Leads, leads, leads! Leads are what every company wants and yet I find many business owners and salespeople often have more "sales leads" than they can possibly pursue. The problem is they don't know exactly which ones to concentrate on.
Leads come from a variety of sources: direct mail, advertising, e-mail marketing, trade shows and publicity. Lead-generation programs are a huge expense, exceeded only by the sales activity to follow up on the leads they generate. Some of these activities will be more productive than others for your company. But once you get a lead, you need a process for prioritizing your sales leads to follow up on them quickly and efficiently so you don't throw away opportunities to grow your business. You know you have enough leads coming in but you aren't following up when:
- You have a drawer full of business cards from people you have met but have not spoken to since.
- Colleagues have handed you leads that you haven't gotten around to calling.
- You have prospects that said no or didn't return your initial call that you haven't contacted in the past three months.
- You have a wide network of personal contacts which could provide leads but you have never talked about business.
- There are people you haven't kept in touch with who inquired about your services in the past, but weren't quite ready to buy or didn't have the funds.
If you don't follow up with the people you meet, on a regular systematic basis, you are wasting your time in meeting them. It is simply untrue someone will call you when they need you. The truth is, if they have met you only once, they probably don't even remember you, and it's even less likely they will remember where they put your card. You need to increase the number of contacts with people you meet to create a relationship.
Each time you get back to the office, whether you were networking or returning from a trade show, take all your business cards out of your pocket and sort them into three piles: prospective clients, useful networking contacts, and other. Sort the prospects into hot, warm, cold leads. A hot lead would be someone who already expressed an interest in doing business with you. A warm lead would be someone who mentioned a problem or goal you know you can help with. These are the leads you should follow up with first. After you have followed up with the hot and warm leads move to your networking contacts and sort them into two piles: people who you believe can lead you directly to prospective clients and people who can lead you to other opportunities, such as a new networking group of another type of opportunity. Now follow up with the people who might ultimately have leads for you.
The remaining three stacks of cards should be cool prospect leads, people who can lead you to other opportunities, and other. If you are short on time or have other hot leads to follow up with, send those cool leads a nice-to-meet-you note, and tuck them away in your contact management system in case you need them later. Take the people who can lead you to other opportunities and determine if they meet your current sales plans. If so, go ahead and contact those people. Otherwise treat them as a cool lead. Those 'other' cards should be thrown away unless you would like to have a personal friendship with them. If you receive referral leads from a person or group, put them in one of the three categories: hot, warm or cold lead and deal with them the same way as mentioned above.
Lead-generation campaigns, networking, referrals, advertising in directories or the yellow pages and their resulting sales activities, represent an enormous expense for your company. This is why it is so important for you to keep putting your leads into the categories listed above, get them into your contact management program and then follow them through the sales process. Measure your sales leads and don't let them fall through the cracks.
Linda Hanson, CMC, is a certified management consultant and author of 10 Steps to Marketing Success. She writes, speaks and consults on marketing, management and customer service issues and can be contacted at www.llhenterprises.com. Sign up for her free newsletter The Superior Performance Report.