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The Green Sheet Online Edition

February 14, 2011 • Issue 11:02:01

Leads, leads, leads - Part 1: Lead generation

By Peggy Bekavac Olson
Strategic Marketing

Sales leads play a crucial role in every payments industry business. Leads consist of any inquiry, referral or conversation gained through a variety of promotional means that identify potential prospects for your company's products and services. Without leads, you can't make sales, and without revenue, your business can't thrive. Sales leads truly are your company's lifeblood.

When it comes to marketing for sales leads, there's a lot you should consider - from generating interest and inquiries that result in qualified leads to keeping track of them and nurturing them through the sales process so that some become customers.

Accordingly, this is the first of a three-part series of articles I am writing for The Green Sheet to help guide your thinking on sales leads. This first article chronicles lead generation. Successive articles will cover the topics of lead management and lead nurturing, respectively.

Generating leads

Lead generation is the assembling of a list or group of prospective buyers who have interest in your company's offerings. It is the first step in the sales process and is necessary to fuel your sales pipeline.

Lead generation consists of traditional, outbound, interruption-based marketing activities that broadly communicate your message to a wide audience. Its focus is on finding prospective buyers who may be interested in your products and services.

Classic outbound lead generation activities include cold calling or prospecting; telesales; external lead generation services; print or other media advertising; direct mail and email marketing; publicity such as press releases, journal articles and speaking engagements; events like tradeshows and conferences; networking groups or clubs; and referral programs with existing clients, financial institutions, associations and other partners.

Lead generation can also consist of inbound, permission-based marketing activities that help you get noticed by prospective buyers already learning about and shopping for the types of products and services you offer. Inbound marketing activities typically revolve around the Internet and can be grouped into three key areas: content, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media.

Content is information and insight you provide to attract potential buyers to your business. Content - such as your website, videos, white papers, journal articles, online newsletters, blog posts, case studies and webinars that include contact forms or join-our-mailing-list calls to action - should be the foundation of your inbound marketing efforts.

SEO makes it easy for potential customers to find your content. It encompasses building your website with inbound and outbound links to maximize search engine rankings. This is important because search engines are where many prospects begin the buying process.

Social media amplify your content's impact. When distributed and discussed on networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as pertinent forums and blogs, your content is validated and becomes more authentic. This helps qualified prospects become engaged and more likely to reach out directly to you.

Selecting tactics

To fill your sales funnel, you must take a proactive approach to generate a steady stream of leads. But with so many inbound and outbound tactics available, how do you know which ones will work best to generate the right type of leads for your business?

You need to know that there's no single recipe for lead generation success. It takes strategic thinking about how to reach prospective customers, combined with marketing art and science. The single common denominator for successful lead generation is to produce a high-volume flow of communication so that prospective buyers know who you are, what you do and why they should buy from you.

Today, companies in the payments industry use a multitude of lead generation tactics that run the gamut, with most focusing more on outbound rather than inbound efforts. Some tactics are wildly successful; some are woefully ineffective. Know that what works or doesn't work for one company isn't always a predictor of your success or failure with these same techniques.

Some of the more effective lead generation results I've encountered while working with industry clients come from companies that market to specific niches and establish marketing partnerships through financial institutions, associations, chambers of commerce and others.

Payment companies who are successful at lead generation don't just employ one or two methods; they utilize a complete arsenal of lead generation tools in a continuous, long-term approach. Tactics like direct mail postcards, email marketing, appointment setting and telesales, client referral programs, print and online advertising, SEO, and event attendance and sponsorships are often part of their repertoire to produce a bevy of qualified leads.

Some of the more interesting, unusual and expensive lead generating tactics I've come across in the payments space include billboard and newspaper advertising, radio and television commercials, and even celebrity endorsements.

Probably the best approach to deciding which lead generation techniques to employ is to review your business strategy, and then hash through all the available tactics to develop a multifaceted roadmap for lead generation.

Align the plan with your sales goals, marketing capabilities, personnel resources and budget. Identify several campaigns to embark on based on the number of leads you need to fill your sales pipeline or funnel. Make sure your marketing team has the skill-set and bandwidth to properly execute the lead generation campaigns you've chosen, or seek outsourced help.

It takes money to make money, so don't forget to adequately fund your lead generation efforts. And you'll want to take a look at what the competition is doing. But remember, just because they're doing it doesn't mean you should jump on the bandwagon, too. Ultimately, your lead generation plan needs to make sense for your business.

Measuring effectiveness

It's a must to create lead generation metrics and track them so that you can measure performance, understand effectiveness and make adjustments on a regular basis. Some metrics you'll want to use for each tactic include number of leads generated, cost per lead, time to generate leads and quality of leads.

Before measuring effectiveness, give each tactic a try, sticking with it long enough to gauge impact. It's important to execute for a period that's long enough to realize meaningful results. A few short weeks or months of any lead generation program is probably not long enough and will simply be a waste of time and money.

If, after several months, you find that a tactic isn't working, eliminate it and try another. For tactics that prove successful, make sure to do them more.

Remember that most customers are not gained through short-term exposure to your business; the sales process takes time, and prospects buy from you when they are ready.

Driving sales

For most businesses, the most important marketing activities are those designed to generate leads. Done correctly, lead generation drives sales to increase your bottom line and helps your company achieve its goals for growth.

So when it comes to lead generation, how does your company stack up? Are you happy with your results or do you need or want to improve? If your sales pipeline needs filling, what are you waiting for? There's no better time than today to start generating leads. end of article

Peggy Bekavac Olson founded Strategic Marketing, a full-service marketing and communications firm specializing in financial services and electronic payment companies, after serving as Vice President of Marketing and Communications for TSYS. She can be reached at 480-706-0816 or peggyolson@smktg.com. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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