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How many times have you received a prospective sales lead, only to watch that lead evaporate over time? What percentage of sales leads generated at trade shows do your sales people convert to customers? If you are like most senior managers, you will have experienced this scenario countless times, and your conversion rate from trade shows is less than 5%.
This article will show you and your sales team how to generate leads, follow them up, and then close the sale in order to maximize ROI and profits.
Sales leads are generated from all sorts of people in various places and professions. So start by training your sales staff to seek out and identify leads from all of their contacts. That means asking their contacts (friends, family, associates, anyone!) for sales leads. You and your sales staff should talk directly about your business, what your company does, and the benefits of your product or service. I am not advocating a “hard sell.” That’s not always necessary or advisable. Most people will respond with natural interest to your obvious passion and excitement. Persuade others to want to help you, and you will be surprised at how many leads you receive.
Second, after receiving a sales lead, it is important to act promptly. This is particularly true if someone has reached out to you, or a prospect has met one of your sales staff at a trade show. That person expects to be contacted quickly. Here you have someone actually coming to you rather than you having to find him or her. The prospective customer is interested in your product or service because they have a need—to solve a problem, to increase sales, to satisfy customers. Interested sales leads are not easy to derive. Show them that you are interested in their business—read e-mails and listen to them carefully. Take time to respond to their questions and inquiries. If you do not solve their problem, then they will find another product or service that will.
It amazes me the number of sales people who never follow up on a sales lead. Better are those who follow up late, although only slightly better. I often express interest in a product or service (by completing a product interest card or calling a toll-free telephone number) simply to gauge the response time of that company. How many of your competitors or investment bankers are conducting this same intelligence on your company?
Now, here’s the third step: Be tenacious! All sales people are accustomed to hearing “no,” and they also understand that “no” is simply the beginning of the negotiation process. However, finding the “hot button” of the sales process is critical to turning that “no” response into a “yes.” You need to ask probing questions in order to determine the prospect’s motivation. Why are they rejecting my product/service? What can we offer them in order to help them achieve their objectives? Remember, it’s not about what you need, but rather what the prospect needs.
Finally, differentiate your product or service from the competition or from what the prospect is using currently. What is better about what you offer? Prospects need a compelling reason to switch, as there are often hidden costs to switching services, including the need for new investments, the costs of procedural changes, and—potentially—the personal costs of strained relationships with former business associates. Can you make the deal more attractive by offering to offset some of these costs at time of first order or for a limited period of time? Make the transition to your product or service easy on the prospect. Doing business with your sales team should be not only painless and simple, but also fun and profitable.
So, to reiterate, here are the four cardinal rules for generating leads and closing sales:

  1. Reach out to all possible contacts and train your sales staff to do the same.
  2. Follow up promptly on every lead.
  3. Be tenacious! Digging deeper to understand the prospect’s true needs can help turn the sale around.
  4. Differentiate yourself from the competition and offer to ease transitions.

Converting sales leads into customers is essential to succeeding in business. It is a competitive and sophisticated global environment, with savvy prospects seeking the best opportunities available to them. With proper closing techniques, these sales prospects will soon become your customers.
–Peter M. Guyer
Peter M. Guyer is the Founder and President of ATHENA MARKETING INTERNATIONAL (, an international marketing, consulting and business development firm serving food and beverage manufacturers. Tel. (206) 749-9255.