Editor’s note: Dan McDade is president of PointClear, a prospect development company.

— It might be hard to believe, but despite the eroded U.S. economy, internal sales organizations are still not following up about 94 percent of leads.

Why? Because so many of these leads are considered to be of poor quality.

Unfortunately, this perception of poor lead quality is often accurate. This is because most marketing campaigns are still being evaluated based on the quantity of leads produced or cost-per-lead, but not on actual lead quality. In fact, this problem exemplifies the disconnect that exists between most internal marketing and sales organizations today.

Think about your last big marketing campaign. It probably generated a lot of leads, right? But how many converted into actual sales? If your answer is “not many,” it is likely because most of these high-volume leads were also low-level and not well-qualified.

Boost revenue with fewer, higher quality leads

I often compare high-volume, low-level lead generation to creating a haystack in which the sales team is responsible for finding the proverbial needle. Even in today’s tough economy, bona fide prospects do exist, but they are hidden among the onslaught of unqualified, so-called leads from most marketing campaigns. In contrast, generating a smaller number of higher-quality sales opportunities can actually help to increase sales.

Think about it. When sales reps are given fewer, but better-quality leads, they can focus their time more effectively on the most likely buyers. Such an approach makes sense in any economic climate, but in a market downturn it can be a way to improve efficiency and do more with fewer resources.

In my two decades of working with companies to improve their revenue performance, I’ve discovered that taking a less-is-more approach and working on lead refinement makes it possible to funnel only the best prospects to your sales reps, renewing the value of lead-generation programs.

Practice M20 to close more sales

It’s no secret that it is now more important than ever to optimize your marketing spend. By practicing what I call M20 – Market, Media and Offer – you can efficiently pinpoint the best prospects, build familiarity with them and communicate messages that resonate. These are all simple, yet sound, practices, but they often get lost in the grand scheme of large-scale marketing campaigns.

Let’s start with getting to know your market. Most companies today continue to market too broadly yet still miss a large percentage of their most likely buyers. A typical example is a company that perceives its target market to be the Fortune 500, when it is actually a much smaller audience within that group. It’s a fact that some market segments respond more highly than others do, so it makes sense to identify those segments and market to them specifically.

This, of course, goes back to valuing lead quality over quantity. By applying market intelligence to identify and target only the highest-return segments, you can increase sales performance while actually reducing your marketing costs.

Multi-touch, multi-media multiplies results

Once you know who your best prospects are, the next step is to determine the best way to reach them. In my experience, mixed-media campaigns that use a combination of quality outbound calls, voicemail messages, e-mail and direct mail to touch prospects repeatedly over time are the most effective use of marketing dollars. These campaigns can be compared with typical “one and done” approaches that touch prospects only a single time.

Multi-touch, multi-media campaigns work because they build familiarity with busy decision-makers and increase the potential of impacting him or her at a point when the business need for a solution is high.

Every day, a large percentage of leads is abandoned by sales simply because the prospect did not respond to a few contact attempts. What many marketers do not realize is that it can take from eight to 30 touches before a prospect is sales-ready. And it can take as many as 12 attempts to engage even high-quality opportunities.

The lesson is to not give up too soon.

Develop messages that sell

The last step in the M20 methodology is to deliver compelling messages – something that can be a challenge in a stressed economy in which buyers often have decreased or suspended purchasing power. Also, what constitutes “value” may be redefined in light of current times. Price reductions, extended financing and guarantees are all offers that can help motivate buyers to action.

But what is true in any market is the need for clear, concise statements that speak to the buyer’s pain points. Testing offers and messages within a market sub-section is an inexpensive way to fine-tune performance. Based on programs I’ve directed for clients, it can increase campaign results by as much as 50 percent.

The good news is that even in a sluggish economy, there is business out there! By employing these strategies and tactics, it is possible to rise above the downturn and continue to grow business while streamlining costs. And when the economy revives, your new “best practices” will put you that much ahead of the game.

About the Author: Dan McDade is founder and president of PointClear, the prospect development company. Before McDade founded PointClear, he served as vice president of marketing for the direct-mail firm Jackson & Perkins and as president of UST: The Business Marketing Group.