So you’ve decided to outsource lead generation, and you’re about to choose a marketing partner. This is probably one of the most important choices you’ll ever make as a marketer. So, how can you be sure you pick the right lead generation company?

The secret is knowing the right questions to ask a potential lead generation service provider and, more crucially, knowing what answers to look for.

That’s what I’ll share in this blog post. We’ll go over all the key questions you need to raise with a lead generation agency before signing the dotted line.

We’ll also talk about which responses indicate a good fit for your B2B lead generation program, and point out common red flags to watch out for.

The questions we’ll dive into below will help you uncover everything you need to take into account to make an informed choice based on:

  • Type of Lead Generation Company
  • Strategy and Process
  • Lead Qualification and Management
  • Tools and Technology
  • Experience and Reputation
  • People and Talent
  • Measuring Performance and Success
  • Project Terms and Specifics

Ready? Let’s dive right in.

Type of Lead Generation Company

Are you a major account or a small sale lead generation company?

The first clue to look for is exactly what type of B2B lead generation company you’re dealing with. You need to work with agencies that specialize in the kind of B2B products or services you’re selling. Based on this criterion, lead generation providers fall into two main categories:

  • Major Account Lead Generation: Agencies that focus on complex-sale B2B solutions with long sales cycles and multiple decision makers
  • Small Sale Lead Generation: Lead generation companies that help find potential customers for smaller purchases (typically having a $10,000 price tag or less) with shorter sales cycles and simple decision-making processes

Are you an inbound or outbound lead generation service provider?

If you’ve already identified which lead generation activities to farm out, then you’ll quickly know what kind of provider best suits you in terms of the lead generation approach they specialize in:

  • Inbound Lead Generation: Agencies that generate leads by creating content and carrying out “pull” marketing activities that attract prospects toward your website or online presence
  • Outbound Lead Generation: Agencies that rely on targeted outreach channels like email, phone calls, direct mail, PPC, etc. to generate leads

Today, it’s not uncommon to find agencies that offer multi-channel lead generation services. These providers combine both inbound and outbound lead generation tactics in a single campaign or process.

Services and Processes

How will you tailor your lead generation services to meet my goals?

Once you’ve decided between inbound and outbound lead generation, it can be difficult to select a specific provider, since agencies tend to offer similar services.

The key to choosing the best provider for you is to find out how well they can tailor their offerings to your exact needs:

  • Full-service vs. stand-alone package
  • Fully-managed vs. partly self-directed
  • Tiered packages vs. custom services
  • Additional services like lead management and lead nurturing

What do you think will be the tentative plan?

Although the actual planning doesn’t take place until after you’ve hired a lead generation agency, asking this question lets you get a feel for how they’ll eventually carry out your campaign.

Most reputable lead generation agencies can readily provide a clear outline of the process they follow. While they may not be able to come up with a concrete plan at this stage, they should be open and transparent about their approach even at a basic level.

Which stages of the funnel will be covered?

This is a crucial piece of information for companies that face a long and complex sales cycle. A good lead generation agency will clearly specify:

  • Whether they can work with your particular customer acquisition strategy
  • Which parts of the sales cycle they’ll handle
  • What steps you and the outsourced agency can take to maximize conversions from one stage to the next

Lead Qualification and Management

How and where do you get your leads?

The quality of leads and appointments starts at the time they’re first acquired as prospects and contacts.

There’s no shortage of lead generation companies that claim to have the “best” quality of leads, but a careful scrutiny of their lead sources will help you tell hype from fact:

  • Do they use third-party data sources?
  • Does the agency carry out its own prospect research?
  • How often do they update and clean their leads database?
  • What steps do they take to ensure data quality from lead capture forms?
  • How do they ensure targeted organic traffic or PPC impressions?

How are leads qualified?

As an extension of your marketing or sales team, the way a provider screens and filters prospects should align with how you qualify leads.

The best lead generation agencies will seamlessly integrate your lead qualification system into their process, taking into account your:

  • Ideal customer profile (ICP)
  • Buyer personas
  • Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) and sales-qualified leads (SQLs) definitions
  • Lead scoring model
  • List segmentation

Tools and Technology

What tools do you work with?

An experienced lead generation company will have a full set of tools and skill set to manage, automate, and optimize campaigns.

But how can you tell if a candidate agency has the right tech stack for modern lead generation? Look for these specific tools:

  • Lead verification tools
  • Analytics and reporting tools
  • Marketing automation platform
  • CRM tool
  • Email automation
  • Call tracking
  • Social media management
  • SEO and CRO tools
  • SEM analytics

How well does your tech stack meet our business requirements?

Having an impressive suite of lead generation tools won’t be of much value to you if it doesn’t readily fit into your marketing workflow or business process. That’s why you also need to ask a potential provider about:

  • Integration: Is the agency’s stack flexible enough so that their system easily syncs up with yours?
  • Industry-specific needs: Do the agency’s tools comply with industry requirements (like HIPAA, GDPR, etc.,)?

People and Talent

Who will be doing my campaign?

Today’s lead generation campaigns need the right mix of knowledge and skills to succeed. This is why any potential marketing partner should be very transparent about the people they’ll be assigning to carry out your campaign.

When evaluating an outsourced marketing agency, these are some of the key questions to ask in order to gain some insights on the talent you’ll be working with:

  • Will a dedicated team be handling my campaign?
  • What will be the roles of each campaign team member?
  • How much experience does the team have, both collectively and individually?
  • How much knowledge and familiarity does my team have about my product or service?

How will you fill a skills gap, if ever one arises?

