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Market Research for Lead Generation

In the spirit of ready, aim, fire, lead generation is much improved with the help of advance research, like any marketing activity. Perhaps the most essential pre-campaign research you can do is about selecting targets. In the long term and short term, some research can have a positive impact on your lead-generation results.

Traditionally, research for sales lead generation was done at a business library, by poring through directories of companies, professional associations, and trade publications. The going was slow, and the data likely to be stale.

These days, the primary tool is the Internet, which has become the first line of attack for researchers of all types. The simplest, and perhaps most popular, technique is a simple Google search. But the results are not going to be useful unless you already have a clear idea of who you want to find.

Say, for example, you sell ERP software to the apparel industry. Your objective is to find apparel manufacturers who want to install new software or upgrade their existing systems. A Google search for "apparel manufacturers" brings up nearly 8 million hits. Odd, because a quick trip to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reveals that there are only 16,000 people employed in managerial roles in this industry nationwide. It makes no sense to begin trolling through even the first 100 of those hits.

An alternative is to buy an industry directory that is sold over the Internet. The Directory of Brand Name Apparel Manufacturers (www.fashiondex.com), for example, sells a hard copy listing of the company contacts at 2,800 brands in 65 apparel categories for $115. We know that there are more than 2,800 companies in this industry, and a print-based directory will no doubt include a high percent of outdated content.

Ideal is an online research resource that allows you to sort companies and individual contacts according to the variables that typically drive sales targeting strategies:

  • Industry (or SIC or NAICS codes)
  • Company size (whether revenue or number of employees)
  • Geographic location
  • Title or job function

Once the right companies are identified, then it's a matter of selecting the right individuals. Some online resources allow you to search not only by job function, but also by variables such as

  • Age
  • Business biography or background
  • Salary or total compensation
  • Name

Then, of course, you want to access full contact information so that the initial conversation can begin.

A number of useful strategies for identifying high-potential prospects and refining the search have been developed by leading companies over the years. Here are three of the best approaches:

  • To get a sense of the highest potential prospects for your product or service, use the "look-alike" method. Review the characteristics of your best customers, and identify the lookalikes in the universe of prospects. For example, if your top accounts are apparel manufacturers in New York and California, with sales of $25 million to $50 million annually, you will do well by starting with that demographic target.
  • Examine the buying process in your target industry. If ERP software purchases are a joint decision between the IT and finance departments, then you will want to select multiple contacts at the apparel firms, with titles like CFO and CIO, as well as the usual CEO.
  • Keep in mind that a name selected based on demographic targeting, no matter how refined, is unlikely to comprise a fully qualified sales lead. These contacts will be yours to include in your lead-generation campaign, to motivate them to raise their hands, and then to assess the quality of the prospect against such qualification criteria as product interest, whether a budget is available, the purchasing authority of the prospect, and the urgency of the need for your product or service.
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