Every business out there is hungry for new leads – but not every business is looking for the right kind of leads. Even when you have a steady stream of leads, if they aren’t high-quality leads for YOU, then they might be costing you more than they’re worth to sell to. Your business is unique, and generic leads are not necessarily the kinds of people you need as customers and clients. In this post, you’ll understand the difference between a lead and a customer, learn the importance of leads, and get tips on how to generate and follow up with quality leads for your business.
Related eBook: The Must-Have Guide to Lead Generation (free download)
Understanding Customers vs Leads
Let’s clarify one thing up front. Some confusion has grown in the public mind about the distinction between a customer and a lead. The confusion is understandable because these terms are often used loosely. A lead is a person who could reasonably become a customer or a client of your business. They want or need what you offer and they are in the market for what you offer.
A customer, on the other hand, is someone who in the past or in the present has bought your product or service. They may or may not plan on remaining a customer, but they have been one previously. This means that while not every lead will turn into a customer, every customer is at least potentially a lead, and probably a good one; you know they need or want what you have, and you know they’re in the market for it.
Where Do Leads Come From?
So where do you get leads? Some marketers talk about lead generation as though there is some arcane spell which causes leads to materialize from thin air, but in reality leads are just people. Anyone who needs or wants your product or service and who is in the market to meet that need is a lead. Every person on Earth is a potential lead for some business somewhere. The work is identifying who is a good lead for what. An email directory is theoretically full of leads, but unless you have information about the people associated with the addresses (and unless they gave you their email address and thus their permission to email you), the leads are largely valueless.
What Makes a Good Lead?
Leads also range widely in quality, and that quality depends almost entirely on what you are trying to sell them and what their life circumstances are. For example, take two twin brothers, Dave and Alex, who live in the same city, have the same household income, and have the same hobbies and interests. However, Dave is a married stay-at-home dad chasing three toddlers, while Alex has no children, is single, and is a C-level officer for a Fortune 500 company.
Dave is potentially a great lead for a housekeeping service, a minivan dealership, or a kid-oriented premium cable TV channel; he is most likely not a great lead for a sports car dealership, an Aspen timeshare company, or a premium dating service. Alex, of course, is just the opposite. The quality of a lead depends almost entirely on the context of what you are trying to sell. A lot of lead generation methods are effectively blind to the contextual quality of the leads that they will send you. That means you could end up spending a lot of money generating a whole lot of Daves when what you really need are Alexes, or vice-versa.
Generating Targeted, High-Quality Leads
There are a lot of ways to generate large quantities of generic leads, and we’re not going to go into those here, because it’s usually a waste of time to do that unless you are selling a very generic product and have a very low-cost sales model. For most small businesses, generating a smaller number of very high-quality leads—many or most of which will convert into a paying customer once approached—makes much more sense.
Social media is rapidly becoming the king of quality lead generation, because the ability to get your leads to self-select themselves is unprecedented. Using the right social media site is key. If you are selling your services to other small businesses, then LinkedIn is probably the venue you should concentrate your lead generation efforts on, while Facebook is the place for mass market efforts. The best part about social media lead generation is that it gives you the chance to slide past the gatekeepers who normally shield decisionmakers.
Having a valuable offer for your target market is an excellent way to jumpstart lead generation online, particularly if you have something that you can disseminate at zero marginal cost like a free ebook or audiobook. Producing and distributing free web articles, podcasts, and slide decks is more passive, but can bring in a steady flow of self-selecting leads if you place calls to action at appropriate places in your free content.
One oft-neglected avenue of lead generation: your existing customer base. Not only can you pitch existing customers directly, you can ask them for referrals to their friends and families, and if you’ve done a good job of serving their needs in the past, you’re likely to get a positive response both to the ask and when you pursue the leads they bring you.
Following Up With Leads
Once you have leads, it’s critically important that you follow up with them! A lead who never sees your sales pitch because you neglected to further build on the relationship is a lead you might as well have never found in the first place. You don’t want to smother leads with excessive messaging. Nothing is less attractive to a prospect than giving a website their email address, and ending up with an email inbox flooded with repetitive sales pitches. However, paying too little attention is equally futile. If it’s at all possible within your business model, send personal follow-ups, not machine-generated ones – your customers can tell the difference.
For more help with lead gen for your business, download our free eBook:
The Must-Have Guide to Lead Generation for your business.