OK, you got your prospect to raise his hand. Now comes the hard part: turning him into a customer.

Here are 10 ways to address the challenge in the age of accountability.

  1. Acknowledge leads instantaneously and personally. In the age of the nanosecond and instant messaging, don't wait days to follow up a lead. If you do, forget about it. Swiftness counts when you're in a competitive situation. And make sure your "thanks for your interest" correspondence has a real person's name on it—people buy from other people more readily than they buy from corporations.

  2. Let your lead generation programs do more qualifying of prospects. First, the more you target your audience, the more qualified your leads will be—and the higher your conversion rates. The kind of offer you make is a qualifier in itself. If you make it too good, you'll attract prospects that will never convert. White papers (and other "editorial" incentives) usually generate the right kind of response. You can ask certain questions of new prospects to qualify them without turning off the lead faucet.

  3. Develop segment- and offer-specific landing pages. If you segment your lead generation advertising, carrying that segmentation through to the landing page will improve conversion results dramatically. Using the landing page to remind CFOs of the particular advantage of your service to them, to acknowledge the offer again in specific terms and to point the way to the most relevant pages on your Web site harnesses the personalization power of technology.

  4. Deliver more than prospects expect to receive. The way you handle leads—from generating them through nurturing to conversion—tells prospects how they can expect to be treated as customers. Go overboard, especially for your best prospects. Courier material instead of putting it into the mail. Add an extra (but relevant) white paper they didn't request. Give them a particular insight about their industry or about a competitor.

  5. Engage in a lot of testing. Most testing in lead programs involves the first step: getting people to respond. But testing after they respond can have as big an impact on the success of your program. You will want to look at the communication channels—mail, email and phone—and when to use each. Offers for taking the next step should be evaluated. You can even look at testing how many "next steps" there should be.

  6. Increase your product's or service's relevance as the conversion process unfolds. Even if you segment your lead generation efforts, you often have to treat prospects en masse (at least at the start). It is only when you begin to learn about the prospect's unique needs that you can begin tailoring lead nurturing and moving toward a one-to-one relationship. As you discover new information about prospects, communicate additional ways your product or service is relevant.

  7. Align systems and inform personnel. Make sure your phone reps and salespeople know how leads come in, where they're housed, how they're scored and how to use CRM and/or SFM systems like Salesforce.com and Siebel. Let your entire organization know your historical conversation rates and current expectations. Get senior sales and marketing management to buy into new target.

  8. Develop a lead scoring system and marketing communications streams consistent with opportunity potential and sales coverage. Not all leads are equal in value. If you model or profile how certain prospect segments converted to customers in the past, you can apply this model to current leads. "A" prospects may get six conversion efforts, including two high-impact direct mail packages and two phone calls; "C" prospects might get only one or two efforts executed at minimal cost and maybe even through "autorespond" technology. When you focus on best prospects, your conversion rates will rise.

  9. Invest as much in conversion creative as you do for lead generation. You've spent a lot of money to get the horse to water. Make sure your creative persuades them to drink. Generating leads requires less persuasion than converting them, because you can employ powerful offers to get prospects to raise their hands.

  10. Provide short questionnaires to determine leads' BANT (budget, authority, need and timing) score. As prospects become more trusting and more invested in the sales process, they are more willing to answer questions and provide information. Based on the answers, build follow-on communications consistent with their level of interest.

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Jay Bower (jbower@crossbowgroup.com) is president of the Crossbow Group (www.crossbowgroup.com), headquartered in Westport, Connecticut.