Give Lead Generation Some Respect

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Generating sales leads is the Rodney Dangerfield of direct marketing. It gets no respect from some people. They'll spend months working on sales literature or slick direct mail pieces. They'll sweat the details to create e-mail blasts or Web pages.


But when it comes to lead generation, some people think you can just write a quick letter, grab a brochure off the shelf, toss them in an envelope and mail it. No respect, I tell you. No respect.


If you have a sales staff, generating leads is one of the most important things you'll ever do. It's not a project. It's a process. It's about setting up a system that increases your sales staff's efficiency by identifying likely buyers and giving your sales personnel the tools to cultivate customers and close sales.


Here are some high-level tips:


· Get buy-in from executives and sales. You may think your lead strategy is the best idea since sliced bread, but what you think is less important than what the suits and sales reps think. If you can get executive buy-in, then you'll create an atmosphere of accountability and a level of expectation that you wouldn't have otherwise. And if you get a buy-in from sales, they'll feel some ownership of the program and will be more likely to do their part to make it succeed. Bottom line: You can't impose a lead program on people.


· Create your follow-up plan first. As the Bible says, "So the last shall be first, and the first last." Generating leads is an integrated effort, not just a mailing or an e-mail blast. The first thing you need to do is put last things first and ensure you have a complete, thought-out follow-up process.


Sit down with sales and think about what steps need to be taken to move a prospect from being curious to being sold. Who takes the call? How will data be organized? What literature will be sent? When should sales make follow-up calls? What additional mails or e-mails will go out? Create a flow chart to show the entire process and all the elements sales will need to make it work. You should have everything in place on the back end before you receive a single inquiry.


· Offer something valuable and free. Here's a pop quiz. Question No. 1: What do salespeople think is the best offer in the world? Ding. Correct. A free "consultation." Question No. 2: What do prospects think is the worst offer in the world? Ding. Correct. A free "consultation."


Sometimes a consultation is an attractive offer if it's handled correctly. But generally, when you offer a consultation or generically say, "call for more information," people translate that to mean, "call and get our sales pitch." And they're right. So create something with less perceived obligation and more perceived value for your prospect and offer it free: a booklet, gift, survey, sample, catalog or anything else related to your product or service. Think of it like a door opener, something to discover who is interested and get the conversation started.


· Get your offer to the right people. You know you should target. But in practice, targeting often goes out the window with lead and inquiry generation. Why? Because product managers and sales executives fall head over heels in love with their products and services. They become so smitten, they can't see straight. And soon they assume the rest of the world is just as in love as they are.


The cold, hard truth is that only so many people will buy what you sell. Casting a net too broadly will just lower response quality and raise costs. Define your ideal customer. Focus your message on those people. Buy the most targeted lists you can afford. And if you have multiple groups of prospects, do multiple mailings. Several small, targeted mailings often are more profitable than one big, generic mailing.


· Track everything. Every response should be logged: source, date, origin, offer, everything. And you should keep running statistics, such as response rate, lead quality, contact history, sales, etc. By tracking leads from first contact to first sale and beyond, you can learn volumes about the behavior of your customers. And this helps increase the efficiency of future efforts.


· Focus on ROI. Spreadsheets and calculating things can be boring. It's more fun to enter your marketing pieces in competitions and win those pointy plastic awards. Though you occasionally can get away with ignoring numbers in favor of "branding" and other intangibles when you're doing other forms of direct marketing, you can't with lead generation. It's all about ROI. We're not just talking about cost per response. You need to focus on cost per acquisition or cost per sale. It's about quality, not quantity.


· Review progress regularly. You have a lead program up and running smoothly. Now what? Like any machine, you have to monitor performance, fix the squeaks and apply oil when needed. Talk to sales and see what comments, beefs and suggestions they have. Talk to fulfillment and see how the program could be more efficient. Talk to executives and see whether the program is meeting their expectations and goals.


When I see businesses disrespecting lead generation, it really bothers me. My psychiatrist told me I'm going crazy. I told him, "If you don't mind, I'd like a second opinion." He said, "All right. You're ugly, too!"


No respect, I tell you. No respect.


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