It’s back to business after the summer lull and for many of us that means looking at the order book and (possibly) facing the fact that a good sprinkle of marketing and business development wouldn’t go amiss.
But like me, do you hate getting on the phone and cold calling potential customers? Do you doubt whether a mass mail-shot will bring you that vital return on investment? Will that ad really set the phone, website and email buzzing?
In fact, is there a better way of starting a dialogue with a potential customer (one that brings you and your products or services to their attention and stimulates their interest)? How can you target great potential customers without a big marketing budget or sales team?
Here are some ideas that I’ve found helpful.
Drawing up a best customer blueprint
Think of your best customers. They may be the ones you love working with, the ones who buy the most, those who pay quickly, who don’t give you loads of hassle or even recommend others. Sit back and consider the characteristics of these individuals, businesses or organisations. How did they come to you in the first place? Why do they keep buying? What benefits do they gain from your products or services?
Now look at the characteristics they all share – these form your best customer blueprint. Listing them will help you to target more of the same.
Select more of the same
Using your blueprint, try and identify names of similar businesses, organisations, groups or individuals. Ask your customers, contacts and friends to suggest names that might fit this profile. In pulling together names, avoid long lists. These are usually difficult to manage and implement. Instead, focus initially on a handful of potential customers who really fit your blueprint and who you’d really like to win.
Invest in insight
This doesn’t involve laying out cash, but it does involve a little time. Your mission here is to try and find out more about these potential customers. What issues are they facing? What’s on the horizon for them too? Who are their key people?
Research may sound complex and time-consuming, but it’s surprising how much information is in the public domain and easily accessible. Consider these sources:
- The customer’s own website, their publications and newsletters
- Articles about them in industry-specific, business and local press
- Investor reports for listed businesses
- Their annual report
- Their listing on other suppliers’ sites
- Social networking sites
- Google, Wikipedia etc
The trick is to be sensible and not get into analysis overload. Set up reasonable time parameters – if information is just not available, move on to another on potential customer.
Step into the spotlight
Looking at the list of issues you’ve identified for each customer, consider how your business could help. Think broad and wide about your different capabilities, products and service offer. What promotional resources do you have that touch on this customer’s issues? Have you written or featured in any relevant articles? Do you have case studies, fact-sheets, guides or testimonials? If so, send those items which will best demonstrate your understanding. The more relevant and helpful they are, the more they’ll shine the spotlight on your business as a source help.
Don’t try and sell at this stage. Instead:
1. Briefly introduce your business. Suggest that you would love to count them as one of your customers in the future, but you recognise you need to demonstrate your value first
2. Include one of those valuable items that have a direct relevance to one of the issues you identified
3. Each week for the next three weeks, send another item with a covering note
4. With the last one, mention that you’d like to give them a call to find out how they have found these resources. Give a rough idea when that will be (eg. week commencing….) and keep to it
Call for feedback – not to sell
Yes you do need to call, but by this stage it won’t be a ‘cold’ one. Your customer has been warmed up by the information you’ve been drip-feeding.
When calling, ask your contact how they’ve been finding the things you’ve sent. Which pieces or messages were the most interesting? Suggest a meeting to discuss these issues further. If they agree, drop them a line to confirm the meeting and start to plan the session.
If they are not ready just yet, ask if they want you to keep in touch. See when would be good to call again and check if they would be happy to receive more insight from your business in the meantime.
Understanding and interest = credibility
What this approach does is to demonstrate your understanding and interest in the customer right from the word go. You aren’t going in with a ‘hard sell’ and as a result rarely put the customer off. This process works really well with selling services or high value products. The customers value the insight you bring and start to become interested in your business. You begin to stand out from competitors.
And if now isn’t the right time for them to buy, and if you continue to keep in touch, they often come back later – as you’ve made a really positive impression.