When we sit down and talk with clients and prospects, many of whom come to us with statements like “I need a new website,” we always start by asking lots of questions. In my Vistage Group, we refer to this as “brilliant inquiry.” The idea is not to generate solutions but to more clearly define the problem. After all, it’s exceedingly difficult to solve a problem if you’re not quite sure what it is. (Here’s some fun: Next time you’re in a meeting, or even a conversation, start listening for all the solutions you’ll hear before anyone has clearly defined the problem. It’s a universal issue.)

While talking with a client the other day I was reminded how important this process is to achieving great results. In this case, he had come to us looking for help with search engine optimization (SEO), correctly thinking that these efforts would pay dividends in lead generation.

As we talked through his situation, we narrowed down the factors that would make someone a good lead: “I’m focusing primarily on Central Indiana,” he said, “and a good lead for us is generally in the ‘over $50 million in annual revenue’ category.” (I should mention that these two statements didn’t really come out quite so easily or even back to back. Through our conversation, each of these was “discovered” by asking questions and giving him the room to find these answers on his own.)

My first thought was that optimizing his site for better search engine rankings was probably going to have minimal affect on bringing in good leads. My second thought was to wonder how many of these prospects were actually out there. Being members of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce provided the answer. (Side note: you should really join this organization. The annual fees are modest and one of the services they provide is research to help you answer questions exactly like this one.) The answer, in this case, is about 125.

So if your world is made up of 125 good prospects, that certainly changes the solutions you might devise when you start looking at ways to do lead generation, right? Optimizing your site so people searching can more readily find you should be done, but this is really just a barrier to entry. In the world of marketing sage Seth Godin, this would be akin to offering good customer service: it’s something everyone just has to do, it’s not a difference-maker.

The real heavy lifting– and the real results– will come from better ways to target and communicate with those 125 prospects, not everyone you could happen to cast a net upon using your search terms. In the light of this information, the problem has been greatly clarified and clearly defined: These 125 companies need to know who he is and what he does. In response, we’re devising a strategy to help him speak directly to, in a meaningful and personal way, the best prospects on this list.

Please consider this a friendly (and hopefully helpful) reminder: Be sure to know the problem before you solve it.

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