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Not Enough Sales Leads? Try This "Less Is More" Approach.

Bag the bells and whistles. Hold the dog and pony. If you want more leads for your training sales force, the secret to success is less.

A. SELL LESS: Remember, the purpose of a lead generation effort is to generate qualified inquiries not close a $5 million deal. That's what your high priced salespeople are for. So focus on selling only what you want your prospects to immediately grab for -- whether it's a white paper, a self-assessment, the results of a survey, a helpful job aid, more information, whatever. (We'll explain the virtues and drawbacks of various lead generation premiums and how to choose which one to use in a future E-Visory.)

Too many training marketing types use a lead generation opportunity as a platform to sell everything but the kitchen sink -- then tack on the premium as an afterthought. Sorry, but it's important to sell your premium from the get go for all it's worth. Rhapsodize about your company and its products and services only to the extent that this reinforces the value and credibility of your premium.

By the way, do try selling an appointment as an optional add on to your premium -- but position it as a no obligation needs assessment that will benefit your prospect, not an adversarial sales call. It's not unusual to have 20% of all respondees choose this option.

B. TELL LESS: Lead generation is about providing incomplete information that leaves your prospect wanting more. So jettison every tidbit of information from your lead generation effort that goes beyond provoking your prospect to respond.

That's right, scrap that product fact sheet. Save that press release. Hold off on that case history library. Don't provide any information that prospects can use to hastily and prematurely conclude that your products and services are not for them.

If you're doing direct mail or media advertising lead generation, consider not mentioning your URL. That's right, redo your letterhead or address block to eliminate your Web site address, and leave it off your reply form as well. Why? Because the last thing you want is your prospect wandering off to your Web site to try and fill in the blanks. The next thing you know, they've haphazardly satisfied their curiosity about what you have to offer and your salesperson never gets to the plate. Or they're off on an extended Web surfing expedition and your promotion is dead meat.

Even if you're doing e-mail lead generation, consider NOT providing a link to your Web site (but do provide an e-mail hot link). Or be sure you have a special Web reply page that supports your lead generation mission and is not linked back to your homepage. (Of course, if the name of your company is BetterTraining.Com, then your efforts at URL subterfuge are unlikely to be successful.)

C. ASK LESS: By all means, do ask prospects to provide basic information that will help your salespeople with their follow up efforts. But don't go overboard.

Do ask for phone and e-mail address -- and title, if the list you are using doesn't already include it. Otherwise your salespeople will be wasting time with the switchboard police. "I'm sorry, but I'm not authorized to give out that information." Do ask for an idea of the size of the training population you are interested in -- but do this by offering a choice of ranges, not an empty field that could be interpreted as a request to share proprietary information.

Don't ask your prospect for the size of their training budget. This is inappropriate and should be evident enough from their title and the size of the potential training population. And don't bother asking whether or not they are a decisionmaker. Everybody always says "yes."

Should you ask your prospect how urgent their need is? Why not just add a "Comments" section to your reply form. Give your prospect an opportunity to tell you whatever else they would like you to know.

D. QUALIFY LESS: Don't bother using telemarketers to qualify inquiries before distributing them to the field. In our experience, field salespeople don't generally trust or abide by somebody else's opinion as to whether a prospect is qualified. Also, a telemarketer may turn off an important prospect that your salesperson could have cultivated. Even if the telemarketer wins the prospects confidence, there can be a real loss of continuity during the time the salesperson gets around to following through.

If you prospect among qualified lists, offer a relevant premium (no coffee cups or other spurious bribes), and capture a prospect's title and the size of their training population, this should be more than enough for an enterprising salesperson to go on.

E. POLICE LESS: Don't require your salespeople to provide follow up information on each and every lead to Headquarters. There's little benefit in terms of fine tuning your lead generation efforts -- and no mileage at all in trying to second-guess the industriousness of your salespeople. Instead, provide your sales managers with a monthly summary of the leads you've provided to their team. Leave it to them to coach or critique their people. No one is in a better position than they are to determine what sort of lead follow up effort is warranted.

If you want to cost justify your investment in lead generation, simply wait until the end of the fiscal year and then compare your top 20 new business wins against the leads you've provided over the last 18 months or so. If you don't find a significant number of matches, then marketing and sales need to have a powwow to determine what sort of corrective action to take.

By the way, if you do find a strong correlation between your leads and new business wins, don't let your marketing department and your sales department get into a battle over who should get the credit. Always give the salesperson wholehearted recognition for any sale. Recognize your marketing people based on the overall lead generation program.

F. SPEND LESS: One benefit in eliminating superfluous elements from your lead generation efforts is a significant saving in costs. Less graphics and design expense, less paper and printing expense, less postage expense.

In fact, a good place to begin is a simple personal letter and reply form prepared to look like it came right off a standard word processor and laser printer. This also has the advantage of being quick to turn around. Too many training company promotion groups avoid the unadorned personal letter because it just doesn't seem like promotion -- which is exactly why it is so effective.

An even more lean and mean approach is the post card. This is not my favorite cup of tea, because while it is minimalist and inexpensive, it does look like promotion, and almost begs to be tossed. What's more, it doesn't cost that much less than a personal letter when list and postage costs are reflected. But you still may want to try it -- especially if you are trying to cull out a less-than-qualified list.

All in all, the payoff of a "less is more" lead generation approach can be substantial. We've seen response rates increase as much as 2x-3x when superfluous elements are left out. Bake in the associated cost savings, and you could be looking at a reduction in the cost per qualified inquiry of 80%!

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