Writing for business-to-business lead generation is a balancing act: On the one hand, you want as great a response rate as possible; on the other, you don't want to clog the sales pipeline with useless leads—people who don't have the authority, interest, or money to buy what you're selling.

Your real goal? A high number of genuinely qualified leads—the attention of prospects who actually have the power to make or influence the purchasing decision. The following are five pragmatic ways for you to increase your success rate with the prospects who matter—the ones more likely to lead to a sale.

Know your segments and position accordingly

Any large purchase will involve a variety of people with different titles and roles. But a "one-size-fits-all" message won't work; instead, you'll need to segment your deliverables (whether mail, email, ads in various media, etc.) by title, and reposition your message for each segment.

Think of it this way: Each title has a different set of hot buttons, and they'll only respond when you press the rights ones for each role. Consider a large software purchase, for example. For the CEO, you may want to position the software as an investment for facilitating corporate growth. For the financial officer, you'll need to address the bottom line—how will it affect overall financial health? The IT people, the ones who'll have to deploy and maintain it, need more pragmatic insights: Is it easy to use? Will it require training or new hardware? How will it work with the systems and software they already have?

Fortunately, you rarely have to write an entirely new piece for each segment but can create variable sections—perhaps the Johnson (headline) and the first paragraph of a letter, for instance—to address the specific needs of your different titles.

Ask for incremental steps, not giant leaps

No mail package, no matter how beautifully designed, is going to close the deal on a $2,000,000 product. And very few will even land that precious face-to-face sales call you want.

Plan your communications strategy as a step-by-step process that systematically builds confidence in your product or service while drawing prospects progressively closer to the sale. Think of it as a funnel that, with each contact, winnows the remaining prospects to a core list most amenable to you—to those prospects who would be most likely to convert through an in-person sales pitch.

In the initial communications, therefore, it's important that you concentrate on selling the next step, which could be a white paper for prospects to download, a webinar they can join, or an event they can attend. Emphasize the value of these offers. By concentrating on modest, low-risk steps, you can overcome the resistance that prospects would otherwise present to more intimidating leaps, such as a request for a meeting.

Offer useful, relevant information

In one of my recent campaigns, my client made two offers. One was a USB data stick loaded with a product demo. The other was a report that promised "top ten tips" for making better M&A deals. Both pulled well, but the quality of the leads varied dramatically.

The data stick attracted too many spurious responses—people who wanted a free device but had little or no role in M&A. The tips booklet pulled a slightly lower response rate, but because it promised insights and know-how relevant to people in the M&A field, it attracted prospects with a much higher degree of interest in the subject—that is, genuinely qualified leads.

"Toys" will lift response, but offers that are directly relevant to your product and its industry will draw a better-qualified prospect.

Illustrate your case with real life examples

I don't wear plaid jackets or smoke stogies, but my credibility as a marketer isn't much greater than that of the old used car salesman stereotype. Who has credibility? Look in the mirror—we tend to trust people like ourselves.

That's why it's important to lard your mail packages, collateral, Web sites, and other pieces with endorsements, testimonials, case studies, and examples drawn from real life. These success stories are empathy builders that come from people your prospects can trust, people like themselves. Get their stories and, whenever possible, let them speak in their own words.

Create a lead-maintenance device

A positive response doesn't necessarily mean that the prospect is ready for the sales call. Most leads will need to be maintained on a back burner—in some cultivation program that keeps your company in front of your prospects' eyes and "top of mind."

Think about creating a communications vehicle such as a monthly e-newsletter (with opt-in, opt-out provisions) featuring brief, informative articles. Or regular email or postcard updates of events, conferences, and other activities that feature your thought leaders, products, or services.

The tactics may vary, but the goal is the same: To keep the responders you've attracted in your camp, until that opportune time when they're ready for the full-force sales pitch.

Like this topic? Learn even more about customer acquisition and retention by joining us in Santa Barbara for "Finders, Keepers: Finding Prospects and Keeping Customers." Get the details about our two-day executive retreat, April 20-21, 2006.

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image of Jonathan Kranz

Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and a copywriting veteran now in his 21st year of independent practice. A popular and provocative speaker, Jonathan offers in-house marketing writing training sessions to help organizations create more content, more effectively.

LinkedIn: Jonathan Kranz

Twitter: @jonkranz