"Many old school sales managers and business owners cherish this approach because they have seen it work in the past. That’s the scary thing about it (and why it won’t die). It will work if you absolutely commit to it and do it consistently for long enough. We occasionally take on campaigns like this if there is a good reason (perhaps our client's list is only found in a print format). We call them “brute force campaigns” and make them work but they’re tough sledding.”
I think about lead generation and sales prospecting all the time. I’m always trying to find better, cheaper, faster ways to generate leads for our clients. We look at lots of different things and try to select the best tools and practices and bake them into our campaigns.
I also think about this topic because all businesses need sales and most small and medium sized businesses are subject to the feast/famine paradigm. When they’re busy, the first thing that gets pushed to the side is prospecting for new business. Until business slows down. Then there’s a flurry of sales activity and soon business is back where it should be. For a while. I’m very aware of this so we try to be very disciplined about ensuring we have consistent lead generation, no matter how busy we are. I have some specific thoughts on this topic and decided to write this article on what I consider to be Lead Generation 2.0. But first a short review of the 1.0 iteration.
Lead Generation 1.0
This approach is characterized by the phrase “pound the phone” or "dialing for dollars". It involves making scads of calls to all kinds of companies, which mainly occurs once business has begun to slow. Maybe a little emailing is mixed in but without a plan or consistent execution. Working very hard is emphasized. It's completely "push" selling since all the leads are by definition cold. There is no capability to understand which leads are more interested than others unless the sales team connects with the person live. Finally, there's no ability to spread to other contacts (perhaps the right contact) since people will rarely forward voice mail messages as they forward emails.
Many old school sales managers and business owners cherish this approach because they have seen it work in the past. That’s the scary thing about it (and why it won’t die). It will work if you absolutely commit to it and do it consistently for long enough. We occasionally take on campaign that fall into this category if there is a good reason (perhaps our client's list is only found in a print format). We call them “brute force campaigns” and make them work but they can be tough sledding.
Lead Generation 2.0
Anyone who has ever done any kind of lead generation knows that the most important variable is the list. You can do everything else perfectly but if your list is no good, you are in trouble. If a client or prospect has a list, I always ask to see it (or a sample of it) before I commit to a particular performance level. We’ve learned there are many ways lists can be bad and people who don’t work with lists regularly really don’t have a good grasp of the details. Here are some scary things our clients say about lists.
“We bought a great list 4 years ago but never did anything with it.” (Half the people on the list will be gone)
“We know the data is good because we’ve been emailing it every month for the last 2 years.” (Most everyone who would have bought will have already done so)
“This list is great but it has no contact info or names.” (It’s hard to call them without a phone number or name)
All of the above can be addressed or remedied. The point is that you don’t want to throw good money after bad by using a questionable list. In the big picture, the list is normally towards the lower half of the cost totem pole. So try to get the best list you can buy or build, with the exact right kind of target company, in the right geography, of the right size, selecting the exact title (or as close as you can get) with the direct dial phone and email address. And it should be as fresh as possible.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this one because there are so many choices. There are terrific CRM systems, mass emailing tools, dialers, social media portals. All are available at a variety of price points, some practically free. These are tools to help you reach out to larger numbers of potential prospects and figure out which are more interested than the others. Then you can isolate the more interested group for extra calling and emailing.
If you have these tools, learn how to use them or find someone who can run them for you while you learn. If you are a manager or business owner, make sure your sales team is trained and that they are using what you are providing. I understand it’s a little harder in the beginning to do things the new way but definitely worth it in the long run.
Follow a Proven Process
I love sports and sports analogies because they tend to be visual and easily grasped. Athletes who want to play their game at a high level follow a routine. They try to do the same things that help their performances in the same way consistently, varying only when there seems to be an issue that won’t go away. Then extra effort is applied and things are tweaked. Think David Ortiz taking extra swings in the batting cage to remedy a slump.
You can run your business, your sales team or your marketing department the same way. Some kind of sales and marketing needs to happen consistently every week (every day is even better). On occasion, extra effort can be brought to bear to address a short term opportunity, requirement or deficiency. I’ll outline a simple but effective process for your sales team below.
Load a list into your CRM system (we use Salesforce.com). Begin calling. With anyone you reach live, you can discuss your product or service, striving to ask open ended questions to keep them engaged and closing for a sale or advance at the end. Depending on your business and target, you may reach voice mail 80-90% of the time. Leave a message, telling them you will be sending an email with a link and explaining briefly why they might want to review what you're sending them. For the leads that click on the link to view your information, use your technology to pinpoint and isolate those “warmer” leads. Then call them repeatedly but gently until you reach them live. Repeat this process every week, adding fresh leads and making adjustments as needed to hit your goals. And don’t forget to respond immediately to any email or phone responses that you receive.
I like to use multiple tools when communicating with potential prospects. Obviously the phone has value as does email but why stop there? With so many tools available why not use them? Here are some simple ways to communicate across multiple channels.
First, get some social media accounts if you don't have them. LinkedIn is a good choice if you’re a B2B company. I like Twitter too. Some industries are better served by Facebook. Make sure they look good and are complete. Remember, you will be displaying your personal brand so you want it to be professional and polished. Make sure you have a good quality photo (if you don’t your brand projects “I’m lazy” or “I’m not tech savvy”).
When anyone who is interested in your product or service contacts you in any way, invite them to connect on LinkedIn. Why? First, they are at their highest point of interest and more likely to accept your request. Second, if you have an attractive, well completed profile, it will burnish your identity in the prospect’s mind. Third, as you work through your sales cycle, they will see your activities and posts, further establishing that you’re a “go to” person in your space. Fourth, if the sale gets delayed, postponed or the sales cycle gets extended (or they decide not to move forward now), the prospect will see your posts and update as the months roll onward as a consistent, low key reminder that you are still there.
Try to post periodically. I like to post new original content every week (articles, top 5 lists, other "how to" pieces). If you don't have the time or inclination to write your own articles, you can certainly post links to articles written by others that you think your prospect base would be interested in that relate to your business. In fact, I think it's a good way to get started. Either way, whatever you post can also be posted on your blog.
I think small and medium sized business should have a Blog as part of the online presence. This allows people who are interested in the topics relating to your company to follow your blog and be notified when you post a new article. Anything you post on your blog can also be posted on Social Media. You can also email everyone on your email list whenever you post a new entry, which is a good, low impact way to keep in touch. Track who's reading your articles using your technology and follow-up with any prospects by phone.