I run a software development company for the last 3 years and since then I managed to grow it to 15 engineers. We expanded mostly through the personal recommendations made by our existing clients with some occasional cold calling/emailing.
I came to the point where I don't want to rely only on client recommendations but started thinking about outbound and inbound marketing (cold calling, blogs, social media, SEO), etc..
After 2 months of outbound (cold calling, cold emailing, etc..) we realized that it doesn't really work for us. Prospects don't necessarily need software engineers as of the moment we were calling, and researching prospects was a pain. Lots of companies want to hire and it takes a lot of education for them to start thinking about giving part of that work to a development partner.
After outbound, we are 1 month into Inbound. We created over 12 articles, we schedule posts regularly and I can say it is getting to a point where we have 1 qualified lead a week, what is decent, considering we just started.
I would appreciate it if you guys can give me some ideas of what to do to generate more leads for my software dev agency. Thank you!
It looks like you are already on your way to improving your lead generation efforts. Certainly, inbound marketing works much better for most software businesses. It's often difficult to align the buying cycles with your cold calls or emails. I like the fact that you have already started blogging but that's part of the bigger inbound equation. I would spend some time to think about creating a marketing plan and strategy for your inbound efforts based on your target audience and current sales cycle. Your goal through this process is to establish trust and capture lead information for further marketing.
I would take more of a step by step approach to this when creating your plan and strategy. The most important thing in this process is to ensure that it is documented. It makes outsourcing or hiring marketing help down the line to implement your strategy must easier.
Step 1: Determine your target audience (personas): ensure that you understand their key problems, identify ways that you help solve these problems and most importantly, how you do this in a unique way (this will communicate why they should go with you vs. the competition).
Step 2: Identify Persona Challenges: For each persona and problem run them through the buying journey of awareness, consideration/comparison, and decision stages. Try to think about questions that they are trying to get answered online. For software companies, your bottom of the funnel leads will be your comparison stage leads. Meaning, no one will go through the whole buying process "decide" then start a conversation with the software development company. You can tweak these stages to match your current sales cycle as well.
Step 3: Devising your content strategy: The buyer's journey stages often affect how you want to craft your content strategy. A lead that is now at the beginning of the buying process might be more apprehensive to give you all their contact details. This is where open knowledge sources such as blogs and videos come into play. However, don't forget to ask them to subscribe for more content. Asking for just an email and/or the person's first name should be enough. As you move further down in the buyer's journey you can ask for more information including company names and you ensure that your content offer is now much more substantial eg. whitepapers, cheat sheets, ebooks, etc.
Step 4: Nurturing leads with emails: Once you get a lead's information, if it's not someone who wants to have a sales conversation, you still want to keep the conversation going. Here's how to think about the different types of leads:
Implementation caution: when you start building this out it can become a bit overwhelming. I recommend implementing your key target persona first, then work your way to tackling the other personas. Just to give you a sense of a fully developed process including nurture emails and resources depending on the complexity of your business you could be looking at a 3-6 month implementation process. The good news is, once resources are created and published or emails are turned on, they can start working for you right away.
Additionally, think of inbound as a long-term foundational form of marketing that will keep bringing in leads years to come instead of a quick win sales remedy. In the end, the results are worth it but it takes a lot of patience and persistence.
I'd be happy to talk if you need any additional assistance.
@Hellen offered some excellent notes about the effectiveness of inbound marketing and what that looks like as a practice. But it's not just about the method. You need a marketing strategy. That comes from your own personal research, which starts with making a list of assumptions, both about your business and about your ideal customers. Next you have to test each one of those assumptions independently to find out whether you're even operating on the right principles. And third, you will need to validate your strategy to find out if what's left actually works. With a validated marketing strategy, you can then decide what tactics to implement in reaching prospective customers, and again test those. Even if you did this before when you started your company, you need to do it again for this next growth phase. Your company is evolving and so must your strategy.
Obviously you're doing something right or you wouldn't have gotten to the point you are today. But you are at that tipping point a lot of companies get to where they're no longer a flat organization and you need a leap, not a climb, to get to the next level of maturity. This is the point when I usually help young companies most. And sometimes it can feel like you're starting your business all over again, because now you need to think about your enterprise in almost an entirely different way. Different things matter, and you don't have your own hands in every detail anymore.
What you likely do have is time. If you have a steady profitable business and you want to make that growth leap, it's not just about more leads. A more leads/sales desire and struggle is usually indicative of something else that is at the root of your finding little success. Your product/service. Your service offering needs a makeover. You can't continue to sell it the same way as before, even if you functionally do the same category of work. To get bigger by strides, you need to evolve and differentiate your service (product). And that's likely what you're going to discover independently through your marketing strategy refresh (as to what your service needs to become to do significantly more business).
You grew the best way possible, by referral. But you have a lot of people to keep employed. That means a different kind of thought process for your company's next level of maturity.
There are lots of people who can help you with this. But you may be able to do it on your own. Just know that looking for leadgen isn't the place you should start. Look at your service and figure out what needs to change to be a more mature company and get away from only referral business. How will you differentiate?
There are three things that persuade customers to make a purchase decision.
1) personal benefit
2) dramatic difference
3) reason to believe
You can read Seth Godin's books on persuasion marketing to understand what these actually mean. But I can guarantee you need to reboot your strategy and evolve your product, not just try some new tactics.
Lose the concept of inbound/outbound for the moment. Lose the concept of lead generation and data mining for potential customers as well. For the moment, not forever. Target the industry and be bold about it. It's not hard to find potential customers and people interested in your product. What's difficult is doing all of this with any level of efficiency as to what you have to offer. You are engineers, so leverage that with simplicity. Keep with your blog posts, but really consider additional media like video and demos. Instead of telling people about your product or trying to reel them in to convince them of such; get it out there.
SHOW people exactly what your product does and exactly what the overt benefits are, but do so in a way that they can easily relate to. I'd need more details to be more specific, but the approach can be the same. Stats are great if they mean something in the everyday production of the customer, but if you can simply show a decision maker how you're going to make their life easier, you can sell them emotionally and rationally instead of technically. They don't need much more to be inspired to learn more about it. You never know who's looking and data mining won't help you as much in the phase you are in now. The learning curve and ROI on effort doesn't give you what you want at this time so invest a little more in tuning your message and try to reach as many industry professionals as you can, then you can focus on how to manage leads.
The bottom line is that you either have something better and more significant or you don't. If it's the latter, then yes, stick to marketing 101 and ease your way in. If you are dramatically different, you need to be dramatically different. I've done this in the Oil & Gas industry for assets and certification management software and we easily caught the attention of the industry by showing the decision makers out there exactly how their current standards were simplified in the day to day with our product. We showed them exactly how to take typically complex data entry driven tasks into a workflow that they could easily compare to their own current processes. From there, they did all the heavy lifting and analysis. Again, I'm not sure what your overt benefits are, but as long as you feel you have them, there is a simple formula here to start rocking the boat.
Cheers! Best of Luck.