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How to generate quality leads with a web site

"If you build it they will come" may be true of a baseball field built in a cornfield in a Hollywood Kevin Costner movie, but it has little semblance to reality when the phrase is used to apply to a website. While a case could be made that it might hold some truth for a nationally known company such as Amazon or Disney, the reality is that for your small business or professional services firm, a website will be primarily a tool used to augment your existing advertising medium.

I'd like to offer a few suggestions I have found to be of utmost value. They are principles that should work for most any business...even your business, whether you are selling services or products. Keep these in mind as you design your website...and as you develop your business.

Design your site in a fashion consistent with your product and level of professionalism. Responsibility for your website development should be tasked to your business people and marketing staff, not necessarily your IT director or art department. Don't be cute in your design if your other (successful) marketing collateral is serious. Don't be overly conservative in design if your client base is geared towards kids. Know the demographics of your typical client or customer, and design accordingly. In almost all instances, your design should be one that reflects professionalism, in order to install confidence in your professionalism. Your website is the first impression people have of you. If it is professionally designed and developed, people will subconsciously give you the benefit of any lingering doubt, and conclude that you are professional in your occupation, business, and daily activities. If, on the other hand, your website is cheesy, amateurish, and loaded with annoying MIDI files, clip-art graphics, junior high grammar, poor spelling, flashing marquees, huge animated gifs, weird frames, gigantic images, and pointless javascripts, your website visitors will conclude that the quality of the service you offer is equally sloppy and unprofessional. Don't underestimate this critical path component of your business strategy. People will judge you by your website. If it is not sharp, your competitor will have a distinct edge.

Design your site to be a lead generator, not a closing tool. If you are selling professional services or a product with a hefty price ticket, few people are going to be willing to just happen across your site, see what you offer, and send you a visa card number and order. You'll close more deals if you understand this, and focus your efforts on using your site to generate leads. Give the visitor to your site an opportunity to buy online, sure. But I suspect you will close more sales if you are able to get "in front" of more people. Don't be fooled; a good website will not make a bad salesperson sell more;but it will allow a good salesperson to sell more. Don't leave your people skills or selling ability at the door (or front page, perhaps). Have as your primary goal the opportunity to secure more leads and prospects, and your sales will increase. Do this through a strategically constructed form on your website designed to capture critical information that will enable you to contact them, even if it is only via email.

Use your online form to solicit enough information to qualify and contact your prospect, but not so much information as to bore them or take too much time. Think about your form. The longer the form, the fewer people are likely to use it; however, those who do so will represent pretty strong prospects (and, admittedly, a few people with too much time on their hands). The shorter the form, the more people are likely to respond, but the less serious their interest may be. Try to get, at minimum, an email address. At best, a phone number or address. Ask the questions you need answered to know if they are qualified to use or buy your product, so you know if they warrant the expense of your time and efforts. For example, if you are selling real estate services, you might like to know if they are already represented before investing time with them. So, ask that type of question on the form.

Generate more leads by offering something in return, for free, that is of significant value. This does not have to be a product sent by US mail, though it can be. Rather, give them something as simple as information that can be delivered via email. For example, a price quote, or a tip, something that would be of interest and value to the user of your service or product.

Finally, respond in timely fashion, professionally. All too often, deals are lost because the person responding to the inquiry was unprofessional, slow, or disinterested. If someone is responding to your website, they probably found it because they were looking for something. If they found you, they probably found your competitors as well. They will usually buy, all things being equal, from the first person who responds to them and who favorably impresses them with knowledge and professionalism.

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