Sales leads are the foundation of any sales effort. Not surprisingly, readers often ask me about how to get good leads, and what lead generation methods are most effective. For instance, I recently got the following email from a sales machine reader:
I have a request. Can you do a piece on “inbound marketing” and “no cold calling”? I’ve been experimenting with it and it works; just not fast enough. I do some cold calling when I’m slow, but the inbound process seems to be working and I’m getting a better closing rate. I’m getting about a 60% closing rate with the inbound.
Happy to oblige. In general, there are five different ways to get sales leads. Here they are, listed in order of effectiveness:
- Referrals. Getting friends, colleagues, existing customers and business contacts to refer their peers to you. (See “How to Win Customer Referrals”)
- Networking. Meeting people at industry events (and other occasions) who might be potential customers. (See “Craft a Killer Elevator Pitch”)
- Sales Partnerships. Working with other sales professionals in other companies that sell complimentary products.(See “Build Sales Partnerships in 5 Easy Steps”)
- Web Visitors. Contacting potential customers who have visited your corporate website and examined products. (See “What’s the Best Time to Cold Call?”)
- Cold Calling. Contacting potential customers based upon the information about them and their companies on the Web. (See “Find Hot Sales Leads in 6 Easy Steps”)
The reason that referrals rank so high is that you enter the opportunity with instant credibility, because somebody whom the prospect trusts has already told the prospect that you are trustworthy. That’s a huge leg up.
Similarly, with networking, the prospect has already met you and agreed to meet with you based on how you presented yourself. Sales partnerships are more “iffy” because they depend upon the quality of the relationship that your partner has with the prospect.
When people talk about to “inbound marketing” they really mean contacting web visitors. These leads are easier to close because the prospect has already indicated an interest.
Finally, we get to good ol’ cold-calling. Cold calling often gets a bad name because people use lousy lists, like the yellow pages, and then don’t bother to research the people they’re calling.
Fortunately, there are number of sophisticated systems that build very precise lists that take into account everything from job title to trigger events (like a merger) that might create a demand for an offering.
You may not need to use ALL these methods in order to get plenty of sales leads. In fact, plenty of people build their entire career purely on referrals. Most sales professionals use a combination of two or more of these methods.
Here’s what’s really important: Regardless of how you get a lead, the skill set to qualify a lead and develop it is exactly the same.
A lead from a referral is more likely to close than one lifted from online information, but the skill set is the same. You must still be able to describe your offering and its benefits succinctly, and you still must be able to find out if the prospect has a need and a budget.