Take some self defense against the lead generation killers

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A couple of years ago, I was at a party where the host challenged guests to remove a cork from the inside of a wine bottle. It was quite a challenge, the host proclaimed.

One by one, people tried and failed to remove the cork. Then the host began explaining the tricky and complex solution, and people were impressed. However, the host was unable to remove the cork after 15 minutes of fiddling.

Growing impatient, I asked the host if he really wanted the cork out of the bottle. He said yes. So I broke the bottle and handed him the cork. He wasn't happy with that solution. Apparently it just wasn't clever enough, even though it worked instantly.

Too often, this is the way it is with sales lead generation. Generating leads isn't really that difficult, but people seem to be forever applying complex solutions to simple problems. I call these the "lead killers," because that's exactly what they do. The best defense against these killers is to turn complexity into simplicity. Below are some examples.

Make an offer to get a response. Sort of a "duh" suggestion, but you'd be shocked at how many businesses make things hard on themselves by trying to generate leads without an offer and by trying to close the sale in the lead piece. Lead generation is a multistep process. First you get a response to identify your leads. Then you start the process of making a sale to those leads. Take just one step at a time. The best and simplest way to stay on track is to offer something free and focus your lead generator on that free item.

Sack the silly offers. Some businesses understand the idea of offering a freebie, but they offer things like pens or calendars or mouse pads. Those have wide appeal and will generate a big response, but they complicate things because they won't help identify the good leads. Your freebie has to relate to your product or service so it generates quality leads, not just quantity leads.

Avoid "look at me" brochures. You might be in love with your business. But your customers probably aren't. They're only interested in their own needs and wants. So sending them chest-beating literature is a mistake. Don't go on at length about your corporate mission in flowery, high-sounding language. Don't recount the history of your business minute by minute for the past 20 years. Focus on the offer you're making. Stick to basic benefits. Talk to prospects about what they care about.

Tease, don't tell. Telling too much isn't just a lead killer; it's more like business enemy No. 1. The goal is just to get a response. That's it. And to get a response, you have to generate curiosity. Providing too much information up front kills curiosity. That's not to say your lead piece has to be small or include few words; but it shouldn't reveal so much that you satisfy your prospect's curiosity too soon. Remember the vaudeville rule: Always leave them wanting more.

Include a reply card even if you want calls. By offering just a phone number, you're appealing only to the best prospects. Occasionally, that works fine. But generally, you want to scoop up warm and lukewarm leads as well. After all, that's the point of lead generation - to identify who has an interest so you can focus your sales efforts, not to simply grab the low-hanging fruit. You can easily double or triple your response with a simple little reply card.

Just send a letter. I know that sounds too simple to work. But it does. In fact, a letter with a reply card or fax-back sheet may be all you need. You can test including other literature, but often the lone letter works far better. I just recently tested this with one of my clients, and the simple letter on letterhead with a reply card and business reply envelope beat packages with the same letter plus additional inserts.

Try self-mailers and postcards. I use these all the time with fantastic results. They encourage passalongs to decision-makers. They're easier and more self-contained than multipiece mailers. And they can dramatically cut costs compared to envelope direct mail packages. Sometimes their economy can even outperform everything else, including personal letters. Postcards are especially nifty for simple lead offers or for directing someone to a Web site or physical store.

Here's a warning: Just as breaking the bottle didn't ingratiate me with my host, trying to implement some of these suggestions may not ingratiate you with some of your business associates. Many people don't want simple. They want impressive or complex, no matter the outcome. Perhaps by boosting results you can change their minds.

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