Five ways to generate hot sales leads
Prospecting for new business can be the difference between failure and success for a start-up. But knowing where to hunt for new business can be a major challenge.
Prospecting is even more challenging given that the rules have changed in recent years, according to a new study.
It revealed that old boys’ networks and agreements made on the golf course are long gone post-GFC, with major buying decisions now driven by the corporate head rather than heart.
The study, by global performance organisation rogenSi, is called Major Commercial Buying Decisions – What’s changed since the global financial crisis.
It found that more than two thirds (68%) of respondents believe procurement departments now play a greater role compared to before the GFC, meaning they hold the envious position of being the primary powerbrokers in the world of pitching, tenders and bids.
This makes it far harder to procure new business, particularly for a start-up.
According to rogenSi director Neil Flett, the bid and tender processes have become more rigorous; with control getting tighter, criteria tougher and the whole process becoming more arduous.
“The challenge is no longer winning the business; it’s getting on the shortlist.”
Doing your homework
But with some careful leg work, start-ups can win business by learning the new rules of prospecting.
A huge amount of information is available publicly, particularly on businesses, individuals and their strategies, so there’s no excuse not to know about a potential client when approaching them, says Matt Berriman, founding partner of Peazie Social Media Group, which consults to start-ups.
Key research tools when prospecting include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, your own networks, a company website, ASX updates, blogs and news articles, he says.
Also, keep an eye out for key personnel hires within a business you’re targeting – you may know the person from their last job.
“Just remember that most people in positions of decision-making get approaches regularly, so make sure your approach is concise and unique so your offering will get their attention,” Berriman says.
Email marketing is another great prospecting tool. Start by defining your business objectives to understand what messages or offers your customers want to receive.
Buying a mailing list can be a good idea for a start-up, so consider contacting a company to see if it has a list relevant to your offer.
Just be sure the list is purchased from a reputable source that follows double opt-in guidelines and that people can unsubscribe from your list with the click of a button.
Also consider the value of PR, with media exposure one of the strongest lead-generation tools available. Getting your story in a top-selling publication can see the phone ring off the hook for weeks.
New businesses may also consider turning to business intelligence organisations.
For a fee, Sydney-based company Information Resource Development supplies real-time intelligence to sales departments, with a team of researchers sourcing more than 30,000 publications to uncover reports on future spending and growth opportunities. Subscribers are emailed leads five days a week.
Websites being frequented by your potential customers are also a vital tool for start-ups, with a growing number of sites that enable buyers to post their needs.
These include serviceseeking.com.au, which enables people to post jobs for tradesmen like plumbers and electricians.
Similar sites include bidmyloan.com.au, for those in the market for a loan, and expert services site ifindconsultants.com.
Cold calling might work for some, but the founding director of Sydney recruitment firm Carrera Partners, Michael Floyd, doesn’t think it’s a great approach.
He reduces the sting of a cold call by first researching a sector and tapping into his networks to get as much information on a potential target as he can.
“I then usually develop an approach angle, which might be something topical, newsworthy or relevant somehow,” he says.
“Then, I’ll send that via email. I might do this two or three times, explaining we haven’t met but that I thought this might be of interest.”
“Sometimes I’ll get a response, which means I know they’re more receptive to a phone call, meaning it’s no longer a cold call.”
How I prospect for business
David Cairns is the managing director of Melbourne branding and communications firm Elmwood, where he is charged with the task of prospecting for all new business. Connection, relevance and persistence are key skills when prospecting, he says. Cairns starts prospecting by researching a new target market, listing specific clients he wants to go after.
“It’s about understanding the business issues they’re facing. You want to have a point of view on something but you don’t want to go in there trying to be smarter than the client you’re prospecting,” Cairns says.
LinkedIn and Twitter are great online tools to understand who the main influencers are in a category, he says.
“You need to be in the space your prospective clients are in. If that’s Twitter, you need to get involved and show them a bit about you via your Tweets. But it’s not about stalking. The digital space is a great place to link up, though,” Cairns says.
He will use a variety of contact methods to communicate with a potential new client, whether it's an email forwarding a news story he thinks might interest them, a comment on LinkedIn or Twitter or a phone call.
Making it personal can also work. He recalls working with a woman who kept a birthday book of all her clients, which she says was her secret weapon.
When is enough, enough?
Floyd says prospecting a particular client can go on forever, with contractual agreements potentially preventing them from working with you for a period.
“Make sure you understand whether or not the person in the business you’re talking with is a key part of the decision-making process and continue that communication.”
“I continued prospecting a business for two years. They eventually became one of our biggest clients, so it was well worth it,” Floyd says.
But knowing when to stop hassling a prospect is paramount, Cairns says.
He recalls sending a follow-up email to a potential client against his better judgement, receiving a short reply saying they will be in touch if need be.
“I knew in my heart I shouldn’t send it, but was really keen to win the work so went ahead anyway,” he admits. “It was one step too far.”
Five top tips to generate sales leads:
- Do your research. There is a wealth of information on potential clients stored online. Make sure you utilise it. Stay informed and keep up-to-date with any market changes that impact them.
- Make it personal. While it’s tempting to cast your net far and wide, it won’t work with large, faceless corporates. Target an individual and make a personal approach to underline the down-to-earth strengths of your start-up.
- Get networking. These days, networking isn’t just about turning up to conferences to chat over soggy sandwiches. Face-to-face contact is always best, but tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook can prove an invaluable bridge to clients.
- Get your story straight. Getting in front of a sales lead is one thing, but what do you tell them once you’re there? Can you sum up your business’ proposition succinctly and explain why the market needs you? Is your website any good? Can you show how you stand out from your rivals?
- Know when to move on. If you’re hammering on the door of a client without luck, move on. The time you spend chasing a dead lead is time you could spend prospecting more viable customers.