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The Fastest Route to Sales

4 quick ways to reach your hottest prospects
September 21, 2006
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/167454

Transforming a cold prospect into a hot one who's ready to buy can take considerable time, effort and marketing dollars. So why wait? To increase sales now, choose marketing tactics that will reach your hottest prospects and successfully convert them into customers or clients.

Tactics that reach hot prospects are vitally important to every effective marketing program because they balance out the longer-term efforts required to move cold and warm prospects through the sales cycle.

Who are these hot prospects? They're people actively looking for what you market. They're pre-qualified, because they've gone through much of the preliminary decision-making process and know what they want--or at least have a general idea of what they're shopping for.

Here are four fast ways to reach hot prospects:

1. Online Search Engines
Where will your hottest prospects turn when they've made the decision to buy the type of product or service you offer? Close to 90 percent of shoppers now research their purchases online before buying in brick-and-mortar stores, according to a recent survey by Bigresearch. So even if you predominantly sell offline, a visible presence on search engines is an absolute must. To get noticed, it's important to turn up as close to the top of search results as possible--preferably on page one--since the majority of search users click on a link within the first results' page.

For most small businesses, a local paid search campaign is the answer. A paid search campaign using local search terms can help you reach prospects in your area and put you near the top of search results--and it's more affordable than bidding on keywords for national campaigns. Optimizing your website will also help you turn up higher in search results, but unlike paid search, there are no guarantees.

2. Print and Online Directories
For many entrepreneurs, ads in the local Yellow Pages command a significant portion of their marketing budgets. But as the popularity of online directories grows, it's possible to reduce your phone-directory expenses and reach more of your hottest prospects by moving some dollars out of print and into the same directories online. How you split your online and offline dollars should depend on the age of your prospects. A recent study by the Kelsey Group revealed a divide between younger and older consumers: Teens and younger adults prefer to search online, while the majority of respondents over 45 favor print Yellow Pages.

If you're a B2B marketer, you can also rely on a range of other online and offline directories to reach your hottest prospects. Depending on what you market, your prospects may turn first to the ads and listings in anything from traditional industrial directories to creative sourcebooks.

3. Newspapers, Magazines and Specialized Media
Print media are highly successful "search corridor" tools. General media, such as major metropolitan daily newspapers, are split into sections to draw readers looking for a particular type of content. Search corridors--places people look when they've made the decision to buy something--will vary from day to day and section to section. And newspaper readers use and rely on these search corridors for information on sales, products and services.

Magazines are also terrific search corridor tools, with content tailored to fit every type of advertiser and shopper. Highly specialized publications, such as those that feature real estate or automotive listings, are 100 percent search corridor media, while more general publications often offer special shopper sections, generally in the back pages, where you can place smaller ads to reach well-qualified prospects.

4. Personal and Public Endorsements
Hot prospects will often seek out expert opinions. Of course, there are all kinds of experts, ranging from columnists and reviewers to bloggers or the neighbor next door. And whether you garner endorsements or referrals, they're often the shortest route to sales, thanks to the credibility they carry.

To win B2B referrals, make a list of your best referral prospects--happy customers, respected business associates and well-connected friends--and contact them by phone to set up meetings. Be sure to add these referral sources to your prospect database and make contact on a regular basis. And supply them with tools and materials--from business cards and brochures to sales tools--that they can use to promote you. To get consumers talking to their friends and families about your product or service, you can build buzz quickly and cost-effectively by using your own website to create a strong community and facilitating interaction with a message board or blog of your own.

If product reviews and endorsements are your goal, identify all the websites, print media and broadcast sources your best prospects look to for guidance, and target them with an ongoing media-relations campaign. Send press releases, press kits and product samples, when appropriate, and always follow up by phone or e-mail for coverage that will stimulate sales.