I was on a call with the principals of a small design agency, who had hired a lead generation company to handle some email business development for them.

The design agency told me the lead generation company had “done a few emails” for them.  Results to date?  “We had some visits, but nothing came of them yet.”

So I was hopeful . . . until I heard 4 key points that convinced me this lead generation agency had no interest in really helping the design firm succeed.  See what you think . . .

1. The email effort wasn’t targeted at all.

The design firm said, “We’re pretty much looking for any type of company in any industry.”  I’m guessing this was music to the lead generation company’s ears.

  •  The less they target, the more email addresses they’ll have available to use for this client.  They can just keep spending the client’s money prospecting for that needle in the haystack.

Why not focus on 2 industries the design firm has worked in before, and tailor 2 email messages to those 2 industries?  Then, each email could link to a  landing page that features a case study from the corresponding industry.

  • If they pursued this carefully targeted approach, they might actually learn what message and landing page case resonates with each industry audience — and their email efforts would become more effective over time.

2. The emails had no Offers!

When I asked about this, the lead generation company president actually said,

“We didn’t create any Offers because then we’d have to figure out what to do with those leads.”

(!)   In other words, if the prospect isn’t an “A” lead and ready to talk to the design firm today, the lead generation company isn’t interested in them.

  •  Of course they’re not — if they actually created a mailing list of “B” and “C” leads that the client could educate and nurture over time, the design firm might not need the lead generation firm at some point.

Why wouldn’t the lead generation firm want to manage that nurturing program monthly? I guess they just don’t want to be bothered with pesky leads that don’t immediately convert . . .

The Heartbreak of Lead Generation:  “If we had an Offer, then we’d have to figure out what to do with all those leads and stuff . . . ” and we wouldn’t want that . . .

Why not create a downloadable portfolio of work — and let email recipients click through to a form to provide an email address to get the portfolio?   That would build a follow-up list for the design firm  (otherwise, this design firm will never have their own list of prospects.)

3. There were no click-through results from the prior emails.

HUH?  Click-through is the single stat that tells you whether your audience was actually interested enough in your message to learn more — by clicking through to your landing page.

The lead generation president then uttered, “We go by open rates — the pixel fires when the email is actually opened.”

  • Actually, the “pixel fires” refers to any graphics in the email messages being accessed from the server.  If the recipient’s email program has “images off” by default, it will never register as an “open” even if the recipient actually OPENS IT 50 times — unless the recipient turns the images on.
  • It’s also true that if the recipient has “images on”, but is using a preview pane, EVERY email will register as an “open” whether the recipient ever views the email or not.
  • What if someone reads your message but never turns the images on?  That will never count as an “open.”
  • What if someone reads the text version of your email?  Also never counts as an “open.”

How does this lead generation company — that is sending untargeted emails with no Offer and isn’t tracking clicks — know if the message is resonating?  Um, let me guess:

  • As long as they keep reporting these “open rates”, the design company will think the campaign is working.

4. They weren’t “testing their way to success.”

When I asked how they’ve tested messages so far, they mentioned they had sent out a few different messages to the same audience.

But they hadn’t sent the different messages at the same time.  They should have split the list and mailed the 2 different messages at the same time to get more accurate test results

And, of course, when I asked what the specific results were from each of the past emails, only open rates were cited.  How many clicks did each receive?  How many visits to the landing page?  Isn’t the purpose to generate website traffic?

Isn’t that what a lead generation agency is for — to carefully test each and every element of a lead generation program — and then carefully analyze the results to know how to proceed?

Become a More Educated Buyer of Marketing Services

It’s always sad to see a small business being taken advantage of by a marketing agency (and in this case, it’s a marketing agency being taken advantage of by a marketing agency).   Every company needs to become a more educated buyer of marketing services.

How?  Always request a proposal from at least 2 potential agencies so you can compare their strategies.  By “strategies”, you should see a plan that makes sense given your objectives.  If you need to generate a steady stream of leads — and convert them — there should be a specific plan for that.

You should see:

  1. Discussion of list targeting.  Ask them specifically to include a discussion of a situation  where they changed the list targeting and got better click-through rates (i.e., they actually TESTED something)
  2. Discussion of potential Offers — and how they make sense for the quality of leads you’re looking for (whether you’re gathering A leads or a range of A,B,C leads).  Ask for a discussion of a situation where they did some Offer testing and what the results were.
  3. Discussion of creative testing — what are they going to test and how.  Ask them for a discussion of a situation where they did some creative testing and what the results were.
  4. Discussion of how they’re going to help you convert the leads they generate — because you don’t make any money until those leads buy.
  5. Discussion of lead generation programs they’ve done for others and what the results were.  You want to see more than open rates here — you want to see click-through rates.

You want to see what was tested and how they steadily improved results over time.  That’s how a lead generation agency should be making its money.  


Lead generation is all about careful testing of each element over time — so after a number of email campaigns, you know exactly which Subject Line did better, and exactly which Offer did better, and exactly which message did better.  That’s a smart use of your marketing budget.

What do you think about this lead generation company’s email strategy?


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