Where Have All the Good Leads Gone?

Lead generation, like outsourcing, is a lot like golf.

No one wants to admit they had a mulligan or two out on the course playing a round of golf, or for that matter spending on lead generation or outsourcing and not getting their money’s worth.

But it’s happening with increasing frequency for companies in manufacturing, services and software — and it’s not the recession, it’s relevancy.

Don’t Confuse Contacts with Leads

I’ve seen company after company spend tens of thousands of dollars to gain greater lead generation, and all they end up with is a list of e-mail addresses and names.

There are those services that specialize in this and call the e-mail address a “lead” when it fact it is merely the right to contact the person once for follow-up. Clearly this is not a real lead.

One company spent more than US$250,000 on telemarketing and didn’t end up with one new customer as a result. The key take-away from all that spending was that contacts are not in fact leads and actually need to be managed entirely differently than an actual lead.

Watching these companies line up and spend on lead generation, from a small oil equipment manufacturer to a major auto manufacturer, several truths begin to emerge, and they are provided here:

  • Overbalance the scales with offers of knowledge, not sales hype. Instead of blasting out PDFs that tell prospects how great your company is, think about setting up weekly webinars where you invite in an industry expert that freely shares their knowledge of what’s working in the area your products, services or software deliver value. Before you dismiss this as just for the Fortune 1,000, realize that industry experts need PR coverage too and often you can get them do these in exchange for promoting their practice.
  • Define a Web 2.0 strategy now for your company and start executing on it fast. The two best bloggers in this area are Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li of Forrester who write “Groundswell”. These two authors, through their analysis of social networking and the Web 2.0 landscape, continually show how transparent and more connected previously isolated social networks — both in private and commercial areas — have become. What also emerges from their analysis is that when Web 2.0 technologies are used for connecting with customers, sales hype is dead. Informative, knowledgeable content that solves a complex question or problem for a customer is all that matters. Blogging to deliver solutions to customers in the form of knowledge generates real leads. It takes some companies a year or so to see any sales from this, yet it is hardly time wasted. These companies have changed how relevant they are to customers by delivering significant value without first asking for an order. Sales follow knowledge.
  • Consider your own YouTube University. Getting a channel on YouTube to upload videos that can be inexpensively produced is another approach to gaining a reputation as a company willing to share knowledge with potential and present customers. The development of your own YouTube University also needs to have periodic updates, fueling new traffic in the process. It’s a fairly large resource commitment to make, yet getting your best product experts onto your own YouTube channel can increase your company’s credibility across the industry and with prospects.
  • Customer references need to be on YouTube and on your Web site. There is a tendency to over-use references by having them included in the latter stages of any major sales cycle. This can wear out a good customer relationship because they are constantly getting called. Instead, spend a little more and get an excellent video completed of them talking about how your product, service or software helped them out. It’s astounding how pervasive this has become. One $12 million manufacturer of auto parts uses this for selling into larger auto manufacturer OEM accounts. There is so much value here, it’s amazing how many companies do one and just stop. Far better, from the results I’ve seen, to set the goal of getting five or more done every three months and making these pervasive on your site.
  • Work with any channel, technology or services providers to offer them participation in your trade shows and events, and vice versa. This works well, as many partnerships have overlapping customer bases yet have their own unique market segments as well. Developing this type of partnership significantly reduces the costs of trade shows and increases face time with prospects, a critical part of lead generation.
  • Google AdWords is only as effective as your landing pages, lead management process and continual managing of keywords. Google has delivered some exceptional tools in this area during 2008, including the ability to optimize a landing page design by testing it iteratively before it is launched. This is the largest lead generation strategy for many technology companies, and their continually improving of landing pages and key words generates significant results.

I’ve not spent years studying lead generation, yet what I have seen is that many companies are still doing very well with leads despite news about the economy this year.

I’m convinced it’s because they have worked very hard using the strategies discussed here to get and stay relevant to prospects and customers.

They’re delivering more knowledge, value, insight and intelligence than anyone else. As a result, they’re trusted more and sales happen.

Lead generation cannot be reduced to a series of causal factors; it all begins with trust in your company. In a Web 2.0 world, earning and retaining that trust is much more about offering insight and knowledge first.

Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. He also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of 15 books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results From Your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free.

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