There are three foundation stones necessary to sustain any serious effort to add new clients. Ignore one of them, and your efforts will fail, sooner or later. Ignore two … well, you get the idea. These foundations are: lead generation, lead development and lead administration

Lead generation consists of promotional actions designed to generate a first response. Your options are: cold calling, referral marketing, networking, Web site, seminars, direct mail, trade shows or even cold walking.

Each of these channels has its own “best practice,” and it is incumbent upon the advisor to identify and deploy it. When I hear an FA say, “Seminars (or whatever) don’t work in my area,” I know the complainer is not deploying the best practice. All of these channels work extremely well when the best practice is deployed.

Very few leads are, on first response, hot and ready to set an appointment. They need to be nurtured along. This is lead development. It takes a prospect from initial response to the point where the prospect is willing to begin the sales process. The sale begins when the prospective client agrees to an appointment. If the person will not set an appointment, he or she requires further “development.”

The core of lead development is a classification system that enables the advisor, junior broker, broker or sales assistant to know what to do with each lead type. I will summarize it here, and there’s more in my book Hot Prospects and at www.billgood.com/leaddevelopment. Each lead type has a definition and an associated “track.” The track is the sequence of messages and phone calls designed to maintain contact and nudge the prospect up the interest scale to hot.

Hot. This person is very interested, financially qualified and willing to begin the sales process. This is the end goal of lead development. Track: At the conclusion of each appointment, set the next one. Confirm every appointment by letter, e-mail and phone. Failure to set the next appointment immediately reduces the chances this prospect will become a client. Where there is more than a week between appointments, set reminders to e-mail, write or call, if only to leave a voice-mail message. Keep the lead alive.

Cherry. A “cherry” lead is someone who is interested, financially qualified, and willing to receive investment literature from the firm. If you try and set an appointment with a cherry lead, he or she will push back. If you force the appointment, most will cancel or not show up. Track: The initial track for a new “cherry” is to send requested information, and follow up three to five days later. On the first follow-up phone call, if the cherry is not interested enough to set an appointment now, send additional information, and most importantly, begin the profiling process, asking as many questions as you can on each succeeding phone call until you find the item the prospect wants or fears that will get you the appointment.

Green Cherry. A “greenie” is someone who is interested now but will not have funds available, or cannot make a decision until a later date. There are two subcategories. You know the date. You don’t know it. Track: In the first case, your mission is to make as good a first impression as possible, and then stay in touch until the funds are available.

In the second case, which I call a “conditional opportunity,” you obviously want that favorable first impression, but you also need to call periodically to determine when the opportunity will be available. There’s not a person reading this article, with the possible exception of someone who just got licensed, who has not lost an opportunity because it became available and you weren’t there.

In either case, it is vital you drip on your greenies. A very simple formula is: call half your greenies when they are unlikely to be home and leave a voice-mail message. Send the other half a short note along with a piece of interesting information (for which you have the requisite copyright permission). Next month, write the first half, call the second.

Info. These are prospects who have requested information but you do not know if they meet your qualification standards. They are just interested. These will tend to come from cold calling, trade shows, direct mail or Web registrations.

As a prospector, you can very nearly destroy yourself with this type of lead. Lots of people are interested, but fewer are qualified. If you fail to get these qualified, you will fill your pipeline with pits. Therefore, the track is vital. Track: Send three messages and make a phone call as follows. First, send the requested info, on the day you get the lead. Then, at intervals of two weeks, send info about yourself (this should include a brochure, or, at a minimum, your resume) and then send information about your firm.

Call and re-qualify three days later. When you make contact, your info lead must be upgraded to a green cheery, cherry or hot prospect. If they will not share qualification info with you, you have the seminar equivalent of a plate licker. It’s time to downgrade and move on. Your motto at this point is: up or out.

Pitch and Miss. This is a former hot prospect. It can also be a cherry or greenie you considered extremely valuable. You made a presentation and you missed. Very few people close more than 50 percent of the prospects they see in home or office. So what happens to the 50 percent that don’t buy? Mostly you toss this one. Sad. But if you stay in touch, this category may produce leads that bring new clients. Track: Send a thank you message and two business cards. Add to your drip list, but at least once every 90 days, get them to the phone and check if there’s anything they are interested in now (cherry) or if they have funds coming due later (greenie).

Pit. This is someone who is not interested or qualified. It’s the seminar attendee you call back who tells you, “Marge and I have decided to stay where we are. Thank you, goodbye.” It can also be the former cherry prospect who now won’t take your calls. Sadly, most of your “first response” prospects ultimately become pits. So don’t be discouraged, because one in 10 will become a client. Track: Remove this person from your prospect list.

Lead administration is not hard, just detailed. First, in whatever database you use, have a single field that includes all grades of prospect. Anyone from hot to pitch and miss is a prospect. Periodically review every name in your prospect file, getting rid of those that do not meet the definition of “prospect” — someone who has responded to a campaign, or been referred, with whom you would like to do business. If you don’t know them, or don’t want them, clean out the pipeline!

At the end of each appointment, always set a “next appointment” until the prospect becomes a client, or a pitch and miss, or a pit. Set reminders to call and write between appointments. All prospects should be dripped on monthly. Every contact with a client or prospect produces an updated record. Send promised info the same day it is promised. On every contact, add to your profile. It’s in profiling that you will discover the hot button that will turn that wispy smile of faint interest into a solid hot prospect.

Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing Systems in Draper, Utah; see www.billgood.com.