by Diane DiPiero, freelance writer/editor
Written for CBC Magazine, 2012
You attend an industry trade show, and the target audience just so happens to be potential customers for your business. These companies are eager to work with someone like you, so they ask for your business card. Within three days of the trade show, you get phone calls from each one of the businesses, requesting job quotes. In response, you crank up the machines and tell your team it’s going to be a very busy but rewarding year.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was how lead generation and sales follow-through happened? Unfortunately, you know it’s not that easy.
Developing new business leads is an ongoing process, often requiring numerous rounds of networking, cold-calling and following up. And then there’s the none-too-easy task of converting those leads into actual business.
For busy manufacturers, lead generation and sales conversion may not even be on your radar screen. How can you possibly set out to secure new business when you’ve already got a full workload? And if you take time away to network and cajole potential customers, you’re diverting precious time from the tasks you already have.
And yet, lead generation and conversion is a must.
Word of mouth, which often sufficed in yesterday’s manufacturing world, is simply not enough to be successful today and in the future. An organized plan for securing leads and transforming them into sales can make the difference between getting ahead and just getting by.
If this sounds daunting, you’re not alone. Manufacturing owners and managers who are already dealing with a full plate of duties often balk at the idea of throwing so much attention into marketing. Still others realize the need for such in-depth lead generation and follow-through, but also know they don’t have the time or the background.
This makes perfect sense, according to Christine Stadler, owner of BDS Inc. a business advisory services firm that helps companies grow or improve their business performance by helping them develop and establish a disciplined approach to sales and marketing. “I don’t believe you can be owner, CEO, manager and be sales manager,” Stadler says. “There’s a difference between consistently managing your current relationships and developing new business. An owner doesn’t have time. Lead generation is going to fall to the bottom of his or her pile of things to do.
“Then we have to speak to skill sets,” Stadler continues. “Is the person who is an able owner, manager or president the person to do lead generation? In my experience, most of the time the answer is no. That person typically has no background in sales and marketing.”
One option is to hire a sales manager or marketing director. Another is to outsource this service. While “letting go” of some aspect of your business can be difficult, the rewards when leads come in and sales are created can outweigh any initial difficulties.
Stadler has had this conversation many times with business owners and managers. “When you sit down with someone and he or she says, ‘I want to grow my business,’ if they aren’t willing to invest, they’re not going to grow,” she says. “Not to be disparaging, but it’s not going to happen. Simply maintaining current customers is a prescription for going into decline. It’s not arguable.”
You can use the success of other manufacturers as momentum for taking action with your own business’ lead generation and conversion.
Richard’s Grinding is a 44-year-old job shop with services that include surface grinding, honing, machining and prototyping. Because of its solid reputation in Cleveland and the region, Richard’s Grinding successfully generated business through positive word of mouth, according to Debbie Luber, whose father started the company in 1968. As the manufacturing industry changed in recent years, word of mouth continued, but Luber felt certain more needed to be done to garner business.
Luber, who serves as vice president and general manager of Richard’s Grinding, connected with Mary Kaye Denning at The Manufacturing Mart, a manufacturing advisory firm. Denning quickly surmised that Richard’s Grinding was not capitalizing on its capable technicians and impeccable reputation. Among the enhancements to the company’s marketing efforts, Denning helped to revamp the website so that it reflected Richard’s long list of capabilities. The new site also allowed interested parties to request job quotes online. “Advisors like Chris Stadler, with whom I’ve collaborated, have helped me understand that even traditional companies such as manufacturers need to embrace the development of sales and marketing programs,” Denning notes.
Within six months of the new site being live, Richard’s Grinding was receiving quotes for requests from national OEMs. The site rose to the top of Google’s search engine for Cleveland job shops, where it currently remains. “The Google search rise resulted in increased requests for RFQs,” Denning says.
Once you’ve increased leads, you face your next challenge: converting leads to sales.
Again, a professional trained in sales and marketing can help turn this chore into a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, some effort on the part of you or someone else within your business will be necessary for successful conversions.
“We have to start from the beginning, and that is, what is the definition of a lead,” says Stadler, getting right to the heart of the matter. “A lead is someone or some entity that is potentially interested in purchasing your product or service. Slightly better, it’s someone who may want to buy or who may have a determined need for your product or service and can afford it; now we’re getting more narrow.”
Next in the process of converting leads to sales is qualifying your leads. “Let’s say you have 100 leads; someone has to qualify and organize those into A, B and C leads,” Stadler explains. There has to be work done against those 100 new names to profile them; otherwise, it’s just a company and it’s just a name.”
Profiling is an important part of the follow-up process, according to Stadler, and to do it successfully, you need to consider four criteria: time (Does a potential buyer need the product in a reasonably short time, or can the buyer allow for the selling process to take place), need (A potential buyer’s need for your product or service should already be determined in qualifying process), money and authority (Does your lead have the authority to make a purchasing decision). Based on the answers to these criteria, you can now determine your A, B and C leads. “In a small company, my usual advice is don’t spend time on a C lead,” Stadler says.
You’ve qualified; you’ve profiled; and now it’s time to follow up. This is the part that requires the most time and effort, but can also be the most rewarding. “If you don’t have time, that’s a problem,” Stadler says. “But you’ve got to do it. I know that the successful companies, this is where they turn their time, attention, investment and focus. They know their processes, they invest in their equipment and their people, and they have to invest in sales and marketing.”
Follow-up often requires more nudging than you think. “One touch point is simply not a follow-up,” Stadler says. In other words, a quick email sent to a prospect five days after meeting him or her at an industry event is not going to bring you the results you seek. Sending an email or calling the prospect and asking for a face-to-face meeting starts you in the right direction. “Three touch points against something where someone took an action to get in touch with you is good,” Stadler adds.
Be aware of the fine line between being persistent and becoming obnoxious, she cautions. “Surely, you stop when someone says don’t call anymore. If you’ve reached out four or five times with no response, leave them in your database, but they’re a C prospect. You’re probably not going to make a connection,” Stadler says.
Stadler advises spending 90 days to identify 100 new leads. Your company or a third party should then qualify those to see which are prospects. One out of 10 of those leads may very well turn out to be strong prospects, which can then begin the process to convert them into sales.
Lead generation to sales conversion is not an overnight deal, but with a definite system in place, you can be sure that the process will be continuous and will lead to eventual success. The way to keep frustration at bay is to funnel in leads on a regular basis and to have an established system for qualifying those leads and performing follow up. Stadler emphasizes the importance of starting a database for your company and having a system in place to chart progress on lead generation.
In order to garner leads and turn them into sales, you’ve got to have two items at the ready: time and money.
Setting aside time for you or a salesperson in your company to follow up on leads is crucial. Investing in the tools and talent to do this successfully is equally important. No matter the size of your company, Stadler says, you need to define the amount you can spend on marketing. To do this, you first determine your revenue goal and your strategy for attaining that. “Two to four percent of your revenue has to go to sales and marketing functions: tools, tactics, people, mechanisms,” Stadler says. “You have to budget for creating ongoing awareness of your company. Why are you better? Why are you distinctive?
“All businesses require sales and marketing because that is the growth engine,” Stadler concludes. “There are no shortcuts.”