Jan Fye – As salespeople, you have many choices available to you when deciding how to find new customers. Not every method works in all situations but when you have several options from which to choose, it makes it easier to find what works best in your line of work.
Once you have a complete understanding of who you are hoping to sell to, you need to locate those buyers. Consider the following prospecting methods to see if you can’t add some potential buyers to your list.
Friends and acquaintances—you never know who your friends might know that could be interested in what you have to sell. Ask!!! Some feel that it is an imposition somehow to ask your friends. If you are proud of the product you have to sell and it effectively solves problems, why would you keep it a secret, especially from your friends!
Endless Chain—whenever you make a sale, or don’t, ask the buyer who else they know that might have some interest in your product.
Centers of Influence—there are always people who simply because of who they are, influence others. Think about sports celebrities who influence athletic wear, simply because they wear something. Get to know who they are in your particular industry, and geography, and reach out to them.
Non-Competing Sales Personnel—other salespeople are in a position to hear about needs that they can’t fulfill but could share that information with you in the hopes you can make their customer happy—and gain a new customer for yourself in the process.
Cold Calling—there is nothing wrong with making a stop at a business to introduce yourself and drop off pertinent information. The mistake many salespeople make is that they believe they are there to do a presentation on the spot. This is not to say that a cold call has never resulted in a full-blown sales call but the real purpose of a cold call is to get an appointment. You want to be totally prepared and you want the prospect’s full attention. Just dropping in and expecting the buyer will drop what she is doing to see you shows a lack of respect for that buyer—definitely not the message you want to send.
Observation—if you were a roofing contractor, wouldn’t you constantly be looking at roofs? You wouldn’t be able to help yourself. It’s what you do. Well, let’s take that a step further and act on what you see. If a roof shows signs of distress, perhaps note the address, research the resident’s name so you can personalize communication, and send a quick note letting him know you would be interested in offering a free consultation to review the condition of his roof and the services you can provide to solve any problems found. You would be amazed at how many times simply keeping your eyes open helps you develop new leads!
Lists and Directories—although there is no list that I have found that is perfect, there are many that can help you identify a potential group of prospects that may, with a little tweaking, turn into very qualified leads. They are especially helpful if you have an in-depth profile of your potential customers. Let’s say you provide marketing services? Do you have a specialty? Are you targeting specific industries? Think of an example of your perfect client. Once you have answered these questions, a list can be developed that would contain any number of area companies that fit your description. Review them, identify the most promising, and get started!
Direct Mail—with everyone leaning towards on-line communication, it is easy to miss this once tried and true form of prospecting. Granted, you have to get through the barrage of communications that are coming across a buyer’s desk each and every day but a compelling story may best be told via something the buyer can hold and interact with—don’t miss that opportunity.
Advertising—placing ads is certainly a way to gain leads—as long as you ask for them. There is no doubt that you can do brand advertising, simply to get your name out there, but if you are going to take the time and pay the money to advertise, why not include a call to action? Perhaps a specific number to call for more information (and make sure it’s a number that will allow you to track the response to your ad) or a coupon that has an expiration date. Remember to speak to your audience by choosing both the ad and the form of media very carefully.
Seminars—a great way to get people “in the door” is to offer them information at no or low-cost. The information should be useful in and of itself but hopefully it will also get the attendees thinking and wanting more…offering you an interested prospect.
Inactive Accounts—this is one of my favorites. We constantly forget about our “old” customers. Why not let customers you haven’t seen for awhile know you have a new product? Or how about just checking in to re-evaluate their situation—things change. Unless you completely alienated a buyer (and I would still encourage you to go out and try to mend fences with a sales call), working with customers who already know and like you is a very easy way to add to your list of current prospects.
Social Media—the seminars/books/articles available about the use of social media in the sales process are seemingly never-ending. Even though there are many different opinions about just how far we should go with social media, there is one thing that cannot be forgotten–depending on your market, this may be exactly where your customers are and if they are there, you need to be there too!
Hopefully highlighting some of the prospecting options available is getting you to thinking about how one or two methods apply in your line of business. I hope so. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—nothing happens until the sale is made. And if you don’t have a continuous pipeline from which to draw, how can you make the sale!!!
Jan Fye is the Regional Director for the North Central Indiana Small Business Development Center, an organization with the mission of having a positive and measurable impact on the formation, growth, and sustainability of small businesses in Indiana, and to develop a strong entrepreneurial community. Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.