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July 01. 2013 12:36PM

Score: Are sales lead generation services worth it?

Q: I've been approached by a lead generation service. Do they really work, and if not, what other means of generating leads can you suggest?

A: Every new sale begins with a lead. So if you're trying to grow your small business, it makes sense to generate as many prospects as possible, right?

Not always. Obviously, you don't want to limit your opportunities. And there are plenty of services that will, for a fee, provide sales leads. But taking care to learn as much as you can about each potential contact can help you better separate promising prospects from dead ends, resulting in a more focused sales effort.

When using a lead generation service, Jeanne Rossomme, founder and president of Washington, D.C.-based Roadmap Marketing, suggests focusing on narrow, targeted prospect definitions rather than large, sweeping markets.

"You will save money and your time in chasing prospects where you do not have a compelling advantage," Rossomme says. And before going all out with your sales contacts, verify that the leads are, in fact, good.

"Take advantage of free trials and test the leads by phone or email to make sure the contacts are accurate and not 'stale,'" Rossomme says.

Also remember that the best sales prospects may be closer than you think.

"Your warmest leads are those that know you or are referred by a trusted source," Rossomme says. "LinkedIn is a fantastic free source for building your network, and seeing where you can easily get introductions. It is also a wealth of detailed information about company structure, issues and needs."

You can make the most of each sales lead by using the opportunity to learn about your market. Invite recipients to send feedback to your company about their current and future needs, and whether they'll be interested in learning more about your product or service. This information will help you tweak your sales approach and product/service to the needs of your potential customers.

One information-gathering option is to do a quick, Web-based survey using systems such as SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang. Be sure to craft the process and questions from the recipient's point of view. Nobody likes to take time out to complete a cumbersome survey. Also, make sure your email message is as personalized as possible. An incorrectly spelled name or outdated title is a sure invitation to press the "Delete" key.

Don't look at leads as either/or outcomes. If you contacted someone who sounded interested in your product/service but wasn't ready to buy, follow up periodically with a call, email or a brochure. Do not add them to an email newsletter or promotion unless they specifically request it. As you cultivate this relationship, ask if and how their needs have changed. There may well be an unrealized opportunity for you to step right in and turn the prospect into another satisfied customer.

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This column is brought to you by the Merrimack Valley Chapter of SCORE, with nearly 70 current and former business executives available to provide free, confidential, one-on-one business mentoring and training workshops for area businesses. Call 666-7561 or visit merrimackvalley.score.org for information on mentoring, upcoming workshops and volunteer opportunities. SCORE is a national, nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Have a question you'd like answered in this column? Email it to info@score-manchester.org, with "Ask SCORE" in the subject line.



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