Selling begins by a salesperson locating potential customers. A potential customer or “prospect” is first identified as a sales lead. A lead is someone the salesperson believe exhibits key characteristics that lend them to being a potential customer. For certain sales positions, locating leads may not be a major task undertaken by the sales force as these activities are handled by others in the company. For instance, salespeople may receive a list of sales leads based on inquiries through the company’s website.
However, for a large percentage of salespeople, lead generation consumes a significant portion of their everyday work. For salespeople actively involved in generating leads, they are continually on the lookout for potential new business. In fact, for salespeople whose chief role is that of an order getter, there is virtually no chance of being successful unless they can consistently generate sales leads.
Sales leads can come from many sources including:
- Prospect Initiated – Includes leads obtained when prospects initiate the contact, such as when they fill out a website form, enter a trade show booth, or respond to an advertisement.
- Profile Fitting – Uses marketing research tools, such as organization profiles, to locate leads based on customers that fit a particular profile likely to be a match for the company’s products. The profile is often based on the profile of previous customers.
- Market Monitoring – Through this approach, leads are obtained by monitoring media outlets, such as news articles, social media, online forums, and corporate press releases.
- Canvassing – Here leads are gathered by cold-calling (i.e., contacting someone without prenotification) including in-person, by telephone, or by email.
- Data Mining – This technique uses sophisticated software to evaluate information (e.g., in a corporate database) previously gathered by a company in hopes of locating prospects.
- Personal and Professional Contacts – A very common method for locating sales leads uses referrals. Such referrals may come at no cost to the salesperson or, to encourage referrals, salespeople may offer payment for referrals. Non-paying methods include asking acquaintances (e.g., friends, business associates) and networking (e.g., joining local or professional groups and associations). Paid methods may include payment to others who direct leads that eventually turn into customers, including using internet affiliate programs (i.e., paid for website referrals).
- Promotions – This method uses free gifts to encourage prospect to provide contact information or attend a sales meeting. For example, offering free access to one of the company’s online products if the prospect also agrees to a demonstration of another online product.