Over the past 35 years, I have been involved in the development and deployment of scores of business-to-business lead generation programs. Here are the 21 most significant truths I've learned.

1. Separate suspects from prospects.

Too many advertising/promotion dollars – and too much time – are spent on people who will never buy. Unless your lead generation advertising weeds these people out, it's not working effectively. It's putting a strain on those who process and follow up on leads. The media you select, the offers you make, your creative strategy, and even your tone all play key roles in drawing out high potential prospects and screening out suspects.

2. Sell the next step harder than you sell your product or service.

The whole objective of lead generation programs is to begin the sales process, not to complete it. Your initial direct mail or e-mail should push for action on the next step – sending for more information, a free sample, a free analysis. Once you have qualified prospects, you can concentrate on a full presentation of product benefits, features, and applications.

3. Construct meaningful, actionable tests.

No direct response program – whether executed in direct mail, e-mail print, online or broadcast – can be improved without valid testing. Make sure you test the most significant factors first – lists/media and offers. Once you have a read of results, react quickly and incorporate them into your program. Your results analysis should not only include number of leads and cost per lead, but cost per appointment and per sale. Making decisions on lead costs alone can be disastrous.

4. Once is not enough.

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Lee Marc Stein is an internationally known direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He has extensive experience in circulation, insurance and financial services, high tech, and B2B marketing.