work well for high-value offers that need to be pitched aggressively.
Opt-in forms work better for lead magnets that are related to the on-page content. For example, the lead magnet in the form I shared above is about the same topic as the page itself - team building activities.
More often than not, you’ll want to use both opt-in and landing page forms.
What’s more important is making sure that your forms aren’t leaking conversions. The form should be designed to convince visitors to give away their email addresses. If it is poorly designed, it will impact your conversion rate, nullifying the impact of your content offer.
So how do you create a well-optimized landing page of opt-in form?
I’ll share some answers below.
How to Create Optimized Forms
The primary purpose of any form is to sell the value of your offer. This isn’t about tricks or hacks; it is about conveying the lead magnet’s benefits in a clear and concise manner.
Adopt this mentality when creating forms and you’ll never struggle to get conversions again.
Below, I’ll share some fundamental strategies to create better email marketing forms:
A. Embrace Clarity
First impressions matter in real life, but they matter even more online. Research shows that visitors form an opinion about a website within 50 milliseconds of landing on it.
One way to make a better first impression is through clarity. A visitor landing on your site should have zero doubts about your offer and what’s required of him/her.
One way to do this is through clear copy, especially in high-attention areas of the landing page such as the title and the subtitle.
For example, this landing page from Unbounce makes it clear that it's about a landing page conversion course:
Think of what your lead magnet is about. Condense its key value proposition into a short sentence and use it in your title.
If your lead magnet is about using Facebook for B2B marketing, your title could be “Get more clients using Facebook”.
Clarity isn’t just about copy. Your design choices play a major role in it as well.
Use your landing page design to tell visitors:
- What type of content you’re offering
- What should be their next steps
For example, this landing page from Velaro uses visual indicators - Adobe Acrobat icon, eGuide mockup - to show the kind of content on offer.
Subtle use of arrows, CTAs that stand out, and using a conventional two-column layout also help guide the visitor’s attention to the next steps, i.e. filling the form.
For example, this landing page from Salesforce uses a subtle arrow to draw the visitor’s attention to the form:
Clarity applies to form design as well. A long form with too many fields is bound to confuse, if not bore visitors.
Since this is just the first stage in the email marketing funnel, I recommend using a short form with as few fields as possible (Name, Email). If you must add more fields (Phone number, Company, etc.), make them optional.
Of course, all these rules apply to opt-in forms as well. Any opt-in should be short, simple and emphasize the value of the content offer.
Revisiting the earlier example from our blog again, notice how this copy clearly says that it’s a checklist, that it is free, and that it is about team building activities:
Such clarity reduces visitor confusion and improves conversion rates.
B. Emphasize Benefits
Clear copy and design tell visitors about the what of your offer. Emphasizing benefits tells them why they should sign-up for it.
Everything from your title to the landing page body content should focus on this why. Think about what visitors can gain from your offer. Then emphasize that in your copy.
For example, the title of this landing page from Impactbnd focuses on helping visitors get even more leads. The core benefit - more leads - is highlighted in the title itself.
A common practice is to use a series of bullet points to reiterate the contents of the offer and how they can benefit the reader.
For example, this copy from Velaro has two bullet points. The first one talks about the guide contents (‘chat best practices’). The second one talks about the benefits (‘increase conversions and ROI’).
Besides the above, it’s also a good idea to focus on the benefits in your CTA copy.
For example, the Impactbnd landing page I shared above doesn’t use a bland ‘Download Now’ or ‘Submit’ in its CTA. Instead, the CTA reiterates the core benefits - ‘Generate More Conversions’:
Use the same principles when writing your opt-in form copy. This example from SocialTriggers, for instance, mentions the core benefit - get more traffic and sales.
Always ask: Why should a visitor download my content? How will this content help him/her?
Emphasize the answers to these questions in your forms.
Landing Page and Opt-in Form Tools
Here are some tools you can use to create landing pages and opt-in forms:
Most landing page tools also offer opt-in forms (and vice-versa), so you can just pick one from the two categories. Popular email marketing tools such as MailChimp also offer simple opt-in forms in case you don’t want to use a dedicated tool.
C. Test and Optimize
The final part of the conversion puzzle is to test different landing page/opt-in form variants and optimize to get the best possible results.
Make testing an ongoing process. Keep a spreadsheet with a list of testing ideas. Estimate the resources required to create the test and its potential impact. Use this data to prioritize tests (low resources + high impact = high priority).
Some things you can test are:
- Page titles and subtitles
- CTA design, copy and placement
- Main landing page body copy
- Landing page design (colors, form placement, etc.)
- Landing page length
- Social proof elements (reviews, ratings, testimonials, etc.)
If you’ve followed these guidelines, you should have an optimized form with a targeted lead magnet behind it.
The only thing you need to do now is to get traffic.
3. Get Targeted Traffic
The quality of emails you can capture is directly related to the quality of traffic you can attract. Untargeted traffic will neither be interested in your offer, nor will it buy your services, no matter how much you nurture it.
