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Lead Generation

Lead Generation Companies vs Marketing Agencies vs Internal Staffing: Which is Best?

You need leads.

The right leads.

The kind of leads that turn into customers.

We get it!

So, you're thinking about hiring a lead generation company, or marketing agency, or staffing a marketing team in-house. Each is a viable solution, but that doesn't mean they are all viable solutions for your particular business needs.

So, which one would be the best fit? Let's start with the first two.

Lead Generation Companies vs. Marketing Agencies

Most business owners don't understand the differences between a lead generation company and a marketing agency. There's a lot of overlap, and the terminology isn't always well-defined, but there are a few crucial differences you'll want to wrap your mind around.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Focus

Lead generation companies tend to be short-term focused. They secure business based on a promise to deliver leads quickly. This means they'll be buying a lot of traffic with display (banner) or text search ads. That's understandable, and if you want an instant influx of leads, that's the way to do it. You'll see a nice bump quickly, but it tends to level off quickly as well.

One of the drawbacks of this approach is that as soon as you stop paying the lead generation company, the pipeline runs dry.

An Inbound Marketing Agency, on the other hand, will be less concerned with a short-term fix and more concerned with building a self-sustaining lead generation ecosystem for the long-term. A significant component of this strategy is posting content on your website which ranks high on Google and brings in qualified Organic search traffic.

Building content and ranking in search engines takes a little time but provides more value down the road. It's like planting a garden. You won't see sprouts the next day, but if you plant more seed and water the garden regularly, you will see abundant fruit in due time.

Our clients see compounding results month over month, quarter over quarter, year over year -- 22% average growth quarterly and 10x returns over the long-haul.

Baseball fan? Think of it this way...

Lead Generation Companies do a lot of mid-season free agency deals and pay no attention to the farm system. Marketing Agencies are like the Braves organization of the 1990s. They invested heavily in the minor leagues in the early 90s and proceeded to win more pennants than any other club later in the decade.

I lived through the less-than-glory days as a Braves fan in the 80s, so this analogy gets me all misty-eyed. I heart you, Sid Bream.

Manual vs. Automated Lead Qualification

Another distinction is that lead generation companies will dip a little deeper into the sales end of the customer journey. Lead generation companies often interact with prospects one-on-one to qualify them before handing off to your sales team.

Inbound Marketing agencies will work to refine an automated lead scoring and qualification system without directly communicating one-on-one with prospects. The advantage of this approach is that it is easier and less expensive to scale as the traffic begins to snowball.

This distinction, again, points to the difference in short-term (lead generation company) and long-term (inbound marketing agency) focus.

It's kind of like the difference between the early Yahoo search engine and Google. Yahoo's rankings were built on a manual process where humans decided what was good and what wasn't. Cool idea, but it doesn't scale well. Google used algorithms and let the computers do the work under their guidance.

Google had the obvious scale advantage, and we see how things turned out in the long-run.

The Pros & Cons Of Building Your Own Team

Another option, of course, is building your own marketing team of FTEs (Full-Time Employees). This can be a good long-term approach, but you are most likely going to see a negative ROMI in the short and mid-term.

One of the Pros is that you get to make it your own. You'll be in complete control of recruiting, training, and managing your team. If it goes well, you'll end up with a group of highly specialized marketers who know your industry and brand really, really well.

Another Pro is that you'll be developing your own processes and infrastructure. If this part goes well, you'll bend a marketing automation platform to your will and refine internal processes so that your marketing systems run like an Italian sports car. (We'd name one in particular, but you probably think Lamborghinis are better than Maseratis and you'd be woefully unenlightened.)

But those same Pros can be Cons. You'll have the burden (financial and time) of recruiting, training, and managing your own FTEs. And you'll probably take a lot of Vitamin I (ibuprofen) as you hammer out processes and master marketing automation on the fly.

A Middle Ground Approach

There is a hybrid approach which has worked well for several of our clients. You can start by leveraging an Inbound Marketing Agency and slowly build your own team.

Top inbound marketing agencies work as an extension of their clients' teams. That means they're very open about what happens behind the scenes as they work to grow your business. With that type of transparency (one of our seven core values), you reap the benefits of the team talent, software expertise, AND the systems and processes the agency already has in place.

Some of our clients keep us for the long-term, and some build their own team on the foundation we help them construct. We're totally fine with either.

Which Is Best For You?

A lot of large companies have investors who are demanding a quick return. If you're feeling the heat to see a big sales spike in the next month or two, go with a lead generation company.

If your company has deep pockets and a relentless DIY spirit, build your own team from scratch. You may be able to weather the short and mid-term negative ROMI and look like a champ a couple of years from now. If this approach is a possibility you'd like to consider, check out How To Build The Ideal Marketing Team.

If your company is seeing some success (doesn't have to have a quick hit in the next 60 days) but needs to see bottom line improvements in the next 3 to 4 quarters and a sustainable long-term strategy, take a good look at an Inbound Marketing agency. If this approach is a possibility you'd like to consider, let's have a conversationFree Ebook: Climbing the Inbound Marketing Mountain

Written by Ryan Scott / March 27, 2018

is the Inbound Marketing Artist at Lean Labs. His marketing experience ranges from colleges to SMBs, and tech startups. When not marketing, he's sure to be enjoying something nerdy.

Articles by Ryan Scott