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Article Contributed by Mark Sneider

Whether an insurance agency, manufacturing firm, a law firm, or some other professional services organization, if you are like most other professional services organizations, your team may not be too well equipped to do what you need to do best to generate lifeblood leads.

Simply having your sales team drum up leads when they're trying to manage existing clients or in the throws of presenting to new ones, or - let's be honest here - relying on you, the president or principal to do it when you have to focus on managing the business - isn't going to be the most effective or most efficient way to manage the lead generation process. And, do you really want to it anyway?

But if you choose to do so internally, likely how you've always done it and most of your competitors do so, here's five best practices that make for successful lead generation programs - elements we've found at LeadArchitects: five critical steps central to building solid pipelines of new business opportunities for the organizations we represent.

1. Be Marketing Centric
Before you hand over the reigns to just anybody, establish a clear, concise, and well differentiated message for your "brand". Without it, what will the prospect say when asked "Why should I consider you?"

I've learned from years of interviewing heads of organizations that most don't know how to look at their business objectively when it comes to marketing and positioning. For example, consider this professional service: advertising agency principals (folks you think would "get it") will more often than not say the same things when asked what makes them different. I recently presented to a group of agency executives and 15 out of 16 gave virtually the exact same answer when asked for their elevator pitch.

Before any prospecting is done by LeadArchitects on behalf of our clients, we develop what we call a "Brand Story" or communications strategy that highlights the firm's reasons to believe (RTBs) that define what really makes a firm different. That differentiation could be expertise, process, insights, or some other dimension - or a combination of a number of these. The key is being objective, or bringing in a group that can take an objective look at your world.

Once you create this communications strategy, carry it throughout every touch point: letter copy, advertising, public relations, key talking points for your new business manager, and certainly the web copy. One must be able to see the big picture and navigate through the changes needed to ensure consistency in marketing communications.

2. Be Consistent
Asking sales people to sell, and manage accounts, and generate leads, and, and, and will not prove successful to the organization. We've also consistently found that having the principal or the president act as part time lead generator will only lead to less than part time success.

If you put a program together to generate leads, you need to make certain that there are no breaks in the action, because the lead generation "game" is as much an aperture marketing game as it is a positioning and process and skill set game. Maintaining consistency of reach-out is critical. Today your prospect may be fine with their existing service, however tomorrow they may have an issue or a problem that their current partner or law firm or accountant isn't doing a good job of fixing - you need to be there.

3. Be Relevant
The last thing you want to do is simply pound on doors in the hopes of one opening up - doing so makes you look less than strategic. You don't look like a good potential partner, and you don't look like you understand your prospect's business. Being relevant takes time and focus - the kind of focus a well-organized, strategic group can bring to the effort.

For example, before any call is made into any prospect, the new business manager at LeadArchitects conducts news searches on the prospect, checks the website for press releases, and scours the category's e-publications for a nugget of an insight they can bring to the table. This way, you exhibit empathy and understanding when you connect and are better able to "bridge" the prospect's situation back to challenges you yourself have solved for your own clients. Prospects appreciate this - they like to be heard, not to be told.

4. Be Particular
The problem with many prospecting efforts is they are more about numbers and not about the quality of the engagement. As the manager of a lead generator, you need to establish clear and measurable qualifying criteria upfront.

There are different points at which qualification can occur: when the list is built; when the list is cleaned; and when the prospecting begins. The key is making sure your person or your firm has a clear handle on what the qualifiers are, and stands up to deliver them.

For illustration, we build lists for 90 percent of our client programs. When building lists, we can screen for prospect size (e.g. revenue, employees, etc.) type, location. When we clean the list before it's used, we can qualify for things like decision maker status, or insights relative to the nature of the business. And when the work really begins and we start prospecting, we can dial it down to a more granular level and glean information on virtually any dimension, so long as the prospect is willing to share it, of course.

One step we take that should be a step that any organization takes even if they manage the prospecting inside, is to conduct an open assessment after the first meetings to ensure that what's being delivered is on par with expectations. If it isn't, clearly define the deficiencies and put the plan in place to correct it so you maximize the productivity of the program.

5. Be a Value-Added Partner
The best long-term partner is one who goes beyond the task at hand and brings new thinking, new processes, and new ways of doing things to the table for your client. While hackneyed and overused it rings true when done properly: in the end, if you can be a real value-added partner, your clients will be more forgiving when things are going just right and more likely to keep you on board, longer.

The same holds true when you reach out to your prospects. Not only is it important to reach out with relevancy, it is critical to show that you understand your prospect's situation. Show that you want to help the prospect by sharing news, ideas, suggestions with them to help their business. At LeadArchitects, we continually reach out to prospects on behalf of our clients with interesting industry news, updates on trends, or insights about competitors - all with the goal of suggesting we're there to partner.

Bottom Line
There is a lot you need to consider if you're going to build an effective lead generation program internally. Software, people, lists, branding, follow up, and on and on. It's not as simple as picking up the phone and dialing for dollars. If you want to do it, at least do it properly - but you know you don't want to do it.

Remember, also, to look at lead generation from a big picture standpoint. If you're a law firm, you got into the business of helping manage your client's well being. If you're an accountant, you got into the business to manage client's taxes, or if you're in the manufacturing business, you got into to the business to build, create, and sell - not generate leads. In the end, you're probably best off keeping overhead low by not trying to build up a sophisticated infrastructure to manage a process that can feed quality leads, better position your firm in the marketplace, and keep you looking like the real value-added partner you are.

About the Author
Mark Sneider is the president of LeadArchitects, an outsourced lead generation and sales firm. Prior to LeadArchitects, Mark spent ten years working for two top tier packaged goods companies, and ten years on the marketing services side of the business. He started his career at DDB Needham in Chicago. Mark is a graduate of Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Business with a major in Marketing and Economics. He can be reached at [email protected].
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