Every new sale begins with a lead. If you're trying to grow your small business, you may think it makes sense to generate as many leads as possible. However that may not be the best approach. Quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to lead generation.
This is especially true in the business-to-business category, where you typically need to invest time in face-to-face interactions and relationship building to close the sale.
While you don't want to limit your opportunities, as a small business owner who wears many hats, you need to use your time as efficiently as possible.
High-quality leads will help you maximize the productivity of your sales efforts. There are many lead generation services that will provide you with business prospect lists for a fee, including Dun & Bradstreet and its subsidiary, Hoover's.
When using a lead generation service, focus on defining your targeted prospects as much as possible to improve the odds you'll convert those prospects to customers. Important criteria to help you narrow your scope may include industry, annual sales, number of employees and geographic location.
Hoover's recently added a new smart phone application called Hoover's Near Here for business leads. The app is free and includes useful information such as sales, number of employees, business address and phone number, and the names of key people.
Like all lead generation and database services, the information may not always be up to date or completely accurate.
However the Hoover's Near Here app is a no-cost mobile tool that may be worth trying if you're selling to other businesses.
You can also take advantage of the free trials many lead generation companies offer. Test the quality of their prospect lists by phone or email to make sure the contacts are accurate and not outdated before purchasing.
Other effective sources for sales leads for both business and retail customers include your website, online surveys, Facebook and LinkedIn among others. In addition, the old-fashioned guestbook can work very effectively for generating leads by asking visitors to sign in and provide contact and other information. This tool has been used successfully for years by restaurants, wineries, galleries, B&Bs and many others. Don't overlook this simple option when developing your lead generation plan.
Joining business and professional associations may also help you gain access to higher quality prospects or referral sources. Your local chamber and Business Network International (BNI) are two examples of such organizations. Your best leads will be those who already know you or are referred by a trusted source. Focus on those leads first before investing time with others. Don't be afraid to ask your colleagues and natural partners to refer prospects to you. Of course, you should look for appropriate opportunities to do the same for them.
Remember, timing is everything. Don't be discouraged if you don't get the sale immediately. When you contact a lead who appears interested in your product or service, but isn't ready to buy now, follow up periodically with a call, email, or personal note. Cultivate your highest potential leads and you'll be readily positioned to turn those prospects into customers when the time is right.
For more information or help with starting or growing your small business, contact Traverse City SCORE at 231-947-5075 or toll-free at 888-796-4913 or go online at www.UpNorthScore.com to schedule a free, confidential appointment with a SCORE mentor. SCORE is a resource partner of the Small Business Administration and is located at the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce at 202 East Grandview Parkway in Traverse City.
Tanya Berg is a volunteer SCORE mentor and the owner of Smartmark Consulting, a Traverse City based marketing consulting firm.