Something I get asked a lot is how Credo generates projects, or “leads” as people like to call them. I prefer to call them projects because they’re more than a traditional lead which can mean anything. A “lead” in the digital marketing world can be anything from an email address to a full scope from someone who is ready to buy right now.

I talk about projects because we’re a business that makes its revenue off referrals. We generate the audience to attract businesses who are looking to take their traffic and therefore revenue to the next level, and then refer them out to the right agencies or consultants for that specific project based off of their needs, budget, internal team, and a lot more.

When we think about lead generation as marketers, most think of volume. I bet if you asked a lot of business owners (especially service businesses) what their biggest need is around leads, it would be “we need more!”. Everyone always needs more needs, or so they think.

I’m not going to tell you in this post how to determine which leads you should go after more of. To be honest, most of you who run services businesses would be well served to do it and to then message towards those specific customers, both on your website and in your marketing whether that is content or advertising. Simply knowing your minimum budget isn’t enough. You need to go deeper into the demographics, revenue, type of business, internal team, and more to truly understand your potential customer so that you generate better leads for your business that have a higher chance of closing.

You’ve probably, as I have for a long time, fallen into the clickbait traps of people telling us how they “generated 500 leads a month through content!” and the like. But these posts are diet junk food – they leave you feeling a bit empty, a bit guilty, and definitely not satisfied. They never tell us what a lead is, or how many of those actually ended up paying them money. And people say “Wow, so many leads!”

See what I’m getting at here?

So over the last few months, I’ve done the dirty work here at Credo to really understand the metrics behind our business and what drives it forward. I’ve had to swallow some tough insights and change some things, which have served to help us move into 2018 with a stronger business and a renewed focus on what actually matters.

Here’s a graph of the Credo leads generated over the last six months:

You might be saying “Oh dang, that’s not very many!” But when you look at how much they are worth, based on the amount of work generated each month (there was a HUGE one that came in at the beginning of November that messes with those numbers):

Right now we’re generating anywhere from $300k-$450k/mo in new work. As you can see, we had a few “big” months in June/July/August where we generated MORE leads. But did that actually move things forward for the business?

In fact, no. If you look at the average value per lead (this is their stated monthly budget for the work), we actually had a dip when the number of projects went up!

The average is usually around $2500-$3000 per project per month, but in August it went down to right around $1800 a month. That happened when I put an option on our project creation form that allowed projects with less than $1,000 per month in marketing budget to submit projects. But all that ended up happening was that a smaller percentage of people (and volume too, actually) ended up scheduling a call with us, more ghosted on that call, and more were either not ready for introductions or were not actually ready to sign with someone!

Increasing volume in the wrong ways, aka with the wrong customers in mind, ended up costing us a lot of time and effort. In a bootstrapped business like Credo, we can’t afford to do that for too long.

Before I get a bunch of hate, let me make something very clear. If you have zero leads, you need more so you can even learn who is your right customer. But if you have enough to make your customers happy, then you need to focus down on those that work and then work to get more of those. So it is a volume play to an extent (Wayne Gretzsky famously said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”), but volume at some point is its own enemy and you’re wasting your time.

So what are the things I’ve done on Credo to start targeting better projects that come through Credo? Here are three.

Removed the bottom price tier

It’s important for us to know a project’s potential budget so that we can match them up with the right marketing provider. We actually receive a decent few from referrals from agencies who got a lead that had too small of a budget for that agency. But our agencies also have minimum budgets that they work with, for whatever reason whether their agency economics, the budget they know they need to drive results for a client, and more.

I have a number of options around monthly marketing budget (note this is different from their budget for the specific project) on the form. Back in October, they were:

  • Under $1,000
  • $1,000-$2,000
  • $2,000-$5,000
  • Over $5,000

They were sorted in that order as well. So the first thing potential contacters saw was a small budget, which instantly anchored them low and made it seem that Credo is better for smaller budgets. Basically people with larger budgets saw this and the answer to their question of “Is this right for me?” was “No”. Not good!

In the last few months, I have reworked the budgets to these options:

  • $1,000-$5,000
  • $5,000-$10,000
  • Over $10,000
  • Over $20,000

Now, these aren’t perfect (the Over $10,000 and Over $20,000 may be a bit confusing, but we’re continuing to test. So far in January, the average project value is around $3,100 a month (on the high end of what is normal for Credo) and a much higher percentage are actually scheduling calls (around 75% as opposed to 50% before), with project volume staying relatively steady from December.

So far, things are right on track!

Require a phone call for every project

Credo used to have a system that would email out new projects to agencies on Credo. We called them “Open Projects”, which meant that any agency or consultant who did that work could contact them, which counted towards a cap of number of leads they could contact (you might already be seeing why this was a bad idea…). They could then try to turn that contact into a client.

Unfortunately, I realized around mid-2017 that this model was not working. A very low percentage of projects were actually closing into clients for agencies, which meant that Credo had pretty decent churn and I had to keep filling a leaky bucket. Things were a bit dark during those months.

Around April 2017 I introduced the option for businesses contacting us to schedule a phone call with me/the Credo team, and we quickly saw that some people wanted it and these projects had a lower “ghost rate”, meaning not ever replying to agencies once we put them in contact.

In November 2017 I made it mandatory for every project contacting Credo to schedule a phone call with us at a time that works for them (using Calendly embedded on the conversion page). While I’ve had some pushback and maybe a couple of leads have fallen through the cracks for whatever reason, this has been one of the best things I’ve done for Credo. Funny enough, this is how Credo started back in 2015. It’s weird how things come back full circle.

Why a phone call, and why not a live chat option?

First, I tested a live chat option. But that meant that I had to be online at specific times which is hard to do as a solo entrepreneur, especially one who likes to travel and is often in different time zones. I also often have phone calls, and I learned that if I did not instantly respond to someone they were not likely to schedule a call with us instead. They’d just leave and never respond to emails again. I started with Intercom then went to Drift because I could exclude specific countries that accounted for the vast majority of spam, but in December I discontinued Drift as well.

Why? Well, I learned that when a project has a decent sized budget then the project is probably fairly complicated and it’s hard to get the information we need in a reasonable amount of time via chat.

We have had a few people ask us if there is an email option to define their project. I’ve made some exceptions to the call rule, and every time I’ve been disappointed. So moving forward, we’re only going to do phone calls and not define projects via email. After all, we believe that a successful consulting engagement is going to require phone conversation, and so we only want to refer on the people who recognize that.

Messaging towards who we help the best

Finally, I talk with agency owners all the time and encourage them to closely define who it is they help best. When they do this, they are then able to market more effectively to those people.

I realized that I was telling agency owners to do this, but I wasn’t taking my own medicine. I had not defined who Credo best helps or the most common reasons why people come to Credo, nor what their business looks like internally or what type of business they. I had a vague idea of marketing budget, but not a great one.

So in November 2017 I did a deeper dive into this and came up with these three which are now high on our homepage:

  • (Scaling) startups
  • Internal marketing teams
  • Other agencies

Now, these are not yet perfect (I actually have one I need to swap out) and I need to go deeper into types of businesses (and plan to, so watch this space), but with shipping this I’ve seen the benefits of helping visitors to Credo more closely understand who we are able to help and how we do it. The How Credo Works is messaged on the homepage and on a separate page, which that alongside our About page (which was reworked thanks to this post from Talia Wolf) have become two of our largest traffic drivers and play an integral role in our conversion funnel.

So what are some of the changes you’ve made to your conversion funnel and business over time that have helped you generate better and not just (though hopefully still) more “leads”? I’d love to hear them in the comments.