Don’t settle for prospects or making cold calls. Get people into your office who want what you can offer. Get leads.

Many companies rely on lead generation for most, if not all, of their new business. When leads stop flowing, sales reps can go hungry because, as survey after survey shows, what salespeople hate most is cold calling . . . even more than not getting the sale.

A prospect might be a referral from an associate or a list of names from a directory. Prospects are people you think might have some interest in your product or service. A lead, however, is a person who has requested more information on your product or service. And market research studies show that 25 percent of people who ask for information will become someone’s customer within six months, and 45 percent will buy within one year.

Types of direct marketing
The three most prominent types of direct marketing are direct mail, telemarketing and the Internet. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

The Internet has exploded primarily because of its low cost and fast delivery. Unfortunately, it is difficult to target an audience with search engines. Depending on where you are in the queue of available Web sites, you might find prospects surfing for information. Although promotional e-mail can be targeted, it has been severely limited because of spam filters.

Telemarketing prospecting has also been reduced to minor relevance because of “Do Not Call” legislation. About 75 percent of American residences are now on the “do not call” list. Organizations that are still allowed to do cold calling are charities, politicians, research survey companies and businesses prospecting to other businesses.

Direct mail has seen a resurgence because of “do not call” regulations. Many companies that target consumer prospects are mailing again, though the price of printing and postage continues to rise.

Direct marketing works
When financial advisors are looking for qualified leads, they’d be smart not to write off direct marketing. Even with all the advances in technology, old-fashioned direct marketing is still the king. Here’s why direct marketing lead generation works:

  • It’s personal: You can address prospects by name and make reference to any personal information you happen to know about them.
  • There is less waste: You can reach out to the exact prospects with the highest potential interest in buying from you.
  • There is less competition: Your promotion is not lost among dozens of other ads in a newspaper or in a fleeting moment of a radio or TV commercial.
  • Response is measurable: Unlike general advertising, which is almost impossible to measure, direct mail allows you to track and analyze individual responses.
  • It can be statistically projected: You can expect future promotions to have a similar response rate as previous promotions if you keep the list, the offer, the package and the timing approximately the same.
  • It’s immediate: You can create and fulfill a desire for information at the same time because response is immediate. General image advertising is designed to change people’s thinking over time.

The elements
The elements of any direct mail lead generation effort are basically the same.

The market
The first element of lead generation is your prospect list. The list is the most important part of your promotion. You will waste a lot of time and money if you don’t have a good prospect list. You can compile your own names or you can rent lists from others, But always remember that there is no such thing as a perfect list. Even if you compile your own list today, tomorrow it may be out of date. Both consumers and businesses move and die.

When it comes to accuracy or inaccuracy, always concentrate on the vast majority that is good. Do not waste time focusing on those you cannot contact or are undeliverable. Accept that they are part of the business of using lists.

The offer
The second element of direct marketing lead generation is your offer. Your offer is the proposition that you present to your prospects. Its sole purpose is to get them to contact you now and say they are interested.

To get immediate action, promote benefits – not features. Tell people what you can do for them rather than how great your product or service is.

Benefits are the advantages your prospect receives from you. Some examples are savings, convenience, security, comfort, prestige, exclusivity and contentment. People want to know how you can make their lives more enjoyable or financially rewarding.

Features, on the other hand, are the details of your product or service that make it different from your competition – such as price, timing or location.

The package
Once you create your offer, the design of your promotional piece comes next. Make your offer stand out. Make responding to the offer easy.

One of the most important parts of a promotion is the headline. The headline draws your prospects into your promotion. Good headlines include asking a question, making a startling statement or mentioning a gift.

Contacting prospects every three to four months, just to keep in touch, is called wave marketing or drip marketing. Prospects might say, “You keep sending me material, so I thought I’d try you.” Your budget and the nature of the market will determine how often to prospect, but four times a year certainly is not too often.

40-40-20 rule
Concentrate on using the right list and promoting the right offer. The look of your package is secondary.

This is called the 40-40-20 rule. Forty percent of the success of your promotion comes from attacking the right market – your list. And 40 percent of your success is from the offer – the hook that grabs your readers. But only 20 percent of the success depends on the look of your promotion.

Many people tend to get bogged down with the creative side of their promotional package. Don’t worry about artistic perfection – results are what count.