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Build a pipeline to productivity: links to a current client, center of influence, network or industry group can generate time-efficient positive leads.

In my Marcia 2006 Best's Review column, "No Time to Spare," I talked about the sales habits of the top producers in the industry. They delegate account servicing, plan their sales activities and strategies, qualify leads to avoid working with the wrong prospects, and constantly analyze their sales results. Their goals are to free up time for sales and to increase their hit ratios. In talking with top salespeople throughout the country, I also find they are proficient at generating leads, particularly from "linked leads."

The most common lead-generation method used by agencies is to purchase lead lists and send out mailings and/or have telemarketers or producers follow up on these leads, try to get an expiration date and schedule an appointment a few months before the renewal date. Producers say these lists are sometimes inaccurate. Some prospects are no longer in business or are not the size indicated on the list. When telemarketing firms supply the leads, they often call the same leads for other agencies, which can create a bidding situation. The fact is, lead lists, even if supported with mailings and telemarketing, are cold leads. And the closing rate on cold leads is only 10%.

A much better approach is to generate leads which have a "link" to a current client, center of influence, network, or industry group. These linked leads are warm, and the hit ratio on them is 30% or higher. So to sell 100 accounts, these producers need only 300 good leads in their pipeline, rather than the 1,000 leads needed for cold calling. There are many ways to generate "linked leads."

Working in an Industry or Niche. Many productive salespeople select an industry or a niche and become an expert in that area. Producers can then bring the additional knowledge they have of the industry, and also generate leads from sources that know each other or have similar needs. When the focus is on a particular industry, producers can focus their marketing efforts on attending association meetings, participating in trade shows, advertising in industry publications, or writing articles for newsletters. With this approach, producers can generate leads from conversations with group members, targeted PR efforts, volunteering on committees, and speaking at conferences. Networking within the group will keep their names in front of potential buyers.

Working with Centers of Influence. Another approach for generating consistent warm leads is to identify major centers of influence in the community, such as chambers of commerce, hospital boards and bank boards, and to become involved in committees having the most new business potential. Many producers also have developed referral agreements with centers of influence, such as accounting firms and law firms where both the agency and the center of influence send each other referrals. Everyone wins with this type of arrangement.

Asking for Referrals. Many producers are reluctant to ask their customers for referrals, but most customers are happy to refer their business associates or suppliers to an organization that provides good quality service. One approach used by producers is to identify prospects through the industry or community group or within a niche or geographic area and make a list of the top 50 to 75 prospects. When working with satisfied customers or a newly closed sale, the producer would ask if the client knows of any prospects, and, if so, ask to use the client's name as a reference. Many clients will offer additional names to the list.

Working with Linked Leads. Once the leads have been identified, producers can ask the source for more information about the decision-makers, their business, personal style and interests. When they contact the lead, they have the opportunity to make an impression, mention the lead source, talk about their backgrounds and find something in common. There is nothing like the personal touch in following up with a hand-written thank-you note to the lead source and a personal letter to the prospect. Although the goal may be to present a quote, meetings do not have to be scheduled just before the expiration date. Top producers find reasons to contact the prospect with some Interesting information, refer resources to them, invite them to an outing or meet them at an event.

Keeping track of contacts with leads is easy with tools such as Outlook or ACT. Both of these programs allow a producer to maintain a prospect list, enter tasks (calls, letters, to-dos), schedule appointments and be consistent in following up or keeping commitments. With some simple changes in the approach to prospecting, agencies can generate more good leads, close more sales and be on their way to higher growth rates.

Sharon Cunningham, a Best's Review columnist, is president of Business Management Group, a management consulting firm in Hartford, Conn. She can be reached at scunningham
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Comment:Build a pipeline to productivity: links to a current client, center of influence, network or industry group can generate time-efficient positive leads.
Author:Cunningham, Sharon
Publication:Best's Review
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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