How, and where you get this traffic from will depend on three things:
- Target audience: Focus on traffic channels where your audience actually hangs out. For instance, if your target is C-level execs, focus on LinkedIn, not Pinterest.
- Existing expertise: Analyze your existing expertise and experience in using different traffic channels. It’s always better to focus on something you already understand than to experiment with something entirely new.
- Budget: Whether you can use paid acquisition channels will depend on budget. Some targeted traffic sources, such as Google AdWords, can be prohibitively expensive on smaller budgets.
Below, I’ll share some effective traffic sources for agencies:
Paid traffic sources can be extremely effective, especially if you have the budget to test and track results.
Some paid sources that work great for agencies are:
- PPC: LinkedIn ads, Facebook ads, Google AdWords.
- Content distribution platforms such as Outbrain and Taboola.
- Agency directories such as Clutch.co and DigitalAgencyNetwork
From forums to social media, there is a huge list of free traffic sources for agencies, such as:
- Facebook groups and niche forums (Google “[niche] + intitle:forum”)
- Targeted subreddits on Reddit
- Targeted Quora questions
- Twitter, Pinterest and other social media channels
- Guest blogging (especially with the guest post linking to your landing page)
With free channels, it’s always a better idea to link to valuable content than to a landing page. Give them something of value upfront (such as an in-depth blog post), then plug your lead magnet after they’ve consumed this free content.
Your goal should be to create a mini funnel that leads progressively from low engagement to higher engagement channels.
For example, inbound marketing agency IMPACT links to its most important blog post on its Instagram profile:
Instagram is a ‘low engagement’ channel with limited content and untargeted traffic. Any follower who clicks through to the blog has shown both intent and interest in IMPACT.
Once this follower lands on the blog, he/she is greeted with an opt-in form for a lead magnet:
Such mini-funnels can help you get quality leads even from low quality traffic sources.
This takes care of the most important part of the email marketing process for agencies: capturing emails (i.e. leads).
In the next section, I’ll discuss how you can qualify captured leads.
Email Marketing for Agencies: Qualifying Leads
Qualification is a filtering mechanism to figure out which of your leads are likely to buy your services.
A qualified lead (also called a Marketing Qualified Lead or MQL) either fits your targeted buyer profile, or has shown clear interest in your offers.
Lead qualification is critical for an effective email marketing campaign for agencies. Without it, you only have a ‘raw’ leads. You might have a list of names and email addresses, but you can’t tell if they would be interested in working with you.
To qualify leads, you need to:
- Figure out what data to collect
- Collect data via emails
- Evaluate data and qualify leads
I’ll cover each of these steps in detail below.
1. Figure Out What Data to Collect
To go from ‘raw’ email to ‘qualified lead’, you need data.
One way to figure out what data to collect is to use a lead scoring framework.
Lead scoring is a way to prioritize leads based on its likelihood to buy from you. Every single data point associated with the lead is assigned a separate score. The higher the sum of these scores, the more the chances of the lead becoming a client.
You might have seen this lead scoring example from our earlier article on this topic:
In this case, Lead A would be a more ‘qualified’ lead than Lead B.
While you don’t have to actually use a lead scoring system (and many agencies without robust sales teams don’t), having a fixed methodology will make the overall qualification process.
For most agencies, the popular BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) methodology works well enough.
As per this methodology, leads that have a strong budget, decision making authority, and an immediate need for your services have a strong chance of conversion.
Here are some ways to collect this data:
- Budget: Ask for the budget directly, or estimate it from the company’s size (employee count), revenues and need.
- Authority: Ask for the lead’s job title/position at the company to figure out if they have decision making authority.
- Need: Use qualifying questions (such as “What is your top marketing challenge?”) or estimate it from the lead’s content consumption history.
- Timeline: Ask for the purchase timeline directly or estimate it from the lead’s content consumption history.
Broadly speaking, you’ll want to collect at least the following data as an agency:
- Company name and URL
- Job title or role
- Company size
- Phone number
You can also ask qualifying questions about the lead’s budget, timeline or need.
I’ll show you how to collect this data below. But before that, a quick note on writing better emails.
How to Write Open-worthy Emails
You might have the most targeted content offers in the world, but if your leads don’t even open (and read) your emails, you’re not going to get any traffic to them.
Writing better emails is mostly a matter of two things:
- Creating open-worthy subject lines
- Getting readers to click the CTA
Keep in mind that as a B2B agency marketer, you don’t have as much leeway to be creative as your B2C counterparts. Buzzfeed might get away with emojis in its subject lines, but your leads might not appreciate it.
Thus, your goal when writing emails should be clarity. A matter-of-fact subject line that emphasizes the benefits of the email will generally yield good results.
The same goes for the email body as well. Your goal should be to get the reader to click the CTA as quickly as possible. Remember: email is only a conduit to get to the content offer landing page.
