Active lead response

Now that you have a pile of leads, what do you do with them? 

A major challenge of sales and  networking is achieving the balance of being involved with the process and then taking the time to follow up on leads.  Once you gather leads, you need a system that will help you regularly respond to them. This article outlines the steps to take to develop this system by designing a relationship building system, a database system, and creative communication tools for educating and enticing prospects to the products and services you offer.

Build A Customer Relationship Process

Too many times, companies try to mass communicate without understanding that different customers have different needs at different times.  By segmenting your target customer needs into groups and evaluating your best and most successful customer relationship system for each segment, you can create the ideal customer relationship process that optimizes your core strengths at the right times for each customers segment. 

By using this segmentation approach you can then categorize your leads by segment and respond in an effective manner that you know works for similar customer needs.  This approach can mean the difference between forgetting or mistargeting leads and creating hot prospects.  

For example, this featured Insight INterrelate Bonding Process map is a customer relationship process defined for a professional service organization.  Each stage of the relationship is named, defined and scheduled with a timeframe for execution.  This organization can assign the proven, monthly communication tools to match the objectives for each stage.  Thus, the most effective communications can be predicted and automatically executed by a specific routine within the organization.

To properly segment your customer groups, you must understand their needs.  Many companies segment their customers based on type or size of business.  This is not correct.  It is customer needs that drives strategy.  For example, a financial service company may create the following segments based on the following customer needs:

  1. PENNY-WATCHERS: need daily financial tools to help make ends meet.
  2. LEGACY-SEEKERS: need long-term financial education and solutions for retirement options.
  3. RAINY DAY-SAVERS:  need ways to optimize steady growth and limited access to saved money.

After segmenting primary needs, the next step is to decide who are the customers that fall in these categories and what products and services meet their needs.  If you make the mistake of segmenting by “who” first—then you will make false assumptions about what a demographic group needs.  There can be various lifestyle differences among a single demographic group.

Responsive Database Integration

With the help of a database management system, prospects can be assigned predefined communications that best relay what the organization can do to solve specific needs that a particular customer segment has. 

By tracking the following customer information along with tracking routinely activated regular communications, you are able to easily stay in front of prospects as frequently as you wish.  Systems such as Batchbookk, Pipeline, Salesforce and Sugar can help you manage tasks in a user-friendly web-based system:

  • track all of the customer information listed below.
  • schedule and log regular communications (singular and bulk).
  • schedule follow up assignments within your organization.

Such systems as these can even integrate with your website registration lists, email marketing systems and make other networking follow up a more realistic challenge to meet.

Gather the following customer information: 

  • Name
  • Company name
  • Address
  • Email address
  • Telephone number
  • Fax number
  • Cell phone number
  • Website address
  • Specialty area
  • Type of organization
  • Number of employees
  • Assign a segment name
  • Level of interest
  • Services of interest
  • Mutual friends or contacts
  • Source where you received the contact
  • Background and personal information: education, resume
  • Dates and notes from the last conversation with a contact
  • Next steps 
  • Future plans

Communication routines you can implement through your customer relationship system can include the following activities:

  • Creative direct mail postcards
  • Email campaigns
  • Personalized letters
  • Brochures for specific services
  • Articles 
  • Newsletters
  • Contests
  • Coupons
  • Presentation/seminar invitations
  • Small gifts
  • Referral programs 

Which of these tools you send may depend on the level of interest that a prospect has in your services.  For example, you can rate each prospect on an on-going basis with one of the following three levels of interest:

Level 1:  Hot Prospects

These prospects need your services, have actively inquired to learn more or have responded well to your prior communication efforts.  Most of the sales process is over, now you have to build confidence into their decisions.  Communication tactics: a small fun gift showing your commitment to serving them, regular direct mail postcards featuring why they should do business with you, a personalized letter with testimonials from other clients.

Level 2:  Warm Prospect  

These prospects tell you to stay in touch but they aren’t interested now.  You may see that they are not quite ready for your services but would like to spend more time with them in the future.  Communication tactics: a monthly newsletter, email campaign, occasional personal note with a relevant article, coupon for purchase, or invitation to a seminar.

Level 3: Cool Prospect

These prospects are on your radar screen but you do not want to meet with them at this time. Communication tactics: contests, brochures for specific services, monthly newsletter, email campaign, or invitation to a seminar.

Be Creative

Research shows that it takes six “no” responses to get a “yes” from a prospect.  So you need to be as effective and savvy as possible to not waste a communication opportunity or create a wrong impression.  When prospects do not respond, be patient and persistent—timing of circumstances can dramatically change interest levels in a short period of time.

No one wants to do business with a boring business.  If you use template communication tools, make sure they do not sound like they are boilerplate.  Certainly do not use industry language and lingo that does not serve a purpose or differentiate you from others.

