Those stacks and stacks of advertising inquiries, trade show leads, Web site visitors! Somewhere among them you can find gold -- legitimate sales prospects.

Have a plan
Before your promotion even runs, decide how to handle the resulting inquiries. Get input from field sales, distributors, trade show staff, and customer service. If you expect more inquiries than you can handle with your normal inside staff, consider lead management services and involve them in the process. If you wait until you are overwhelmed by (hopefully) thousands of inquiries, you will find yourself taking one of two actions: 1) Responding so late that the prospect has gone elsewhere; or 2) Dumping everything in the trash can.

Prequalify the leads
Before your field sales personnel start knocking on doors and before your inside sales staff starts soliciting orders, qualify all your inquiries. Train your trade show staff to ask the right questions to determine the prospect's interest: buying authority, product need, purchase timing, purchasing quantities. Web site forms and direct mail response mechanisms should solicit similar information.Inquiries from trade publications typically involve more effort. Send the inquirer basic product information with a bounce-back card to obtain the needed qualifying information. Or follow up by phone. Remember, an inquiry is not a sales lead or sales prospect until it has been qualified.

Rank the prospects
Based on the qualification information, rank the inquiries into A, B, and C categories. The A prospects are the hot leads, the ones you have determined have a legitimate and timely need for your products and services. The B prospects are less likely to buy, or their purchase time frame is farther in the future. The C inquiries are those with little demonstrated need for your products and services; often they simply collect literature.

Start the follow-up sales contacts
Now you can begin the selling effort, concentrating on the A prospects first. The specific follow-up is dictated by your products and services, your sales methodology and organization, and the quality of your qualification process. You may use telemarketing, personal sales calls, or direct mailings. Here's where you get your sales organization, both inside and outside and distribution, into the process.
For the B prospects, you may want simply to make a more detailed mailing, then schedule phone or personal follow-ups for a later date.
What about those C inquiries? At best, you might add them to a general mailing list. More likely, you will probably discontinue any further follow-up.

Requalify and rerank theprospects
B's can become A's, and A's can become B's. You will want to rerank them as necessary, making sure that you continue to cultivate those top prospects. At this stage, these inquiries should be treated as part of your normal sales procedure.

Track the results
Set up your follow-up system so that you can track the results of your efforts. Use the data to calculate and analyze your return on investment and to determine the effectiveness of your promotional and sales efforts.

Strike gold
With a proper inquiry follow-up system in place, you can identify legitimate sales prospects and turn those inquiries into sales.

Copyright 1998-2000 Marketing Resources Ltd.