Consider this subject line from Whereoware. It simply tells the reader about the webinar subject and date minus any copywriting tricks.
For the email body, use the same copywriting strategy as the landing page. Add bullet points emphasizing the lead magnet’s contents and benefits. Then add a clickable CTA directing visitors to the landing page.
Here’s one example:
Read this post to learn more about writing better email subject lines.
Otherwise, stick to the basics: be clear, focus on the benefits, and add a big CTA early in the email body.
2. Collect Data About Your Leads
To collect data about your leads, you need to follow the same process you used to capture emails in the first place.
That is, give away content in exchange for data.
Perhaps the best way to explain this is with a diagram
Think of it as a cascade of increasing interest and intent. As the lead consumes more content, you get more opportunities to collect data.
In this context, your biggest challenge isn’t to collect data; it is to convince leads to consume more content.
To do this, you have to think in terms of narratives. Any content you send to the lead should tie into the previous one.
For example, if your first lead magnet was about using Facebook to get more traffic, your second lead magnet should be on a closely related topic (social media).
I recommend creating a spreadsheet with a list of all your content offers. List the focus area and key value proposition of each offer.
Your goal is to find content offers that offer the same key benefit. In the above example, offer #1, #2 and #4 all have the same focus - get more leads. Sending these to visitors in succession would yield better results than sending them randomly chosen offers.
As you send these content offers to your leads, change your landing pages to include more data fields. You might ask for just a name and an email in your first landing page, company name and size on your second page, and so on.
Map everything together in a separate spreadsheet, like this:
If you’re using a software like HubSpot, you can use the built-in Smart Forms feature to hide fields the lead has already filled.
Once you have all these content offers in place, plug your leads into an email autoresponder and direct visitors to your targeted landing pages.
Align Content Offers with Buyer’s Journey Stages
While the above approach of sending leads relevant content offers in exchange for data works well, it doesn’t tell you how far the lead has progressed in the purchase process.
The way to solve this problem is to align your content offers with different buyer’s journey stages.
A customer early in the buyer’s journey (i.e. Awareness stage) is likely to consumer beginner-level content in an easy to consume format (video, blog post or short guide).
A customer late in the buyer’s journey (i.e. Decision stage) will want to consume content that speaks to his specific needs. This content will likely be more in-depth (webinars, whitepapers, etc.) and have more concrete, high-level information.
Thus, aligning your content offers with the buyer’s journey means moving from beginner to advanced level content. It also means using the right content format as the lead progresses further along the purchase path.
Broadly speaking, customers prefer the following formats in each stage of the buyer’s journey:
Try to incorporate this into your content offers.
In your spreadsheet, add two additional columns. List the content format and complexity of each content offer:
Doing this will tell you whether your leads are moving further along the buyer’s journey. This can be an indication of need. A lead that consumes a lot of in-depth decision-stage content has a higher chance of buying than someone focused on beginner-level content.
Other Sources of Data
Your own forms aren’t the only way to collect data about your leads. There are a number of databases available online that can tell you a lot about your leads in seconds.
For example, LeadFeeder, a lead intelligence tool, plugs into your website and gives you detailed data about your site visitors - the traffic source, visited pages, and even demographic/firmographic data.
Combined with the data you collected above, this can be a great way to get in-depth insight about your leads.
3. Evaluate Data and Qualify Leads
This is the easiest (or the toughest) step in the email marketing process, depending on how much or how little data you’ve captured.
A ‘qualified’ lead is one that meets the budget, authority, need and timeline criteria of your ‘ideal’ customer. This customer is usually a composite sketch of your current and target clients.
For example, if your data shows that your best clients have a budget of at least $50,000, a lead that fits this criterion would be ‘qualified’ (provided it meets the other qualification criteria).
Thus, to evaluate leads, you have to first look inwards. Analyze your existing roster of clients and sales data. Then ask yourself: what kind of clients do you want to attract in the future? How does this ‘ideal’ client align with your existing clients?
At the very least, you should have concrete answers to the following questions:
- What is the average budget of my best clients?
- What role does the client play in his company? Is he/she a decision maker? Or does he/she report to one?
- How long is an average sales cycle for my best clients?
- What were my best clients’ biggest challenges?
Collect this data and organize it in a spreadsheet. Use it to create a data-focused profile of your ideal customer. You can even assign scores for each qualifying criteria.
Something like this:
Once you have these answers, start analyzing your leads. Use your gathered data to figure out which of these leads meet the qualification criteria.
You can even use lead scoring to make this qualification process easier. Read more about lead scoring here.
Send all qualified leads to sales. These are now ‘Marketing Qualified Leads’.
Over to You
As an agency, you need a steady stream of high quality leads. Conventional marketing tactics are either ineffective or too unpredictable for scalable growth.
Email marketing promises to give you the leads you need to grow faster. By giving away content in exchange for data, you can learn a lot about your target customers, just as they learn about you.
How do you use email marketing at your agency? What is your process for capturing emails?
Share your insight with us below!