For many growing businesses, generating leads is marketing's number-one job. Yet producing good, high-quality leads can be truly challenging. Too often, off-target marketing campaigns yield low response rates, or worse, large numbers of tire-kickers who are unlikely to become customers or clients. And pursuing these poor-quality leads can cost you dearly in time and money.
The good news is on-target marketing efforts--and the ability to carefully qualify prospects one-on-one--can dramatically reduce your sales and marketing costs while increasing ROI. All it takes is a little know-how and practice. Here are four ways to put your lead generation on track.
1. Identify your target audience. The first step to acquiring quality leads is to know precisely whom you're targeting. If you're marketing to consumers, you'll need to write a target audience profile. That's a simple one-paragraph description of your ideal prospects based primarily on demographics such as age, gender, household income and any other criteria important to you. For example, are your ideal prospects homeowners, parents or teens? Where do they live? Your target audience profile might describe your best prospects as "women, age 25 - 49, who work outside the home, have household incomes of $50,000-plus and are homeowners in XYZ ZIP codes."
Business-to-business marketers should identify prospects by category (such as shopping malls, medical offices, dry cleaners, homebuilders) and then specify the most important criteria for prospects within each category. For example, you might target the office managers of group medical practices with three or more physicians that are located in a specific geographic market area.
2. Match your media to your audience. Once you've clearly identified your target audience, you can evaluate all media opportunities based on whether they reach a high percentage of your ideal prospects and customers. Learn all you can about how your prospects use media, such as whether or not they read the daily newspaper or listen to specific radio stations. Most major media outlets subscribe to Scarborough Reports or The Media Audit and can create reports for you showing the media usage and habits of your target audience. You'll dramatically reduce your marketing costs by placing ads only in the best-targeted media, and you'll reduce your sales costs since you won't be wasting time with unqualified prospects. Once your campaign is in place, closely monitor your results in order to continually fine-tune your programs.
3. Carefully prequalify prospects. Can you recognize a qualified prospect when you meet one? Don't be so sure. A qualified prospect has an acknowledged need for what you offer, can afford it and is willing to pay for it. In other words, he or she is probably working with or buying from one of your competitors. Bear in mind, it's always much easier to fill a need than to create one. Too often, business owners make the mistake of abandoning highly qualified prospects because they're working with the competition, and instead chase after otherwise unqualified prospects simply because they're "unattached."
Before you meet with prospects, it's a vital to prequalify them to determine if they'll make good customers or clients. Following up on a lead by telephone can be intimidating, and it's smart to have your own list of qualifying questions at hand. After all, the average sales call in the United States can cost hundreds of dollars, so don't schedule a meeting until you're satisfied you're pursuing a high-quality lead.
4. Build a referral program. Ask sales professionals, and they'll tell you the hottest leads come by way of referral, because they're well-qualified and close to making a buying decision. To create your own referral program, you'll need to target "influencers," people who directly connect with prospects and can send referrals your way. Ask consumer influencers for referrals either one-on-one or via direct mail or e-mail. A remodeling contractor, for example, might send a client survey following the completion of every job asking for feedback and referrals.
If you're targeting business-to-business referral prospects, start by creating a list of influencers and contact them by telephone to set up appointments. Winning referrals hinges on developing personal relationships, since your referral prospects must trust you to handle the people they send you with the utmost care. So you should expect to follow your telephone calls and meetings with an ongoing marketing program that includes periodic e-mail or direct mail.
It's also a great idea to supply your business-to-business influencers with marketing tools they can use directly with prospects. For example, a mortgage brokerage might supply real estate sales associates with mortgage calculation sheets imprinted with their logo and contact information to use directly with home buyers.
The bottom line is that you must target the right prospects and carefully qualify them in order to pursue only the highest-quality, most-profitable leads. In the end, you'll successfully reduce your lead generation costs and incrementally build sales for your small business.