I used to hate cold calling. It seemed to me that it was soul-destroying and, for someone who just wanted to get in front of a ‘live’ one, it was energy-sapping to do it by phone. Call after call after call. You can’t see them, you don’t know how they are reacting to what you are saying and it’s way too easy for them to say they aren’t interested.
So, while we know that cold calling does work in building your client base, is there a better way to do it in tough times? The good news is yes, yes, and yes. We just have to change our thinking of doing business within our four walls. We have to get out there and find new clients. Even retailers now have to put more thought into finding ways not just to get new customers, but how to get them back more often. And that means far more proactive strategies.
Networking is the first thing most people think of when looking for new clients. Ah yes, the perfect formula. Finding new clients over breakfast, lunch, or with a glass of wine in your hand! But many salespeople find themselves simply mixing with other people also looking for new clients. And in small businesses, that’s not such a bad thing. You will find business and you will build a support network, but that’s not what other salespeople are looking for. There is a secret to networking. It’s a bit like the bank robber who was asked why he robbed banks. He replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Makes sense, and you have to network where your clients will be.
This means that you have to find out what their trade associations are, what interests they have, what speakers would attract them, what charities they support, what business seminars they would go to, what trade show functions they would attend, to name just a few. A business seminar in town? Do you find the speaker boring? Who cares! How many of your potential clients might be attending? If you also went along, who might you be sitting next to? How many would you be rubbing shoulders with at morning tea and at lunch?
And if you are attending a function, invite a client to go with you. You might help them get more business, you can still network and get more clients and you will strengthen the relationship. They are usually grateful for the invitation. Getting to know a client better in friendly, relaxed circumstances is great for both of you.
I recommend that it be compulsory for each salesperson to attend at least one networking function a month. One a month, at the very least. And they’re not allowed to leave until they’ve found a new client. Make this a deliberate, planned strategy.
Alliances and Joint Ventures
Who else is targeting your clients from a different business? For example, a lawn-mowing business might form an alliance with a landscaping business. A landscaping business might form an alliance with an architect. A project builder might form an alliance with a real estate agent to help them look for new blocks to develop. A massage therapist may form an alliance with a gymnasium and therefore have access to, and service, their membership.
Once you have an alliance, you can offer your services to your alliance partner’s clients and they can promote their services to your clients. You can recommend them and they will recommend you. This can be a great source of ongoing new business.
And the more successful alliances you have, the higher your profile and the more business the two of you can help each other generate.
Educate, Inform, Help
Don’t sell to them, educate them and help them solve their problems. You have knowledge that you probably take for granted. Share the knowledge. Share the love, share your passion for what you sell. Educate and inform.
There are a lot of potential customers out there who are trying to make a decision. Or who are about to make a decision. If you target people who are looking or thinking about purchasing, create an informative seminar they can attend. Notice, I said informatively. This type of seminar is a purely educational one, not a sales pitch.
For example, landscapers can run a seminar on how to plant to achieve a particular look. Project builders can run a seminar on buying your first home, or investing in property; media companies can run seminars on how to write or assess effective promotion and advertising; retail outlets can run in-store seminars explaining about certain products and what you can do with them.
I recently experienced a very successful joint-venture between a real estate agent and a company offering investment services. It was a two-hour seminar on some of the mistakes a successful investor had made during his career. Interesting, informative, real. Both sets of clients benefited from this alliance.
Put information on your website, your Facebook page. Create inexpensive brochures which give them the story behind the story. Run regular tips and techniques they will find useful. Not only will you create new clients, even better, but you’ll also create fans.
No, Not The Dreaded Cold Calling!
And of course, there is cold calling. Cold calling can be a very effective strategy for building your client base if done well. We were trained to cold-call the bold listings in the phone book to get a 50% conversion rate. Not bad!!
Firstly, you must have a great opening sentence that has a strong benefit or reason for the business person to want to invest time in listening to you. It doesn’t matter what you do or sell, how is this going the benefit him or her in their business? Nail that and you’re halfway there.
Secondly, monitor the calls. It doesn’t matter how many calls you make. If you focus on this, you’ll feel you are putting in a lot of effort for very little reward. The only thing which matters and what you want to monitor is how many decision-makers you speak to. In other words, you might make 10 calls, speak to 5 decision-makers, and get three appointments. Ignore the number of calls you made, the five calls where you speak to the decision-maker are the only ones that count. Converting 3 out of 5 is a great result.
And yet, they may have been the last 5 calls you made. Imagine if you made five calls and bombed-out each time. If you were focused on how many calls you made, it would be hard to keep your energy up after 5 dead ends. But if you only count the number of decision-makers you speak to, those first 5 calls don’t even count, except for call-backs the next day.
This takes the emotion out of cold calling, keeps you focused on the right stats, and keeps you moving forward. It also gives you good feedback. For example, if you are calling at the wrong time of the day, you won’t get to decision-makers. If you are speaking to decision-makers but not making many appointments, you need to work on your benefits and what you say. So, your stats tell you where you need to improve.
So, there are many ways of finding new clients even when times are tough. These are just a few, I’m sure if you and your team put your thinking hats on, you would come up with plenty more.