Lead Generation Techniques and Hierarchy

Obviously, there are a lot of ways to generate new business. I’m going to list a few here in order of effectiveness.

  • Cold Calling
  • Direct Mail / Sales Letters
  • White Papers
  • Tradeshows
  • Executive Seminars
  • Speaking Engagements

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, cold calls can be effective. You just have to be seen as a business peer (not a vendor), provide value, and do not waste their time. The bad part of cold calling is that business people today are busy and rarely enjoy an unsolicited call. This negative attitude has been amplified by thousands of telemarketers irritating people during dinner time with phone calls. But it can still be effective when done properly.

Sales letters and direct mail are a great cost-effective way to generate leads. I personally like sales letters better (see here), but direct mail can be effective as well. The beauty of letters is that there is no restriction on length. Data from the DMI shows that longer letters perform better than “one pagers”. As long as you are telling a compelling story and providing value to your prospects, I do believe they will read three to five page letters. Direct mail postcards are different. Here you have to convince someone to take the next sales action step with just a few words. In either case, an appropriate offer is critical to your success. It could be as simple as providing free access to industry research or a white paper.

White papers are great because they position you as a specialist in your field. Since they are typically four to five pages, you can provide a good level of detail without giving away all of your valuable insight. I’m torn between making web users register for white papers. The usability side of me says that people hate to register for information and that they provide fake data or leave the site before registering. But the marketer in me wants their basic contact info so that I can continue the conversation. Typically I default to the user. I often recommend my clients give away their research and writing and if their value is strong enough the user will come back to them for more information.

Tradeshows are marketing staple in a lot of industries. They are a great way to reach multiple users under the same roof. The hard part with tradeshows is standing out. There is A LOT of competition for your audience’s attention. 99% of all booths look the same and 99% of all booth workers give the same lame pitch. But if you can catch their attention, there’s no better way to meet more customers in a short period of time. I’ve seen the best ROI come when you combine tradeshows with Executive Seminars.

Executive Seminars are different than having a booth on the tradeshow floor. In fact, the seminar does not have to be associated with a tradeshow at all. You can do them anytime. The main difference is that seminars are invitation only and typically provide a high level of interaction with a senior audience. I’ve seen companies have great success by doing a series of seminars in a city. They will have one meeting a week for a month. Each meeting will have a different area of focus that the audience cares about. This allows the invitee to attend one or all of the meetings – all the while they are seeing you as the expert and hopefully networking with other peer executives in the area. The key is to have a small audience of high level executives (50 or less) and provide GREAT food while discussing industry trends, problem solving techniques, and business growth strategies – DO NOT TALK about your products or services. If it smells like a sales pitch, you will lose interest and attendance.

This leads me to the best form of lead generation, Speaking Engagements. Any time you are in front of a crowd, you’re the perceived expert. If you provide knowledge and value, you will have a long line of people waiting to talk to you at the end of your session. This technique, used at tradeshows, is especially effective. You get a lot of decision makers and influencers in your industry looking to you for expertise. Any time you can create a buying environment instead of a selling environment is powerful. It takes a lot of writing and being published to be sought after as a speaker, but if you can put in the hard work and provide insight; you’ll have much more opportunity than capacity.

And that’s the best situation to be as a small business. I’ll dig into more detail on some of these techniques in future posts.

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  1. Hey Nick – Great post.

    White papers are close to my heart. They are excellent lead generation techniques and are usually a bit longer than you quoted (average 6-12 pages).

    On the lead generation side. You really need to provide a sample of the paper AND a registration form. This way folks can taste test the piece and will not mind filling out a small form. There really is no good way to generate that lead without a form.

    Hey Nick – Great post.

    White papers are close to my heart. They are excellent lead generation techniques and are usually a bit longer than you quoted (average 6-12 pages).

    On the lead generation side. You really need to provide a sample of the paper AND a registration form. This way folks can taste test the piece and will not mind filling out a small form. There really is no good way to generate that lead without a form.


  2. Mike, I like the idea of a “teaser” white paper. It’s an easy no-risk method for a user to gauge your value.

    I’ve seen the length of papers range by industry. In my experience, it seems like the more technical the product/service/industry, the longer the white paper. When I research competitors in my current role (marketing & design firm), most agency white papers are pretty short. But then again, 99% of the firms out there do not have anything proprietary to their process or offerings. It’s usually the same steps with different names. But in a more traditional company that markets to enterprise executives, those deliverables may be 20 pages or less.

    Great comment!


  3. Nice one Nick. Lot’s of strong insight here.

    I gotta say that cold calling is definitely a great way to generate new business. However, it’s only effective if you’re actually good at it. Ya gotta be laid back and act like a HUMAN BEING. I know it’s easier said than done, because nerves and anxiety sometimes get in the way of making a quality call, but cold calling is definitely an art that requires practice.


  4. Brad, you’re right. It’s not that it’s completely ineffective, it’s just less effective than other techniques, primarily because it’s been tainted by bad telemarketers. There’s a reason why the “Do Not Call Registry” was passed in America. I try to spend at least one day a week cold calling new prospects. Usually, I’ll drop them an email first, hoping that they’ll at least recognize my name.

    It is very hard to be good at cold calling, but you’re right; if you can master your value prop and quickly close for a 20 minute meeting, you’ll definitely fill the top of your sales funnel.


