Entries Tagged 'New Opportunity' ↓

Sales leads – Attend industry conferences

Trade showsAttending industry conferences and trade shows is a fantastic way for us engineers to uncover untapped sales leads, following in the vein of our “Where do sales leads come from?” post.

Attending these conferences has three benefits. First, you can catch talks and keep up with the state of the art technology for your industry. You can also check out talks by your competition or cruise by their booths and see their new offerings. Finally, you can catch up with old friends and make new contacts.

Go to talks dealing with your field and talk to the authors after they present. Take a lot of coffee breaks and introduce yourself to someone that is standing alone – they’ll be happy to have someone to talk to. I also like to get a registration list before going to the show and try to set up a few lunch and dinner dates. Be sure to leave at least one dinner free in case you meet the dream client at the show and want to wow him with a nice meal. If you’re eating alone in your room, you’re wasting your time. If you do have a meal with nothing planned, eat at the hotel restaurant at the bar, no doubt someone will sit near you that you can strike up a conversation with.

Sales leads – LinkedIn

Internet networking for sales successContinuing in the “Where do sales leads come from?“, posts, we’re talking today about using Internet networking sites, LinkedIn in particular, to help keep your sales funnel full. I use LinkedIn extensively and have made numerous initial contacts via this route – here’s a three step process to get the initial sales contact.

  1. Identify a name, company, industry or product and search on it.
  2. If you can contact the person directly (i.e. they’re in your network) do so, otherwise ask for the referral. If they are completely out of your network, you either have to buy their email address from LinkedIn (I pay $200/year for this service and it is well worth it), or search the Internet to try to uncover it somewhere else.
  3. This is one of the rare times I feel it is better for the initial communication to be via email rather than a phone call, so shoot them an email saying something like the following:

Hi Steve, I came across your name on LinkedIn while searching for individuals in the automotive industry in the Tampa region. I’m doing some market research to determine if there are opportunities for our gizmo product in automotive and would be most appreciative if you would be willing to spare 5-minutes to talk with me. I promise no sales pitch, we’re just getting our feet wet and want to make sure that we’re not going into a market that we shouldn’t be in.

Getting the press on your side

ReporterI was asked to do an interview a few weeks ago by a freelance writer, Jackie, on tactics and trends in business cards. There are tons of crazy examples out there, but as Guy Kawasaki points out on his blog – sometimes a simple solution is the best solution.

This post isn’t about business cards at all, but about how I should best deal with my new freelance writer friend. So I asked her three questions and here are her responses.

Q1: Is it appropriate to pitch story ideas to freelance writers like yourself or should that be saved for known editors of interest? (in other words do freelance writers have the freedom to write what they want to?)

A1: It is appropriate to pitch ideas to freelance writers. Most have the freedom, and incentive, to generate story ideas. If a writer isn’t coming up with ideas, they’re waiting for editors to assign them work. A more proactive approach nets more assignments and therefore more paychecks. That being said, pitching to the appropriate editor is a more direct tactic, and might work better in some situations.

Q2: How do you know if your writer is the one you should be talking to?

A2: I would ask the writer what publications they’ve written for and what kind of work they typically do; most have a specialty or two. It’s a waste of the writer’s time, as well, to receive pitches outside of their expertise, so I think most would be happy to refer you.

Q3: What is the best way to pitch a story idea to you?

A3: It’s always good to ask how a writer prefers to receive pitches, whether via phone, email, etc. Many prefer email, but a follow-up phone call usually doesn’t hurt. Also, make it brief, to the point and include all the relevant information. Nothing is more frustrating than receiving a press release that lacks crucial information (like contact info) or one that requires lots of of time and effort to wade through. If a quick scan doesn’t provide the basics, it will probably get tossed.

Bottom line: Since we preach that you should run your sales efforts, and sales funnel, like your own personal business, cultivate editors and writers so that when you have a meaningful press release your story has a chance of being heard around the world.

Reducing client friction

Slippery SlopeWe all know Newton’s First Law of Motion stating that a body at rest wants to remain at rest and one in motion tends to stay that way – I like to apply that to my selling.

I call it client friction. When your prospect is sitting there and not moving he has a lot of friction that helps him stay right there at rest. It’s your job to somehow reduce that friction. This is why many people find cold calling so difficult – their subjects are glued with a high degree of friction. You have to get over that hump to get them into your sales funnel.

