Want Sales Leads? Stop Working So Hard!

by Dean Rieck

If I could sponsor a national conference on lead generation, I would simply fill a room with Rube Goldberg cartoons, herd everyone in, and lock the door for a few hours.

No speakers. No booths. No cold ham and limp green beans.

And you know what? The effectiveness of lead generation in this country would skyrocket. People would be closing more sales than their companies could handle. Once I settled all the copyright infringement suits from displaying ol' Rube's artwork, I would be rich. I would be hailed as the Peter F. Drucker of sales leads.

If you remember Rube Goldberg (1883-1970), you're admitting your age. He amused readers for years with his fanciful drawings of ridiculously elaborate machines performing mundane tasks, such as cleaning windows, sharpening pencils, and putting golf balls on tees.

Today his creations and his name have come to represent the fallacy of applying complex solutions to simple problems. The Official Rube Goldberg Web Site says his cartoons are "... symbols of man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results."

And that's the problem in a nutshell.

Lead generation is arguably the simplest of direct marketing tasks. Yet most businesses can't get the results they want because instead of simply generating leads, which is little more than getting people to identify themselves as interested in something, they get caught up in too many other priorities that make the job more difficult than it has to be.

Lazy Offers and Loose Lips

The two most common ways I see businesses making things hard on themselves are 1) making lazy offers and 2) giving away too much information.

Making lazy offers is a result of allowing image and positioning issues to creep into the lead generation process. Running flashy corporate-style ads and mailing glossy four-color brochures or expensive three-dimensional items make you especially vulnerable to lazy offers. You'll end up focusing too much on design and too little on delivering a clear offer or call to action, other than the anemic "call for more information" or the abominable "have a sales person call me." The latter, by the way, is the one of the most common offers made and, unfortunately, the least effective in the known universe, guaranteed to scare off prospects of all temperatures.

Running a close second with lazy offers is loose lips, or giving away too much information at the wrong time. This is a result of impatience, trying to move your prospects along too fast instead of allowing the step-by-step nature of the sales process take its course. Go ahead, mail that detailed 16-page brochure to a cold list. Dump your product prices and specifications on those unsuspecting souls. Invite 10,000 people to browse your fact-packed Web site. Instead of getting responses and capturing names, you'll just give away the store. And when your prospects' curiosity is satisfied, you'll never hear from them again.

Making Things Easy on Yourself

Why work so hard? The right way to get leads is also the easiest way.

First, offer something free. This is the key to any successful lead generation program. Whether you use direct mail, print ads, radio, television, or other media, you must offer something free to get a prospect to raise his hand and say, "I'm interested in this." You can offer just about anything: free booklet, free gift, free survey, free sample, free catalog, free inspection, free consultation, or anything else that's related to your product or service.

Second, the free thing should help your prospect solve a problem. Forget positioning and other pomp and circumstance. Give your offer value. For someone having tax problems, offering a "free tax reduction kit" is more appealing and relevant than "a free brochure about the XYZ Accounting Firm." Try to solve particular problems.

Third, stay focused on getting the lead. Don't get carried away with the creative aspects of copy, design, and production. Keep your message as simple and lean as possible. The idea is to peak your prospect's interest in the free thing you are offering and get a request for it. Don't talk about your company, then tack on an offer. And don't spill the beans, because if you say too much, you'll prematurely quench the thirst for information. Tease, don't tell.

Fourth, gather the information you need to make a sale. The only reason for offering something free is to get a name, address, phone number, and other information to begin the sales process. Be careful if you ask for e-mail response, though, because prospects may not give you everything you need. And if you want to direct prospects to your web site, create a special URL that will ask for contact information first.

Simplicity Works

A recent direct mail piece I created for a Canadian Internet services firm illustrates how well simplicity can work. I used a plain #10 window envelope. Inside, the two-page letter began directly: "I have a FREE Demo CD you should see. May I send it to you?" It didn't talk about the company, but went on to describe what was on the CD. A two-sided insert did not discuss the company's services, but presented success stories from well-known companies who use my client's services. A simple BRC rounded out the package. And in every piece, there was a clear call to action pushing the CD.

Did it create an image? No. Did it position the company? No. Did it relay every detail about available services? No. All it did was generate a large quantity of qualified leads for my client's sales force to develop and close.

Simple, huh?

Of course, you may prefer a Rube Goldberg solution. After all, complexity is an ideal way to impress colleagues and pad your portfolio. And you won't be bothered by all those pesky inquiries!

Copyright © 1999 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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