Getting new customers is always a hot topic for conversation among business owners. Discussions abound regarding ideas for promotional giveaways, online tools, etc. But in a recent discussion on the Bank of America Small Business Forum regarding online advertising, Will Sanio, owner of Small Business Loans Depot, brought up something that is often overlooked when talking about marketing. His great point was that you need to have strong follow through on the leads generated by online ads.  “The bill can run up in a hurry for paid advertising,” as he put it.  So it behooves the business owner to make sure that they are moving quickly to follow up on and then convert those leads into paying customers. I did some following up of my own and asked him to share how he does this effectively.

The Marketing Funnel

To start with, let’s take a moment to talk about how marketing works. The goal of marketing is to deliver leads into the hands of salespeople, so that they can then convert those leads into paying customers for your business. The common  metaphor for this process is a funnel.  At the top are people who may not be aware of who your company is and why your service can be useful to them.  At the bottom are people who have learned what you offer and are ready to purchase.  Tools like online advertising help grab viewer attention so that they can be captured as prospects.  But once you have their attention, how you move people through the funnel depends on your business.

Following up on Leads is Crucial!

Will owns a business that offers alternative financing for small business. He has been in this business about ten years, so he has a very good idea of what works for him.  Most of his clients come to them through referrals, but some also come in through his website. He also has some sales agents and referral partners.

Will prefers to have a chance to talk to his prospects to find out more about what they are looking for.  Some people just aren’t likely to turn into customers, and he doesn’t want to waste his time or theirs.  But more importantly, he feels that if the first point of contact the prospect speaks to really knows what they’re talking about and can answer all of the prospect’s questions, it raises the level of confidence that the prospect has in his company.

Nurturing Leads

Often, when a prospective customer first approaches a business, they are still in the process of educating themselves on all their options. In order to choose your service, the prospect has to believe that it is a good fit for them.  Sometimes this means that the prospect is going to go do some comparison shopping before making up their minds.  In any business, there are going to be some leads that get stuck in between yes and no.  Will’s program of strong follow up helps alleviate this, but he said even for him this does happen.

There are some tools and services available to a business owner that does not want to let those hard-won prospects drift away.  One of these is marketing automation, in which you have an email system that will send the prospect some additional educational content to help them understand your offer better.  Another is retargeted display advertising, in which people who view your website are “cookied” so that your display ad can be targeted to them directly as the surf the rest of the web. But there is a difference between nurturing cool prospects, and following up with warm prospects.

Can Follow Up Be Outsourced?

I can certainly see the attraction of investing in lead generation that only delivers high-quality, pre-qualified leads. As long as the cost of those leads is less than the profit realized on those new accounts, you’re just doing simple arbitrage – like a slot machine that regularly pays out more than you plug in.  So why doesn’t something like this exist?

Will’s company does have a network of referral partners who receive a commission for passing along new business. They don’t have to be experts on business financing, but (and here is the key) they do have to be knowledgeable about the industry and the company.  They have to know what to ask, and what to say.  For instance, if a prospect objects to a price range, there are different ways to deflect that objection, but that takes some experience and understanding to do it well.

Be Relentless

In closing, Will said that a lot of people don’t do the best they can in following up on leads. They let things fall by the wayside. Sometimes this may be because closing a single deal can be an involved process, and while you are working on one prospect it can be easy to let the others fall by the wayside. But it’s something you have to push yourself to do every day.  Be organized.  Be relentless!