We’ve touched on many ways to reduce this friction in previous posts, but what I want to talk about today is the importance of keeping them moving once you make contact.

You should have a structured plan (some call this a sales process) on how you walk prospects through the first layers of the sales funnel. Once you get over that high hurdle of initial contact, you have to keep slight pressure on them to take advantage of their lower kinetic friction – as opposed to the initial static friction that you have already overcome.

There are many ways to do this and it can be company specific, but here are some ideas:

  1. Make sure it is clear at the end of every communication who’s court the ball is in. If it’s in your court, great – you can control how fast you complete your task and when you get back in touch. If the ball is in their court, ask for permission to contact them at a certain time.
  2. Ask meaningful follow-up questions. Perhaps you’re preparing a quote and one of your machining vendors says that he can remove a processing step if a certain tolerance is just increased by 0.001″ – that is great time to call the prospect and propose a money saving alternative.
  3. Send literature of interest. If you come across a press release or article that you think would be of interest to your prospect, send it their way.
  4. Attend conferences that they will be at.

The list goes on and on, but my point is that once you get over that static friction and to a point of kinetic friction – you need to keep them moving toward the bottom of your sales funnel.

Customer service before the sale

Customer service in salesWhen I was pondering starting this blog I talked to as many people as I could. One gentleman that kept coming up as a recommendation was James Durbin of Durbin Media. I emailed him for a quote on designing and setting up the blog site for me.

We talked on the phone for about an hour and by the end of the conversation James recommended that I take a stab at designing the blog by myself to not only learn the process, but to reduce costs until I was sure that I had a sustainable Web presence – which can take a year to determine. He further offered to have me email him when I had it set up so that he could take a quick peek and offer any suggestions.

Why am I telling you this? Because it is a prime example of having your customer’s best interest at heart regardless of any sale that might be on the line. Here were James’s options as I see them (and my personal analysis of each).

Option 1: Close on a sale with me by frightening me into needing his service. This might have worked, I was pretty green at this in the beginning. I’ve only done Blogger blogging previously and the thought of actually coding up my own site was daunting. The end result of this option would be a one-time sale of $x. Kind of sounds like a used car salesman.

Option 2: See me as a waste of time because I’m just starting out and won’t likely be spending a large amount of money. This can be a tempting option for busy people whose time is literally money. I find myself struggling with this option from time to time when dealing with graduate students that want to buy small amounts of material from me.

Option 3: Lend a helping hand and put me on a successful path without closing a sale. This is the option that James chose and it is in keeping with everything we talk about here. If this site grows and becomes more than I can handle, you can bet that I’ll look James up. Or if anyone comes looking for a reference I’d be happy to pass his name along – just look at this post.

So the bottom line is to think long-term and always, always have your customer’s best interest at heart. This is the only way to ensure a full sales funnel.

I recently asked James to comment on his sales philosophy and here’s what he had to say:

Social Media consulting isn’t about just billing hours, it’s about discovering what clients need and determining if your services make sense for them. Most of what I teach can be done without a trainer, but it’s a question of time versus money. Companies can’t get the results without putting one of the two in, and my job is to figure out which makes the best sense. Eric has a great idea for sales engineers, but he needed to build an audience before he put money into the site. Sometimes the best policy is just paying it forward.

P.S. I talked to a lot of other folks that would probably be considered James’s competition – and you won’t see me writing any glowing reviews of their service here!

Sales leads – cold calling industry codes

Cold calling Who out there likes to cold call? I didn’t think so. But for most of us, it’s a necessary evil. A great way to get prospective leads, as pointed out in our “Where do sales leads come from?” post, is to look up SIC codes that your customers fall into.

You can run to the local library and look up SIC and NAICS codes for businesses that you typically sell to and then generate a list of similar companies. After you generate that list, you cold call your heart out and get to the right decision maker in each new company.

This can often be a dreary way to spend your time, as you might only get to actually talk to one in ten people so I’m not going to go through the steps to make this happen here. It will be covered in another article or two. I do, however, think cold calling should be at least a small portion of your overall lead strategy. I try to spend about two hours a week cold calling once I have a stable customer base. That’s not enough time to wear me out, but it helps bring new blood into the sales funnel.

