Don’t Bury Your Leads: 5 Tips for Lead Generation

Lead generation is time consuming and sometimes expensive.

Lead generation…if only it wasn’t so difficult. Cold leads. Warm leads. How in the heck does a startup get enough good leads?

There are as many ways as there are companies and products. But one thing is for sure. A continuous pipeline of qualified leads is the sustenance of any business.

So what does an entrepreneur need to know to get lead generation “right” for his or her company?

A lesson in lead generation from life…and death

Recently when the husband of a dear late friend of my mother’s died, my mom asked me to find the phone number for his daughter who lives in the next big town.

There are four funeral homes in the small town where I grew up—three are multi-generational family-owned, and the other one, which happens to be the funeral home that our relatives have buried out of for nearly 100 years, was acquired by a national network a few years back.

Mr. H.’s family had chosen one of the locally owned mortuaries. (In death as in life, people favor local; about 87 percent of US funeral homes are family-owned.)

My mother’s town is small but not bitty; the owners of this other funeral home weren’t folks I knew. I didn’t expect anyone there to give me a phone number outright, but since the owners were a long-time local family, I hoped that they might bend a little to help us make the connection with Mr. H.’s daughter somehow.

Our phone conversation went like this.

Me: Could you help me connect either of Mr. H.’s daughters? My mother was one of Mrs. H.’s best friends. Mother is 98, nearly deaf, and sort of frail so she’s not feeling well enough to attend Mr. H.’s memorial. I live 400 miles away. Mother would really like to speak to Mr. H.’s kids. Is there any way you can help?

Him: We can’t give out phone numbers, but I’ll see if we have a number and pass the word along.

We never heard anything more from him nor from anyone else at the funeral home.

It is understandable that there could be many sensitive reasons that it wasn’t appropriate for the funeral home to connect Mother with the family of her old friend.

But, as a family of small business owners, what we couldn’t understand is why the funeral home owner didn’t take the opportunity to create a relationship with us, a family who likely will need his kind of services in the not-too-distant future.

As my mom put it, “You’d think they’d at least call us back, if for no other reason than to try and get our business when I finally do reach the head of the line.”

Making effective lead generation part of a company’s DNA

Companies spend time, energy, and money to acquire leads.

But before a startup starts investing in collecting and tracking prospects, the company better have a process to act on those leads, especially when they come in serendipitously.

Here are 5 tips.

1. Don’t invest in lead generation without knowing who you’re looking for: Create a profile of your ideal customer(s).

Market validation presents a macro focus, starting with the total available market (TAM) and then deeper segmentation by industry, geography, company, etc.

But once you’ve validated your market and target customers, drill on down. You have to think about the human beings—the people who influence and make the buying decisions that will drive your company’s revenue.

If you have a champion or early adopter, that’s the place to start. If not, talk to your competitor’s customers or people that you met when you were validating your concept with your target market.

Keep talking and listening until you can describe people most likely to need your solution.

What responsibilities and duties would your ideal prospect(s) have? What problems do they have that you can solve? How do they contribute to the success of the company? How can you help them succeed? How do they fit into the decision-making process? How can you build a relationship? What goals can you help them achieve.

If I were in the funeral home business and received a call from someone with a problem that I could solve, say someone who “handled” things from 450 miles away for her frail 98-year old mother whose house was five minutes from my funeral home, bells would ring.

Why would a funeral director let that caller off the phone until he or she had created a good impression as a local provider who cared about neighbors’ needs? In our case, that doesn’t have to be connecting my mother with her friends’ daughters, but it could mean a phone call back saying the funeral home tried.

2. Quantify the value of a new customer so you know what it’s worth to your business to close a lead.

Funerals are big business, especially in a small town.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the median cost of a funeral with casket is $7,045. A vault adds another $1,298. And those figures don’t include the cemetery, monument or marker or cash-advance items, such as flowers and obituaries.

Can you express the revenue impact of a customer to your business plan? Have you calculated how many leads (not how many sales) you need to close your company’s business plan?

3. Keep your antenna up. Leads can come from anywhere.

Once you have a solid understanding of the types of leads that are optimal for your business, ensure that everyone in your company understands the profile that you are looking for—especially employees who receive in-bound calls.

The best leads come from people who are already doing business with you. In a small town, the funeral home business is based on referrals. The best source of those referrals are the friends and family of the deceased—especially if they feel comforted by the visitation and services.

Another great lead source is from people who have been doing business with your competitors—especially when there’s a chance to take your competitor’s business away, as for example, when one of your long-time rival local funeral home families sells their business to a national chain and a family who has been there customer for 100 years calls and asks for your help.

4. Keep warm leads warm.

It’s likely, particularly in B2B sales, that you will have the opportunity to begin a relationship with a qualified lead well before that lead is in a position to buy.

Sooner or later most of us are going to need the services of a mortuary. When that time arrives, if you’re the funeral director, you want the surviving family to remember a warm feeling as well your name. A gentle follow-up “if we can ever serve you” call or periodic “we’re here when you need us” note to my mother or me would have kept the pilot light on.

Few people have two funerals or burials, so the funeral home business, once a lead is lost, it’s lost for good. How perishable are the leads in your industry?

Imagine if the funeral director had called us back to say that he had tried to connect us with the family but that the time was simply too stressful and that the family was limiting calls right now. He could have suggested that we leave condolences or even a favorite memory in Mr. H.’s online guest book. A simple response like that would have left us with a feeling that he was there to help. And that brings me to tip #5.

5. When a person who matches the profile of an “ideal” customer asks you to help solve a problem—try and help.

It could be the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.

Whether a company is selling funeral services, nano-material, or cloud-based software, effective lead generation sets the foundation for the pace and success of sales.

In both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales—whether through a direct sales force, distribution partners, or over the Internet—the quality, consistency, and cost of its leads have a huge impact on a company’s sales.

If a company doesn’t take the steps to turn leads into relationships and then sales, it doesn’t matter how many great leads come in the door.