The process of gaining new customers can be summed up in two steps - ‘getting leads’ and ‘converting leads to customers’. Although the first step is the responsibility of marketing and the second is the responsibility of the sales function, the two have to work together to optimise their effectiveness.
Generating the leads themselves is always the first task of any successful marketing exercise. Leads can be purchased, as in buying a mailing list of prospects, but gaining your own isn’t difficult. Just know that you should be prepared to use a variety of ways to attract qualified prospects rather than depending on just one source.
Promote yourself and manage inquiries – Think about how some companies are always announcing the results of a market study or survey. They get a lot of airtime and press space and are perceived as being experts in their area of operations. You can conduct your own survey and publicise the results, becoming an ‘instant expert’ in your own industry.
Team up with an affiliate – Find a business that’s not a direct competitor but whose customer base represents a list of good prospects for your own firm. Exchange mailing lists or do a joint promotion to both groups of customers and create a campaign that specifically targets them.
Create articles for other companies’ newsletters and websites – If you can come up with something really interesting that others will publish it’s like gaining their recommendation for your business. There are literally thousands of newsletters and websites that are happy to receive high quality, useful content for their readers.
Do your research - media like daily newspapers, Internet blogs, newsgroups and websites where people can post queries are great places to look for people who might be interested in your products. They’re also good sources of business intelligence about developments in the marketplace that might provide opportunities to open up new markets for your products or services.
Get out and be seen – Trade shows and exhibitions are surprisingly undervalued, but mainly because so many exhibitors aren’t good at following up the leads they get from them. They’re always a good way to meet seriously interested prospects, especially for B2B marketers.
Regardless of how they’re acquired, one of the most critical areas in any business is managing the leads that come in. Unfortunately, because a lot of good leads don’t respond immediately to sales efforts they aren’t pursued long enough, even though in time they may have become customers.
One way to cope with this situation is to create a follow up system that will automatically contact leads at designated intervals, perhaps by email or by sending them a piece of print material created to reflect their area of interest. If all leads are followed up for a set period of time it keeps them ‘warm’ until the sales process finally closes them.
This type of follow up is especially useful for leads gained at large scale events like trade shows. The process can commence immediately after the event and then be maintained by some form of contact on a regular basis – perhaps weekly or bi-monthly.
To begin designing such a follow up system go back over your previous sales records and answer these questions:
1. How many contacts did it take before a sale resulted?
2. What was the frequency of contact with those customers where the sale was finally closed?
3. What kind of contact method proved the most effective?
4. How long did it take before the lead was converted to a customer?
5. What percentage of leads became customers?
This information will guide you in creating the system so that you can determine such aspects as the type and frequency of contact and what kind of results you should expect.
Gaining leads and then following them up are all part of the overall job of staying in business. Get the two working together and you’ll have a much better chance of success than if you let them function independently.