Sales leads – Issue press releases and newsletters

NewslettersIn our never-ending quest to help you uncover more sales leads for your sales funnel, here is another addendum to “Where do sales leads come from?“.

What we’re talking about here is authoring press releases and newsletters for all your adoring fans – and those that don’t adore you yet.

I’m a firm believer in the power of press releases and newsletters. I gathered hard data that showed a sharp increase in inquiries, and resulting orders, immediately after releasing a press release or newsletter.

A word of caution here – make sure that you have your client’s permission before mentioning their name or even giving any clues as to who they are.

A quick story is in order here, as this is an important point. I was selling into the medical device industry, which is very secretive by nature. My competition was pumping out press releases left and right (literally a few per month) bragging about all the clients that they picked up. I knew the fingered customers would be fuming mad, so I followed up with them innocently congratulating them on the positive press release. Most of them flew off the handle and invited me in to become the major supplier for the program. Interestingly enough, that company still regularly puts out inappropriate press releases.

The beauty of a press release is that you control exactly what is said and they are typically short and sweet – although that doesn’t mean they don’t take some time to craft. The downside is that you can’t guarantee its publication or that your prospects will ever see it.

A newsletter, on the other hand, is much more involved in technical detail. I’ve found newsletters to be wonderful tools of conveying your capabilities to your customers. Many times I’ve gotten busy and let a newsletter slip by a few weeks and would get emails from clients asking me where their next free installment is. The key here is to not make it salesy. It should be informative, lighthearted, and possibly highlight case studies if you customer will allow it.

If you’d like to see an example press release and newsletter, please email me at Eric.Bono@EngineersCanSell.com and ask for a free sample – I’d be more than happy to send you one over.

Contact press release sources

Contact press release sourcesYet another sales lead generation strategy that I employ is to contact press release authors. In addition to technical articles, you should also feverishly track press releases of your competitors, customers, and prospects. Whenever something new hits the wire where your product/service could be used, shamelessly contact the source of the release. An opening phone statement could be something simple like this:

Hi Jane, I saw your press release announcing your expansion plans in Houston and was hoping to talk with you for three minutes about your networking needs. [don’t leave time for a response here] I promise that this won’t be a hard sales pitch and at any time during the discussion you are free to tell me that it doesn’t sound like a good fit and I won’t bother you again. Our widgets have been used in similar plants to increase network speed by 60% and I just want to see if we can offer you that same type of value.

This should buy you at least the initial three minutes – keep to that three minutes and ask for permission to talk longer if you need to.

Contacting article authors

Sales contact by phone
In the post “Where do sales leads come from?“, contacting authors of relevant magazine and journal articles was pointed out as a path to new sales leads. We use this prospecting strategy quite heavily for the following four reasons.

  1. The author is obviously an expert in his field and is anxious to share his technical knowledge with the public – and you’re the public, so call and learn something from them.
  2. Authors are typically well known in their field – meaning that they have lots of contacts. If they don’t need your product or service, maybe one of their contacts do.
  3. The lead author is typically a senior technical person, so you’re hopefully starting the company prospecting at a high enough level.
  4. The lead author’s contact information is usually right there in the article – how easy is that?

When I come across a relevant article, I read it thoroughly and contact the author. They are almost always eager and proud to discuss their work. I explain what I do, give them my insights into their work and ask if I could have a few minutes of their time. The pitch goes something like this (assuming I’m selling titanium sheet).

Hi Dr. Schmo, I just read your “Properties of titanium sheet” article in Journal XYZ and was hoping that you’d have a few minutes to discuss it with me. [Sure, I’d be happy to.] Great, my name is Sam Salesman and I was intrigued by your correlations between sheet thickness and the structural modulus. I sell titanium sheet for a living and I never realized this correlation existed and would like to talk to my customers about this – so I’m hoping to get a better grip on your theories.

After talking with the technical team here, it looks like we have a product that would serve the customers that you alluded to. I thought it might be a nice project here to generate some data on our different offerings to supplement your research. [That would be fantastic, the more data the better.] If we provide some sheet samples, would you be able and willing to generate the data – you would have free and unlimited use of this data of course.

This is where the conversation ends for now. Note that I didn’t ask him to mail me his rolodex so that I could bombard his contacts with calls and brochures. I’m trying to build a solid relationship with him first. If it turns out that I’m correct and our material performs well, he will do two things: (1) write about it and mention that I provided the material to him, and (2) give me a list of people that would be interested in hearing from me.

