As a former TV news producer, I know a thing or two about communication, storytelling, building and maintaining an audience and media. I’ve taken the lessons I learned after nearly a decade in the newsroom and parlayed it into a marketing career.

Some of the lessons I have learned were immediate. Others have taken shape over the years. One of these latter lessons came to light recently and it had to do with the way we handle new marketing leads.

Are All Leads Equal?

First we need to define terms. A lead is someone who’s connected with your business and is more than just a stranger. This person has likely given you some piece of information (like an email address) in exchange for your content. This person is interested in your company, or at least the solution your company provides for his or her problem.

A lead is valuable. A lead is also not quite as desirable as a customer. This is a lot like a lead or a tip in the newsroom. A newsroom receives all kinds of tips all day long. Some of them pan out into full-fledged news stories. Tips need to be worked. Calls, emails and visits by a reporter and photojournalist all play a part in “working the lead.”

Not all newsroom tips are gems; some of them are real turds. But you never really know unless you work them. Sound familiar?

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You

So, how do you differentiate the gems from the busted leads? To start with, revisit the golden rule and treat others the way you’d want to be treated. That is, treat all leads equally and as if they have the potential to convert into a customer until you find a reason to do otherwise.

Here’s an example from the newsroom:

A phone call may come in where the caller tells a producer that they just saw a car speed by their house “at 100 miles an hour with 15 cop cars in pursuit!” As a producer, you know that the town they’re calling from has only two cruisers, but maybe the County Sheriff’s Department is involved. So instead of blowing off this caller because they sound a bit too happy on a Friday night, you begin to work the lead.

Calling dispatch, you might get the usual response of “I can’t confirm anything like that. We’re very busy here tonight and I don’t have time to answer a bunch of questions.” Dispatchers are indeed busy and may not be able to talk, but it is possible to read between the lines to determine if something is happening that warrants further investigation.

At the end of the day, your crew finds the chase as it ends with about eight police cars nabbing an escaped inmate from the prison down the road who almost got away, driving through neighborhoods with children at speeds reaching almost 90 miles per hour. It’s a good story after all. You even acted quickly enough that your crew got footage of the chase and the “perp walk” at the end as police arrested the driver.

This is all part of working the lead, much like marketers do when a lead comes in from some source and before it gets to the sales team.

Working The Lead

Here’s how “working the lead” looks in the business world:

John Smith fills out a form on your website to receive a helpful guide. The lead looks fake because of the name and a bogus phone number. Maybe the IP address even looks like it’s out of your service area. However, because you’ve set up your marketing automation to send an email right away, John (who happens to be a real lead) is impressed with the immediate response.

At the same time, your software puts John on a smart list because of the kind of content he downloaded. Now he’s part of a segmented workflow and receives a follow-up email two days later asking if he has any questions about the guide. Your system knows that he hasn’t clicked the link in the email, so it’s likely that he hasn’t looked at the guide. Now John feels like he ought to look at it to make sure he has no questions.

Once John reads the guide, he realizes he does have some questions, so he comes back to your website and visits a popular page – your product page. Because your marketing automation system knows that John opened an email, clicked and visited your product page, your workflow sends his information to your sales team.

Now that your sales associate is the “lead owner,” John receives an email from that person introducing herself and asking how she can help. John replies, the two get into a great email conversation about the product John is looking for and you end up with a sale—all because you treated a lead like you would any lead – you reached out.

Treating each new lead the same and reaching out in a timely manner with relevant content will help your overall success rate, just like following every tip or lead in a newsroom will land you more stories than being too picky about who or what tips you follow. Follow up on your leads, and make sure you’re always communicating with them—just as you would hope that any other marketer would do unto your own personal inquiry with their organization.