Defending yourself against the sales lead killers

sales lead killersA couple of years ago, I was at a party where the host challenged guests to remove a cork from the inside of a wine bottle. It was quite a challenge, the host proclaimed.

One by one, people tried and failed to remove the cork. Then the host began explaining the tricky and complex solution, and people were impressed. However, the host was unable to remove the cork after 15 minutes of fiddling.

Growing impatient, I grabbed the bottle and asked the host if he really wanted the cork out of the bottle. He said yes. So I broke the bottle and handed him the cork. He wasn’t happy with that solution and said I “cheated.” Apparently it just wasn’t clever enough, even though it worked instantly.

Too often, this is the way it is with sales lead generation. Generating leads isn’t really that difficult, but people seem to be forever looking for complex solutions to simple problems. I call these the “lead killers,” because that’s exactly what they do — they kill leads.

The best defense against these killers is to just do what works. The simpler, the better. Here are a few examples.

Make an offer to get a response. Sort a “duh” suggestion, but you’d be shocked at how many businesses make things hard on themselves by trying to generate leads without an offer or by trying to close the sale in the lead piece.

Lead generation is a multistep process. First you get a response in order to identify your leads. Then you start the process of making a sale to those leads. Take just one step at a time. The best and simplest way to stay on track is to offer something free and focus your lead generator on that free item.

Sack the silly offers. Some businesses understand the idea of offering a freebie, but they offer things like pens or calendars or mouse pads. Those have wide appeal and will generate a big response, but they complicate things because they won’t help identify the good leads.

Your freebie must relate to your product or service so it generates quality leads, not just quantity leads. If you’re a tax preparer, for example, you could offer a special report titled “7 Easy Ways to Cut This Year’s Taxes by 35% or more.”

Avoid “look at me” brochures. You might be in love with your business. But your customers aren’t. They’re only interested in their own needs and wants. So sending them chest-beating literature is a mistake.

Don’t go on at length about your corporate mission in flowery, high-sounding language. Don’t recount the history of your business minute-by-minute for the last 20 years. And don’t display heroic photos of your management team climbing a mountain. Focus on the offer you’re making. Stick to basic benefits. Keep it simple and talk to prospects about what they care about.

Tease, don’t tell. Telling too much isn’t just a lead killer; it’s more like business enemy number one. The goal is just to get a response. That’s it. And to get a response, you have to generate curiosity. Providing too much information up front not only makes more work for you, it kills curiosity.

That’s not to say your lead piece has to be small or include few words, only that it shouldn’t reveal so much that you satisfy your prospect’s curiosity too soon. Remember the vaudeville rule: Always leave them wanting more.

Include a reply card even if you want calls. By including nothing but a phone number as a response option, you’re only appealing to the hottest prospects. Occasionally, that works fine. But generally, you want to scoop up warm and lukewarm leads as well.

After all, that’s the point of lead generation — to identify who has an interest so you can focus your sales efforts, not to simply grab the low-hanging fruit. You can easily double or triple your response with a simple, little reply card.

Just send a letter. I know that sounds too simple to work. But it does. In fact, a letter with a reply card or fax-back sheet may be all you need. You can test including other literature, but often the lone letter works far better.

I just recently tested this with one of my clients, and the simple letter on stock letterhead with a reply card and BRE beat packages with the same letter plus additional inserts.

Try self-mailers and postcards. I use these all the time with fantastic results. They encourage passalongs to decision-makers. They’re easier and more self-contained than multipiece mailers. And they can dramatically cut costs compared to envelope direct mail packages.

Sometimes, their economy can even outperform everything else, including personal letters. Postcards are especially nifty for simple lead offers or for directing someone to a website or physical store. It doesn’t get any simpler than a postcard.

Here’s a warning: Just as breaking the bottle didn’t ingratiate me with my host, trying to implement some of these suggestions may not ingratiate you with some of your business associates. Many people don’t want simple. They want impressive or complex, no matter the outcome.

It’s likely that by boosting results you can change their minds. But if not, don’t say I didn’t tell you.

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6 Responses to “Defending yourself against the sales lead killers”

  1. Spencer on July 28th, 2010 12:24 pm

    I liked the section on “Silly Offers”. I received a piece of mail that offered me a pen to respond…it seemed like more work than it was worth. We have a 7-in-1 direct marketing survival tool that we offer sometimes that seems to get great response. People like it and it relates to what we do.

    Great article by the way.

  2. Mark on July 30th, 2010 8:28 pm


    I would have broke the bottle too.

    Hell, in Australia we’ll do that just to get at the beer. (ha)

    My hottest tip is telling clients to make their phone number bigger and easier to see (IE Hard to miss).

    When they do, they’re amazed at the results and think I’m a genius.

  3. Jimmy Cantor on July 30th, 2010 9:56 pm

    Your broken bottle experience reminds me of the “Alexander solution” – when faced with having to untie the Gordion Knot, Alexander simply sliced it in half with his sword. It got the job done – and that’s what matters.

    One point more – I think “failure to launch” is a problem. Trying to make a perfect pitch – when all that might be necessary is stating what you do, with the value you provide, and then sincerely asking for the business. Funny how it sometimes works?!

  4. ContactWindowCleaning on August 1st, 2010 4:46 pm

    I mailed 5000 postcards and received ONE call back. Good thing I’m good at closing a sell otherwise I would have flushed $1800.00. Great suggestions above. I am thinking of mailing a “Save the Date” postcard trying to make it seem like a wedding invitation so they have to open it and read it. When they open it, it will have our company info and all the info to schedule a free estimate… with a discount offer that expires of course. Any one with any advice what so ever or past experiences I would love to hear from you.
    Contact Window Cleaning

  5. Spencer on August 2nd, 2010 9:36 am

    I’m glad you made the most of that one call. I’d be curious to take a look at your creative and offer on the 5,000 postcards you sent out. It might be worth testing different creative pieces or different offers. If you would like to discuss this further, shoot me an email at Good luck with your Save the Date cards.


  6. Peter on September 29th, 2011 3:21 pm

    Thanks for the great thread here, some pretty interesting and useful stuff on postcards and creating “offers”.

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