Ask any business owner whether they’re interested in getting more leads and 100% of them will say yes. If they don’t, they’re lying. Everyone wants to grow. Everyone’s looking for more work. Everyone wants to add to their list of customers. No one is busy enough. Yes, we are all looking for leads.

That is why, as small business owners, lead generation is always on our minds. We spend a significant amount of money and resources on marketing and lead generation. We try search engine optimization. We send emails. We send letters. We advertise online. We go to chamber meetings and attend networking functions. We’re always in pursuit of the next deal, the next customer, the next project. All of these things work to a degree. But they take money. Lots of it. And time. And commitment. And risk.

Nothing in marketing is a sure thing. Most of it’s a calculated gamble.

Sure, I have many clients who have successfully generated leads using these activities. But they’re all making a mistake. Lead generation to get new customers is something we should all be doing. But we’re not going to get our best, most qualified and profitable leads this way all the time. Our best leads are sitting inside our computers.

They’re in your databases. They’re in your accounting system. They’re in your customer relationship management system. They’re in your spreadsheets, your email application and your point-of-sale system. They’re on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Have you figured out who these leads are?

They’re your customers.

You’re an established business which means you’ve got customers and contacts:

  • People who have purchased from you and liked what you sold them, but never bought anything again.
  • People who have purchased from you and were so happy they keep coming back.
  • People who purchased from you but maybe weren’t as happy as they could’ve been so they never returned.
  • And people that never purchased from you, but they know about you because they’ve seen you at conferences, networking events and on social media.

So what are you doing with all of these people? Probably not enough. And yet, this is your gold. You have had a relationship with them – some for very long and some for very brief. At one point, these people expressed an interest in what you sell. Others have been buying from you for years. Even the ones that didn’t come back…ever ask them why?

These are leads.

And not just cold leads that you bought from a list company or who you briefly met at some networking event. These are warm leads. You could be selling them more products: add-ons, accessories, additional services or new services. You could be asking them for feedback and referrals. You could be going back to them to come up with new things to sell them. Or, at the very least, you could be saying hello to re-establish your relationships— just so that in the future, when they do need something you provide, they’ll think of you first.

So how do you do this? Every customer, prospect, partner and anyone else who makes up your community should be in a database – preferably a customer relationship management database. And everyone should receive a follow-up. Existing customers should be hearing from you about every month. Prospects maybe every 3-4 months. Partners and others who you’ve gotten to know should get something from you maybe two or three times a year. You can mix up the communications – send them emails, postcards, make a phone call, tweet at them, post a message, send them a gift or a survey. Think about different ways your products and services can help them.

Your current customers are the best (and the least expensive) leads you have. Nurture them and use them to grow your business. You’ve got great leads right now. Start mining them!