When you think of driving leads for your agency or business online, what comes to mind?

I bet it’s the usual suspects — SEO, paid search, content marketing — all of which are important and can be fantastically profitable. But what if you could build something new to give your clients an advantage?

Building your own tools can help bring in a serious influx of leads for your agency. When I say “tool”, that doesn’t mean you have to build an enterprise level piece of software — a tool can be anything that provides value to your target audience.

Some really good examples of free tools are HubSpot’s Website Grader, or CoSchedule’s blog post headline analyzer. These tools offer prospects a free service, and in return, your agency identifies qualified leads. For example, HubSpot’s Website Grader has been used over 4 million times.

But Why Should You Build Your Own Tools?

Upon first thinking of building a tool, many people are put off for various reasons:

  • Will it be too expensive for our agency?
  • What exactly should we build?
  • Will take up too much of our time?
  • What if it doesn’t get traction?

These thoughts are natural, but you need to approach building tools from your target audience’s perspective, and capitalize on your expertise. Think about it: if you create something that provides mouthwatering value to your clients, while also highlighting how well you know your service, you’re setting your agency up to deliver major results.

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Instead of focusing only on the challenges, consider

  • How can our agency give clients results and benefits as quickly as possible?
  • We want to turn the people using our tool into clients, so how can we make a tool that is relevant to our agency’s core business?
  • How can we make sure the people using this tool see tangible results?

If you can get these things right, you could be on your way to developing a winning tool for your client.

Collaboration is Key

In an agency environment, you have a lot of talent in one place, and a lot of opinions concerning what’s valuable to a client or prospect. Tapping into this pool of knowledge can help your team choose what to build and how to make it a success for you and your clients.

Assuming you have web development resources, you will want to make the project as engaging for the person building it as possible. This can’t be seen as just another development project — you need to earn buy-in from everyone involved.

To ensure the success of your new tool right from the start, get everyone on your team involved and be transparent about your goals. Make sure everyone is on the same page about what you’re trying to achieve, and utilize everyone’s experience.

Keeping everyone on the same page is absolutely vital when it comes to building tools, since it’s often a new kind of project that your team hasn’t worked on before. When we initially started building our free SEO performance analysis tool, we brought the SEO team together with the web development team right at the idea phase.

Collaborating across multiple teams was vital to the success of our own tool. Our SEO team was able to share what they believed would bring users value, and our web development team was able to propose how that experience would look and function. Early collaboration between these two teams helped ensure that the vision was aligned right from the outset.

Deciding What to Prioritize 

It can be daunting to invest the time and resources needed to build a tool with no real idea of how people are going to react to it — let alone if anyone will use it. It’s important to know what to prioritize.

Here are some tips from my own agency’s experience launching a new tool:

  • Launch with your minimum viable version (MVP). With so many moving parts, it’s very easy for your new tool to get caught in a cycle of development, constantly adding little features and making tweaks. The best thing you can do is build a minimum viable version of your tool and get it out there. The most valuable feedback you will receive will be from real people using the tool in the wild.
  • Take any and all feedback seriously. Any feedback you receive is likely to be valid, so use it to create a dialogue. Be responsive to people that give you feedback, and make suggested changes whenever possible.
  • Don’t just publish and hope for the best. You’re spending a lot of time and energy developing this tool for people to use. If people don’t know it’s out there, then they won’t use it. Be prepared to put the time and energy into properly promoting your tool and if you can afford to, put some paid media budget behind it.
  • Put sensible limits in place. Your aim is provide value to the people using your free tool, but you have to be realistic and put sensible throttling or limits in place to make sure your tool does not get taken advantage of. Don’t forget the aim of your tool is to drive leads.

Those are just a few things I would advise when building a free tool. You will learn more as you go, but keep in mind why you’re building the tool in the first place and you will be fine.

Interpreting the Data and Driving Conversions

Right from the start, you should be thinking about the end goal of generating new business leads for your agency. To get there, you need to think about the data points you are going to be able to collect and capitalize on.

Once you clearly define what an end goal or conversion looks like for your agency, you can build out other interactions and track those to get even more insight. Using our SEO tool as an example, I will run through what that process looks like for us, as well as what data we collect:

Our tool allows you to run an analysis on your site or a competitor’s site for free and get an instant performance score. It also provides a PDF breakdown of problematic elements and why each component is important from an SEO perspective.

There are many actions that users can potentially take, but when a user requests a PDF version of the report, we classify it as a conversion. This action is tracked as a goal within Google Analytics, and we receive the following data:

  • Website URL (URL of site that the report has been generated for)
  • Email address
  • Copy of the report (this has all the SEO points for the site they ran)

This gives us a significant amount of information and insight into the current SEO performance of a prospect’s site. If the email address matches the report URL we can probably safely assume that the person running the report works for the company they have generated a report for, and this is what qualifies them as a lead.

Aside from a conversion, we also use Google Analytics events to track how people are using and interacting with the tool itself. This helps us improve the tool and track any errors that can occur. The events we have set up are:

  • Analysis submit: When a user inputs and runs a report, but does not request a PDF.
  • Reset analysis: Resets the view and takes the user back to the home page of the tool.
  • Analysis error: When a user is returned an error based on a site they are trying to analyze.
  • Send PDF: When a user requests a PDF report (a conversion).
  • Analysis results cache cleared: When a user resets the cache of a report to generate a fresh one.
  • Send PDF fail: When a user requests a PDF but this action fails (this is a potential lost conversion).

With all the above events in place we have a really good idea of how people are using the tool and what they are responding well to. You can use this kind of data to make changes to the tool to help you increase the amount of leads you are able to generate.

Deciding How to Qualify Leads in Your Tool

If your tool offers users a variety of actions, you’ll need to chose a single action that signals that a lead is qualified. You need to define an action which gives you enough information and a clear follow up path.

Since you were able to gain valuable information about your prospect through the tool, you should be able to compose a really personalized follow up email. Knowing that a user has shown intent is a huge plus, and crafting a follow up that shows you have taken an interest in their site or brand by presenting unique information is a really good position to be in.

The lead nurturing process for our agency’s tool looks like this:

  • User requests a PDF version of the report
  • We receive an internal email with the user’s email and a copy of the report
  • We check to see if their email address matches the URL used on the report
  • We verify that the domain corresponds to a real company (usually using a tracking tool like HubSpot Sales)
  • The contact is added to our HubSpot CRM.
  • We send a follow up email after chosen time period.

After all the hard work of building a tool and getting people to use it, the data you get back is invaluable. The leads that come in through our tool convert at a staggeringly higher rate than other methods we use.

The key to developing a tool that drives meaningful conversions is providing something that requires action but provides instant value. By following this principle, you know the user has intent to fix a problem that your tool addresses. If a user then triggers your conversion point, you have a unique data set which qualifies that user as a lead. This process seems like a lot of work, but I promise you the returns will be much greater than cold email outreach or similar new business development methods.

Considering the Potential for Additional Revenue.

if you are able to build and execute something that people love and provides real value then you may find an opportunity to generate stand alone revenue from your tool. Additional revenue is a bonus that will likely present itself to you as an afterthought once your tool has been road-hardened.

Once you have gathered enough data and feedback to determine if your tool is a hit or not, you can make a decision to further develop it. At this point you can look at adding a paid for level to the tool, offering interested users additional value at a small cost.

If you see a good response and people are willing to upgrade to a paid version, then you have something pretty amazing on your hands. There are a number of routes you can take from here, but make sure it fits in with your agency and sticks to the original goal of bringing value to clients and prospects.


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