Providing me with a contact list is now aligned with his best interest. He will help his contacts and he knows that what he will recommend to them will actually perform as promised. Asking for referrals before he has trust and confidence in me and my product is a much tougher sell – of course sometimes you have no choice.

Where do sales leads come from?

Sales leads are so important that they occupy the topmost position in the sales funnel. They take center stage in the New Opportunity layer. Sales without leads is like flying without a plane – it’s possible, but it sure makes the journey much more of a challenge.

New Opportunity Layer

As I was writing this post and the accompanying article, it quickly became apparent that I could fill an entire book on this subject alone. I needed to pare it down to something digestible and understandable. I ended up breaking up the process of generating the leads into two groups. Group one contains methods where you go out to gather the leads, and group two contains methods to lure leads to you. I’ve tried to limit it to one sentence for each bullet point. The accompanying article to this post is nine pages long and chocked full of practical advice on how to put each of these prospecting methods to use.

Prospecting on your own

These methods are where boys become men and girls become women. This is the nitty gritty of uncovering new business opportunities, chasing them down and converting them into sales. For those of us that love the thrill of the hunt, this can be very exciting and rewarding.

  • Contacting article authors
    An absolute favorite technique of mine is to track article authorship in subject areas that I’m interested in. Authors are almost always eager and proud to discuss their work with anyone.
  • Contacting press release sources
    In addition to technical articles, you should also feverishly track press releases of your competitors, customers, and prospects.
  • Internet networking sites
    Sites such as www.LinkedIn.com and www.Jigsaw.com contain a tremendous amount of useful contacts.
  • Trade show exhibits
    Books and more books have been written about how to exploit trade shows to get the most benefit so I don’t want to get too into it here – perhaps I should create an article just on trade shows.
  • Conference talks
    I talk a lot about becoming an expert in your niche area and there’s no better way to display this expertise than by giving technical talks at relevant industry conferences.
  • Author papers
    Writing papers takes time and expertise, but if you can get an article published in a peer-reviewed journal, you will gain instant credibility that you can leverage into initial meetings.
  • Issue press releases and newsletters
    I’m a firm believer in the power of press releases and newsletters. The key here is to not make it sound salesy. It should be informative, lighthearted, and possibly highlight case studies if you customer will allow it.If you’d like to see an example press release and newsletter, please email me at Eric[dot]Bono[at]EngineersCanSell[dot]com and ask for a free sample – I’d be more than happy to send you one over.
  • Attend industry conferences
    Attending these conferences has three benefits. First, you can catch talks and keep up with the state of the art technology for your industry. You can also typically check out talks by your competition or cruise by their booths and see their new offerings. Finally, you can catch up with old friends and make new contacts.
  • Join relevant industry associations
    I’ve seen mixed results with this strategy, but some folks swear by it. It all depends on what field you’re in.
  • Leverage your educational network
    If you graduated from a school that has an online alumni directory, that can be a superb source of leads.
  • Get referrals from current customers
    If you’ve performed well for your customers, don’t be afraid to ask them for a referral. Just be sure to give them an out so that they don’t feel like they are disappointing you if they don’t cough up a name.
  • Bulk email list
    Depending on what you’re selling, bulk email lists are for rent for just about anything you can imagine.
  • Cold calling based on industrial classifications
    You can run to the local library and look up SIC and NAICS codes for businesses that you typically sell to and then generate a list of similar companies.

Letting the leads come to you

As you might have already guessed, the way to get leads to come knocking at your door is through marketing – online and offline.

  • Online marketing
    For our purposes here, there are two main types of online marketing; search engines and ad placement. Search engine marketing can be further broken down into organic (i.e. free) search engine placement and paid search engine placement (e.g. Google Adwords).
  • Offline marketing
    Here is where most people go by default when they think of marketing their products or services. This includes advertisements in journals and magazines, listing in directories like Thomas Register (although they’re strictly online now), sponsorships, signage, and media advertising to name a few.

Don’t let the fact that there are far fewer suggestions in getting leads to come to you shade your view toward these strategies. Millions have been made through simple search engine optimization strategies. If you have a product or service, you can bet the house that someone somewhere is searching for it right now. We just need to make sure that they can find you.