Ops Management: Sowing the Seeds of Leads

In today’s economy, most of us are looking for ways to work smarter and make our dollars go further. Whatever sales and marketing initiatives your company is doing now, you can make them more effective and longer lasting.

We all know how important relationships are to business, and as the old adage goes, “People like to do business with their friends.” But so often, people fail to take those initial first steps to follow up on a lead, which prevents a relationship or sale from happening in the first place. By nurturing leads, you can build quality relationships with potential clients, which in the end equates to more sales.

Generating New Leads
Does your company have a sales and marketing plan in place to generate new leads? Here are some basic ways to generate leads:
1. Request leads from your manufacturers’ representatives. Most manufacturers do a lot of marketing to generate leads for their sales force. Altimate Medical, for instance, e-mails leads to their reps on a weekly basis and counts on them to follow up with the clinical contacts in a timely manner. Many reps pass the consumer leads on to their most reliable suppliers in the area.
2. Attend local conferences or tradeshows and use a lead form or sign-up sheet to get the contact information of your booth visitors. If needed, offer some type of incentive for signing up, such as a giveaway or sending them new literature when it is available.
3. Make sure that your company’s Web site proactively asks the customer to get in contact with you, and gives them a good reason to do so. Even if you have your toll-free number on your Web site, you should also have a short contact form that asks for basic contact information and includes a few qualifying questions.
4. In today’s techno-savvy world, don’t underestimate the power of social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn. Social media can help you find customers, generate referrals, build awareness of your company, and connect with people.
5. Utilize your current customer file — if someone bought a wheelchair from you a couple of years ago, what other accessories or products could they buy now?

Managing Leads
There are a few simple ways to maximize your return on investment from your current sales and marketing efforts through lead management:
1. Make sure the people who are on your front line are adequately trained on the products you offer. As a manufacturer, it is frustrating to get a phone call from a customer who, after calling a supplier on our supplier locator, was told by the person answering the phone that they did not sell our product. We quickly turned the sale over to a different supplier who could accurately answer questions for the customer.
2. Train the people answering the phones on how to ask qualifying questions beyond basic contact information. For instance:
•    What is the caller’s disability?
•    Have they ordered from your company before?
•    What kind of insurance do they have?
•    What specific products or brands are they interested in?
•    How did they hear about your company?
•    Do they prefer to be contacted by phone or e-mail?
3. Make sure that all of your customer inquiries are entered into a contact management program, such as Goldmine, ACT, Outlook, or if you are lucky, a program customized for your company. A contact management program is essential to future marketing efforts and sales follow-up.

Follow-Up Techniques
To stay “top of mind” to your potential customers (especially referral sources), you should consider multiple follow-up tactics, and on a regular basis:
1. A phone call or personal e-mail allows you to develop a relationship on a one-on-one basis, which is the most direct and probably the most effective. Be sure that the phone call or e-mail is in a timely fashion, so the person remembers you or your company.
2. Direct mail with a newsletter or postcard can be another way to tell customers about new products, service offerings or customer success stories. You could even target different groups (such as pediatrics, power wheelchair users, clinicians) using your contact management program.
3. E-mail newsletters are an easy, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to drive people to your Web site for timely and relevant information. E-mail marketing campaigns have gotten considerably easier to develop with tools such as Constant Contact or Campaigner.

Making the Connection
The real challenge is not necessarily in generating or managing the leads, but more in truly connecting with them. It doesn’t matter how many leads you generate if they aren’t willing to listen to what you have to say next.

The true value of lead nurturing comes from the technique of staying in touch with your prospects while providing them with the relevant information as they move through the evaluation and buying process. Position yourself as the trusted adviser by asking them about the goals they are trying to achieve instead of trying to “sell.”

In the end, it all comes down to relationships. What can you do today to build relationships and create repeat customers?

This article originally appeared in the Seating & Positioning Handbook: March 2009 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Jackie Kaufenberg is the Social Media Strategist at Vivid Image (www.vimm.com). In her previous work life, she was the marketing manager at EasyStand/Altimate Medical. She would love to hear from you at jackie@vimm.com or on LinkedIn.

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