As independent dealers, we’re always looking for more leads, better leads and faster leads. But as technology continues to change the way we do business, the job of finding leads has become increasingly complex.

new_age_lead_generationWhat was once doable with just an ad in the Yellow Pages or a few cold calls has transformed into an entire industry built upon “Inbound Marketing”, “Social Media Management”, “Database Marketing”, “Blogging”, “Search Engine Optimization” and many other ways to connect with a whole new generation of customers.

For some, it represents the great equalizer that allows their independent business to get their message in front of customers without having to spend millions every year on a TV campaign like the national competitors.

For others it’s become a confusing world where much is promised but little has been proven to deliver real results. So how do you burst through all the clutter and reach potential customers in this new age? What really works and what’s just a fad more appropriate for teenagers than for real world business?

Below are a few tips to help you get started towards building a lead generation system that will stand the test of time:

1) Give customers a reason to love your brand. The new generation of buyers doesn’t mind being sold. Truth be told, if you do it right, they’ll actually do your selling for you. What’s important is that you’re not just a nameless, faceless company. These customers want a brand with a personality that they can connect with and that delivers something they value.

Let’s take an example outside the office supply industry of an independent fighting the big boxes. Zappos entered the business of selling shoes online with what CEO Tony Hsieh describes as the “poster child of bad Internet ideas.”

In an industry, which like office supplies is offering a “commodity”and battling highly entrenched national competitors, Zappos was a small start-up who knew they would not beat their competitors on price, but instead would try to win with exceptional service. Fast forward to 2013. Zappos is one of the largest Internet retailers in the world and has been purchased by Amazon for $1.2 billion.

zappos

How did they do it? By building a brand that customers love. Zappos offered free overnight shipping, free returns, and empowered their customer service people, who will even go to competitors’ sites to find you a pair of shoes if Zappos doesn’t have them in stock.

They also created authentic dialog between customers and employees, encouraging all of their employees to have their own Zappos Twitter account and to speak freely on behalf of the company. Customers loved this. They felt truly connected to the brand and became brand advocates, spreading the word about Zappos not only to their friends, but to the entire country through social media and blogs. The results were staggering and allowed Zappos to take down the giants of their industry with only a fraction of those giants’ marketing budget.

2) Start by building your system around your customers. I could give you a full rundown of the multiple lead generation tools out there and discuss the merits of each one but here’s the bottom line: You need to choose the tools that are right for your brand and your customers.

Each company is different, but the most important way to build a powerful lead generation system is to identify your top customers and build your system around them. As you go through this process, remember that the idea is to build an authentic, powerful connection with your customers, so it’s important to be completely comfortable with whatever tools you choose.

3) Be strategic, consistent and persistent. The fastest growing lead generation tool is content marketing—that is, writing and posting photos on your web, blogs and social networking in order to generate leads. This content needs to be strategic, consistent and persistent.

These days most companies are too lean and just too busy to devote time to lead generation, the lifeblood of sales. Often, this task is left to salespeople, who have the least time, writing skill, SEO knowledge and computer skills necessary to generate leads. Effective salespeople are valuable converters, closers and relationship developers. They turn leads into sales but they do not create leads (with the exception of referrals). Often the best bet for busy independent office supply dealers is to outsource lead generation activity to make sure it gets done.

4) Trust a millennial to work on lead generation. If your outsourced or internal lead generator turns out to be a millennial (born after 1980), don’t panic. It may not feel natural to have a 24-year-old teaching you how to market your business, but the results may surprise you.

My two-year-old nieces already know infinitely more about how to use an iPad than I ever will, and I learn new things from them on a daily basis. Millennials are digital natives with an innate knowledge of most of the tools we’re talking about. What is second nature to them could take you years to learn. This is the opportunity to leverage the generational gap and make it a strength for your company.

5) Bring your online offline. It’s not enough to build a great connection with your customers online if you’re not actually closing sales. Sales people are one of the most valuable assets for an independent dealer and they should be brought in as an integral part of the process. Once you have your customers’ attention, capture their information and pass it directly to your salespeople as fully qualified “warm” leads.

One of the most powerful tools for capturing these leads is a simple landing page campaign. Landing pages are pages on your website with an offer and a single call to action that capture key information from potential customers. They are inexpensive and can change your website or social media pages from pretty pictures to powerful lead generation machines.

If you are able to build a brand customers love, connect with customers through lead generation tools, capture their information through landing pages and pass those leads on to your sales team, then your system is complete.

This is clearly easier said than done, but creating a lead generation system that will stand the test of time is one of those rare goals that has the potential to transform your company and take your sales to the next level.

Brand well and prosper.

Cody Cleary

Cody Cleary

Cody Cleary

President at Orbit Design
Formerly with the Colgate-Palmolive Company, Cody has overseen such household names as Colgate Total; Palmolive Dish; Ajax Cleaners; Irish Spring and SoftSoap. Cody has developed a wide range of targeted marketing communications campaigns in both US and Australian markets, driving brand salience and sales growth through digital advertising, television, in-(and out-of) store promotions and PR.
Cody Cleary

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