10 Tips for Acquiring New Customers

More often than not, marketing managers and sales directors just don’t get along. When revenues drop or targets fall short, they start blaming each other. Typically, tempers really flare over who drops the ball on sales leads, which in time get more and more expensive.

Here’s how to get marketing and sales to speak each other’s language and a list of 10 practical ideas to find qualified leads in today’s market.

What’s a lead?
It’s the job of marketing, of course, to evoke the interest that will transform cold clients into warm prospects. It’s the sales team’s responsibility to put the fire under those warm prospects that will nail the deal. When things go awry, marketing shows the impressive number of customer phone calls, e-mail queries, Web page click-throughs or Web impressions that were forwarded to sales and ignored. Salespeople then shake their heads about the effort they waste in following up on marketing’s trivial and tenuous queries. “All we get are window shoppers,” say resentful sales directors.

The reason neither side wins is because both are right.

Weak follow-up wastes marketing money
The pipeline that fuels a sale typically begins with a query. It’s a process that unfolds over time.

Recent surveys by Warne, a Toronto marketing company, tracked more than 3,500 people who inquired to blue-chip advertisers. Here is what the surveys found: 19% of the inquirers made purchases within six months (whether from the advertiser or a competitor) and 29% purchased within a year. By 16 months, 43%, and by 25 months, 57% had made purchases. That translates into two in 10 that want to buy “now” and four others that want to buy “later” — or about six prospects for every 10 queries.

The problem here? The surveys found that sales reps followed up on less than 17% of all inquiries. Clearly, inquiries are a key to sales. Just as clearly, most businesses are wasting marketing dollars by weak follow-up.

That’s because all queries look alike at the outset. You can’t tell which will fade and which will turn into prospects. Since good follow-up requires three or four subsequent contacts, companies cannot afford to respond to every request for information or pricing with such attention. So the good gets tossed with the bad.

The solution is to set up a cost-efficient system that triggers appropriate responses at various points along the timeline.

Measured responses
Depending on your industry and sales cycle, this could mean an automated e-mail program with pre-selected messages that respond to keywords in an electronic query. It could be a mailed media kit or annual report to respond to phone call inquiries.

You could create a series of increasingly detailed brochures that satisfy intensifying query interest — until you reach the moment for face-to-face sales. Other notions: qualified invitations to events or webcasts, white papers or free samples sent to anyone who stops by a trade show booth, and so on. You must also decide whether marketing or sales will manage each response, and at what point sales takes over.

There are many affordable options. You just need to think ahead. (See this page for about Microsoft services to attract customers). Do the math. Then, to get marketing and sales to cooperate, make sure each side understands the costs that count.

Marketing: You must figure out how many customer contacts are needed, on average, to lead to a sale — and how much each one costs. The total number of click-throughs or queries isn’t particularly meaningful.

Sales: You must calculate how many deals are needed to hit company revenue targets or profitability. Setting a sales goal of a number of deals per month or quarter doesn’t seriously matter. Each side must be clear about what’s needed to drive inquiries into sales.

Marketing aimed at generating sales (in contrast to branding efforts or campaigns that build customer loyalty), usually relies on the following channels, says Mac McIntosh, a business-to-business sales consultant based in North Kingstown, R.I.:

  • Relationship marketing that nurtures and qualifies prospects
  • An effective marketing database
  • Direct marketing that generates queries
  • Online and search engine marketing that bridges the gap between marketing and sales Events or promotions that move prospects to purchase

Multiple tactics should be tried
“A company needs to be doing a number of lead-generation things,” advises Jerry Rackley, a marketing consultant based in Stillwater, Okla. “Generally, using just one approach will not adequately fill the lead pipeline and keep prospects flowing through it.”

You likely need a blend of traditional techniques, such as mass mailers, along with electronic tactics, such as search-engine marketing.

Remember this as you consider these 10 lead-generating ideas:

1. Buy qualified leads. Scrubbed, reliable prospect lists can be rented from various sources, including trade groups, professional organizations, alumni associations or list brokers. Such lists let you tailor e-mail messages to different customer segments. For instance, you can select highly qualified leads to receive discounted offers or re-jigger your messages to appeal to different age groups. (See this page for more about Microsoft’s sales lead services.)

2. Become the authority. Commission a survey or poll that offers proprietary market intelligence and then publicize the results through the media or a Web site. “The key is to create pull demand by building credibility and recognition,” says Jim DeSena, author of “The 10 Immutable Laws of Power Selling.” If you can turn the survey into an annual event, you become an ongoing industry expert.

3. Find a partner. “When two business professionals complement each other, they can influence their contacts to open doors for the other,” says Maura Schreier-Fleming, author of “Real World Selling for Out-of-This-World Results.”

4. Create an industry profile. Develop expertise or an informative speech that’s in demand for your industry. With a professionally produced media kit and a few mailings, you can get on the lecture or seminar circuit. “Everyone is always looking for good speakers [who can] sell on stage,” suggests Julie Isphording, a publicist based in Cincinnati. You’ll also then be able to leverage media contacts to be quoted in news articles or broadcast features.

5. Buy ads in electronic newsletters. Ads in vertical, targeted e-mail newsletters can really grab attention. “Buying an ad in these is a great lead-generation technique because you have the ability to direct the prospect to your Web site and track the response,” Rackley says.

6. Read the newspaper. Your local paper is usually filled with prospects who need your goods and services. A human resources consultancy, for example, can note mergers or expansions in the news.

7. Check your database. Inactive customers who haven’t bought anything for a while or infrequent buyers are ripe for sales pitches, advises Dianna Booher, author of “From Contact to Contract.”

8. Find a specialized show. Attendance has dropped at many major trade shows in recent years because of cost-cutting efforts and travel jitters. But leads can be found at affordable regional or vertical shows — and the leads will be better qualified, too.

9. Join a networking organization. For small businesses, these groups, found around the country, do indeed work. The idea is to share leads with member businesses that don’t directly compete with yours. Annual dues vary, from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Just make sure the group has a track record and that you can live with its rules about sharing contact information.

10. Finally, don’t forget the power of positive buzz. When the CEO is accessible to the staff or when she hangs around to answer questions after industry events, word-of-mouth builds and people get to hear. That kind of lead isn’t for sale. You simply earn it.

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