In some cases, a potential lead generation company may not have the right internal people to carry out a specific campaign activity.

If this happens, either prior to the start of your project or any time while the campaign is running, the agency has a number of options to fill the gap. They can hire a new team member or work with a freelancer.

In either case, the company should be clear in explaining:

  • Recruitment and hiring practices
  • Onboarding and training
  • Performance management
  • Subcontracting

Experience and Reputation

What industry does your company specialize in?

We already know that different B2B industries and verticals face unique marketing challenges that can be overcome with the right experience and expertise. That’s why you need to choose a lead generation provider that specializes in your target buyers’ industry, right?

Not so fast! The answer you should be looking for has to be a little bit more nuanced.

On the one hand, you want a lead generation company that’s well versed in your desired industry because it lets you:

  • Shorten ramp-up time and accelerate campaign deployment
  • Reduce time and cost of product training
  • Improve the relevance of campaign messaging
  • Navigate the ins and outs of the decision-making process

But you also want a lead generation service provider that has experience across multiple industries and verticals. These agencies can give you fresh insights and out-of-the-box thinking gleaned from a broad portfolio of lead generation campaigns.

How much experience do you have?

For most B2B companies, lead generation typically falls outside their core business. Still, lead generation needs to be handled by an experienced and seasoned provider since it directly impacts revenue and growth.

Experience is measured in a number of ways, and you should see to it that a candidate lead generation partner sheds some light on all of these key experience metrics:

  • Years in business
  • Length of time working in your domain
  • Size of their client portfolio
  • Number of related campaigns or projects completed

Can you cite other clients and what you’ve done for them?

Finding out about overall experience is one thing, but uncovering specific results is even more important. The only way to determine if a lead generation agency can deliver what it promises is to take a close look at client feedback and campaign results.

These details can typically be found in client testimonials and case studies. The key information to look for includes:

  • Appointments booked
  • Leads completed
  • Contacts profiled
  • Percentage of leads accepted into pipeline
  • Percentage of appointments converted into customers
  • Lift in prospects/traffic and leads generated

What is your reputation in the industry?

Another crucial piece of information to ask from a potential lead generation partner is how well they stack up against others in the industry. The best way to find this out is to ask a candidate provider to point to feedback from third-party sources such as:

  • Rankings on lead generation providers lists
  • Reviews from independent, third-party sources
  • Awards and recognition from industry groups

Be sure to do your due diligence on the reliability of these sources, and don’t take anything at face value without doing a little digging up.

Measuring Performance and Success

What will be the overall KPIs of the campaign?

Lead counts aren’t the only headline metrics to keep an eye on in a lead generation campaign. Depending on the scope of the project, the overall campaign KPIs can include:

  • Sales appointments scheduled
  • Leads completed
  • Net new prospects
  • Event attendees/registrations
  • Contacts/Records verified

The important thing is to ask a potential lead generation partner about broad measures of success for your campaign, and determining how these fit into your overall marketing or sales objectives.

What will be the KPIs for each campaign activity or channel?

Since lead generation campaigns are made up of many different channels and activities, it’s also good practice to ask a provider what KPIs they keep track of for each campaign component.

Take note of the different activities included in your campaign, and ask a candidate agency to explain the metrics they’ll be reporting to you for each of these. Find out what benchmarks and guarantees they’re measuring against.

How will performance be tracked and reported?

Lead generation campaigns are a data-driven effort. You only make informed campaign decisions if you have access to timely and relevant data.

That’s why the quality of performance tracking/reporting should be a decisive factor in choosing a lead generation services provider:

  • Types of metrics included in your dashboard and reports
  • Frequency of reporting and updates
  • Ability to customize and tailor reports to specific business requirements

Project Terms and Specifics

What will be the achievable goals of the campaign or project?

In the previous set of questions, we talked about campaign-level KPIs and activity-specific metrics to clarify with a potential lead generation partner. The next items to ask about are the tentative project or campaign goals based on your initial requirements.

Although you probably shouldn’t expect providers to set any firm guarantees at this point, they should also be open to giving out reasonable ballpark figures for:

  • Goals to be achieved at the end of the project or campaign
  • Milestones to be reached at different intervals
  • Tentative timelines and targets

How will I be able to monitor the campaign?

Most lead generation projects and campaigns tend to span several months and even years. The ability to stay up-to-date on developments and performance isn’t just a nice-to-have feature; it’s a must-have capability for successful campaigns.

During the agency selection stage, the following questions will help you assess how well a potential provider will keep you in the loop:

  • What dashboards and reports will you be providing?
  • Who will be my primary point of contact?
  • How often will you meet with me?
  • How will we keep in touch?

What will be my role?

Another thing to be clear about during the agency selection step is the nature and extent of your participation in the project.

Some turnkey lead generation service providers will handle practically everything in the campaign for you, from preparing the needed materials to nurturing prospects before the lead handoff.

Other providers, meanwhile, may require you to adopt a more hands-on role in the project, especially with planning and idea generation.

Can you tell me more about your pricing?

Lead generation customers often ask the wrong questions about pricing and costs. Prices tend to widely vary from one provider to another, but it’s typically very difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison between vendors.

That’s because prices depend on a host of different factors such as the agency’s experience, the scope of services, target market, lead qualification requirements, reputation, etc.

The main takeaway when it comes to lead generation pricing is that you ultimately want to take value into account, not just costs. So be sure to be thoroughly familiar with an agency’s processes, capabilities, and track record before weighing your options.

This article is originally published at The Savvy Marketer.