  5. Nick,

    Great post. Lots of food for thought. I could not agree more about the speaking engagements being a powerful new business tool. I speak 6-10 times a year at national conventions etc. (just got back from one yesterday) and it’s amazing how the perceived expertise turns into business leads.

    But, as we advise our clients (and I’m sure you do too) you can’t just sign up to be a speaker. That perceived expertise can turn into egg on your face in a hurry if you are ill-prepared or uncomfortable speaking in public. Don’t do it until you’re sure you’re ready.

    I’m curious — how do you advise your clients, in terms of prep for this sort of exposure?

    Great site…thanks for sharing all your knowledge!


  6. Drew, to be honest, most of our clients are not ready for that level of exposure – for the very reasons you speak of. I do have a local client (Kentucky, USA) where there are three principals. One of them is the head of their national industry association and another has been published multiple times in industry publications. Those guys are the closest to hitting the speaking circuit. They have the industry expertise and the drive to help others without fear of competition. They want to start giving back to the industry by helping other small companies grow – and of course they’ll make a fair profit for their assistance.

    I think the best way to prepare is to write constantly – for months or years before you try to get on stage. One thing I love about the blogosphere is that if you’re active, people will engage you. It’s immediate and has a global reach. You can stimulate discussions and arguments that will either prove you as knowledgeable or as a “wannabe”. On my other blog (Strategic Design – http://nickrice.blogspot.com) I get over 50% of my readers from outside of America. During your writing, you have a chance to solidify your stance and knowledgebase. If you provide valuable insight and are actively promoting your ideas, I believe people will seek you out – at least on a small scale. If you desire to be front of large national audiences, I think you have to actively pursue that path. But you must be able to back up your credentials with satisfied audiences. In my experience, even large associations struggle with finding good speakers. And most conventions have a speaker submission form. If you can provide value and insight while keeping the audience engaged, you will be successful. But it’s not easy. Typically the most effective methods are the hardest; that’s why few people are truly successful. If it was easy, then everyone would already be doing it.

    Great comment!

  7. Patricia, I think that email can be a good tool. Unfortunately, it’s as easy for the prospect to ignore as it is for us to send. A couple weeks ago, I posted about using email as a relationship-building tool on my other blog. You can see it here, http://nickrice.blogspot.com/2006/09/communication-techniques.html

  8. Patricia Skinner says

    I also love white papers. But cold calling leaves me cold. I’d at least like to soften up a prospect with an email. If ind email is a great lead generation tool, as long as you’re not spamming.

  9. Your comment rang very true for me Nick.

    I have been in the Graphic Design field for 25 years, and maybe 4 years ago I decided to leverage my experience and work towards Brand Consulting with a group of peers in the States. (I’m located in Windsor, Ontario, Canada) And within the last 8 months I have struck out on my own from a business partner of 20 years.

    So I have had to take sales more seriously and I am enjoying it, (to my surprise). I’m doing speaking engagements, networking with organized groups most noteably in Detroit and I’ve joined a private club in Detroit to meet heads of companies who are my target audience.

    You are absolutely right about audience perceptions of the speaker. My goal when speaking is to engage the audience, not simply be a talking head. I also discovered that to be more effective I don’t need a script. I know the subject matter, “Focusing your Corporate Brand.” I speak to the screen – meaning when the slide comes up, I glance at it and speak to what it says. This way I have no place to lose. The first speaking engagement I did, I had a very tight script, but as I got into what I was talking about, I spoke away from the text, and when I tried going back my eyes were dancing all over the place trying to get back on track.

    When I engage the audience, it becomes more like a conversation than merely a speaking engagement. And Nick is correct in regards to people lining up to discuss their own issues with you. Very invigorating experieince.

    Currently I am trying my hand at cold calling. This is quite a challenge. If you are naturally an extrovert, than cold calling may be right up your alley. Myself, I am typically the the back stage guy who has thrust himself into the stage lights. I am coping, gaining more confidence as the play progresses.

    I met with a peer group in Chicago recently and we sat in with a commission sales person who specialized in cold calling. She used a script, had the call down to a minute and a half and had maybe a 60% success rate at getting a meeting. Taking her advice I’ve developed a script that I can comfortably use and sound genuine, lasting maybe 45 seconds on average. I send out a brochure package as a tool to refer to in the call. I’m having small successes.

    One technique I find disarms my target is that I ask if they have received my package yet on corporate branding knowing full well that I HAVE NOT sent it out yet. When they reply no, I then ask if they would mind my calling back in a week when they have had the chance to get it, and go over it. They always say yes. I feel this is great as now they wil be actively looking for it in their mail out of shear curiousity.

    I sometimes take this risky step because a few times the person on the other end never bothered to read my package, doesn’t understand branding and just wants off the call. I want to speak with prospects who know they have issues by having a basic understanding about what I am proposing to them.

    I network in an organized way – getting involved from a committee level. This way I can show my strengths on a more personal perspective. This is VERY effective at generating strong contacts. I am known as that branding guy. I’d advice giving it a year to develop, I know it sounds discouraging – but people build trust slowly, and I want contacts that will last years – not one-hit-wonders.

    So, to end this thread all I can say is that I will try many avenues to see which techniques fit with my goals and strategically apply them to my mix. This is where blogging fits in. Building an on-line profile of expertise.

    And so it goes,


  10. I think cold calling can be effective but not nearly as effective as a lot of alternatives. It all comes down to what you want to spend your time doing.

    Alternate ideas are out there though. Found this site interesting: Stop Cold Calling