Sunday, June 22, 2003

Look for new sales leads

Potential customers

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

"More sales!" The No. 1 request I get from readers is for information about increasing sales. But before you can make a sale, you need someone to sell to. How are you going to find potential customers?

Sure, if a prospective customer walks in your door or calls, it's relatively easy to make a sale. It's much harder to find those who haven't called but have the potential to become customers - in other words, sales leads.

Lead generation is a necessary skill for every entrepreneur. I've been in business nearly 17 years, and though I don't describe myself as a "salesperson," I always need to generate new sources of business. So, where can you find good leads for your company?

Newspapers: One of the very best sources of information about your community, and thus potential customers, is your local newspaper. A real estate agent in Miami I know relies on the obituaries for leads: he solicits surviving family members of people who've died (without spouses) to see if they want to sell the deceased's home. You don't have to be so morbid; try checking other parts of the paper such as:

• Stories about new or expanding businesses.

• Business pages for announcements of employee promotions.

• Business sections for listings of companies, such as largest employers.

• Wedding announcements.

Entrepreneurs' groups: My first years in business, my best source of new clients was local business organizations - chambers of commerce, women's or ethnic groups' business organizations, leads clubs and more. Typically, these groups set aside time at every meeting for members to network or make sales pitches.

Trade associations: These groups are similar to entrepreneurs' organizations, but they are formed around one particular industry and often have branches in larger cities. Trade shows: Regular readers of my column know I'm a big believer in going to trade shows - as an attendee and exhibitor. Trade shows reach a large number of targeted prospects in a short period, and attendees are looking for suppliers. Exhibiting at a trade show also gives you a way to follow up, because most show organizers produce lists of attendees.

Phone books: Don't forget the good old Yellow Pages. If you've identified particular types of businesses as potential customers, you can find a local list just by letting your fingers do the walking.

Driving around: While it's very time-consuming, in-person prospecting is more likely to generate sales than phone calls.

Public records: Many for-profit companies compile and sell lists of public records that might be used for sales leads. These include new business licenses or incorporations, building permits, wedding licenses and birth certificates.

List brokers: Private companies sell lists of businesses and consumers, sorted every conceivable way. You can buy targeted lists of leads by industry, magazines subscribed to, products purchased, etc. .

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies." For her free business tips newsletter, register at

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