The decision to work with someone is based on chemistry and trust.  Using your genuine, unique personality in communications will allow prospects to see who you are.  Presenting yourself in an open, friendly, delightful fashion gains credibility.  Your communication should not be one they regret.  It must be a pleasure hearing from you; in person or via any marketing communication tool you present.  Your personality is one thing no one else can duplicate,  so use it to open doors. 

Be creative and use the themes and intricate details that make your business unique.  If you offer services that makes people feel like they are cared for, use a caring theme and language that symbolizes how you uniquely care for your customers.

Be thoughtful and consider the true needs of your hottest prospects.  If you are too busy, find a way to make the time to send something special that top prospects will relate to.  Send articles, cartoons or jokes that you know will more closely connect them to you.  

Be sure to follow up within 10 days via a personal call, email or handwritten note that makes them feel like they are a priority.  Set a tone for how reliable you are to work with.  State how and when you will follow up and do so.  They will silently challenge you and will watch to see if you do what you commit to.  Reinforce your commitment and that you are interested in working with them.

Your communications do not have to be fancy, but they have to be tasteful.  The cleaner and more direct they are, the more succinct and thoughtful you will appear.  Stay away from busy, confused, overwhelming messages that make your services seem too complex.  It should be a relief to work with you.

Use the creative people on your staff or your associates to help brainstorm creative ideas.  The people who best know your business and your customers will help you understand what your customers want to hear.  Also use customer surveys to gather information directly from your customers.  Pay close attention to the common language they use to describe your products and services. 

Knowledge Directs Creativity

At first, most of our clients feel that researching their customers’ needs is a waste of time and money.  They assume they already know their needs.  However, in nearly all cases, they are surprised with at least one major issue in the final report.  For those that are not surprised, they admit the confirmation of the information gave them a reason to finally act on the needs they have not met.  

Valid customer awareness requires that you creatively discover your customers’ desires through a process that surfaces what they would not directly tell you during normal business transactions (i.e. customer interviews, focus groups or surveys).  You can do this yourself or hire someone to objectively gather information for you.  Regardless, you want to learn the true meaning behind your customers’ needs to better direct your strategic prospecting.  This form of information becomes a key ingredient for selling 'to their needs' and not ’to your assumptions’.  Your recipe for effective, targeted follow up communications requires creative-messaged ingredients speaking to their truth.  If you assume that you already know your customers’ needs, chances are you assume too much.   

Be Strategic

Develop your customer relationship process to optimize your return on relationships.  The integration of your relationship building process and each communication must be set by strategies intended to meet your target customer segment needs.  Your efficiency and accuracy with achieving this integration will determine the uniqueness of your competitive advantage.  Make sure the design of your communication tools directly relate to your strategy and make a direct hit at your prospects’ interests at heart.

As you can see, follow up is not a short-term strategy.  It is a long-term strategy both in prospecting and customer relationship building efforts.  For many years, you will be prospecting the same companies or trying to retain the same customers.  Therefore, your strategy must consider longer haul building blocks to keep interest and build credibility without pestering and annoying a potential customer.  

Your daily strategy for follow-up is best served by setting a daily routine for calls, emails, database updates and letter writing.  Networking follow up is a discipline that gets easier with time.  The ease builds as you get a system down that personally and professionally works for you in setting the right tone for your business.  The respect that you show for the process, is that respect that will evolve in your reputation and the essence of who you are.

Networking Follow Up Checklist

  • Segment your existing customers into target segments (usually no more than four) that will grow your business.
  • Base the segments on customer needs—not industries or types of businesses.  Their needs are what determines your strategies.
  • Create a communication strategy for each segment that sends the right message about the benefits of your products and services.
  • Specify and detail the relationship building process that you have proven works for each segment.
  • Implement an integrated database that will store prospect and customer information and track communications and follow up activities.
  • Organize your prospect lists by segment and by the level of interest you have in helping them.
  • Develop creative communication tools that support your brand, strengths, strategy and objectives of your relationship building stages.
  • Be disciplined in making follow up a regular part of your daily schedule.  Show the respect and attention that your prospects deserve. 
  • Allow a natural chemistry to unfold when you respond to prospects.  Create trust so they are glad to hear from you; be delightful not burdensome.  Have the right attitude and they will pick up on it.

Enjoy the pleasure and satisfaction of a follow up system that targets specific prospects’ needs.  Develop wise relationship building processes that create clear direction and ease in your follow up routine.  It will be worth it!  

Your relationships will last longer and be more profitable as you learn how to be reliable in developing deep connections that go beyond price points.  Don’t let lack of awareness about your customers’ needs and goals come between you and a great future of long-term, prosperous relationships.  Start each relationship on the right foot with an intentional relationship building system that exemplifies who you are and how you are unique.