There are many dimensions to finding the right prospects to approach. Here are three for starters.
The First Dimension
Being aware of how many of your contacts have new needs in the wake of the economic downturn is key. In some cases, larger businesses may have benefitted from the prior 11 years of economic expansion and a couple of years of corporate tax cuts. Their corporate coffers are overflowing with cash, and before the pandemic hit they were planning on expanding.
Now that everything has hit the skids, furloughs, and layoffs have happened. The last thing they’re going to do is expand anything. But guess what? Maybe they can pivot the capital they were going to use toward expanding production capacity toward expense-reducing capital projects instead. Why? Because by lowering the expense side of their Profit and Loss statement, they could recoup at least some of their bottom-line profit that was reduced due to their recent hit to top-line revenue. That’s where you come in as a sales professional. If you have ideas that will benefit them, then this is the time to approach them.
The same could be said for smaller business. It’s possible that they may have access to lower-cost capital thanks to the trillions of dollars of liquidity that the Federal Reserve has been injecting into the economy. They may have also received a small business loan (Payroll Protection Program or Economic Injury Disaster Loan, for example). Or perhaps they are in an industry that is counter-cyclical or non-cyclical. Their immediate future might actually be looking brighter in the wake of the recession. They might have completely different needs than they did a few months ago, and they might have increased liquidity that would give them the funding and confidence to approve your proposal.
The Second Dimension
How many customers may have referrals for you? All you need to do is ask! In fact, how many of your prospects may have referrals for you? You might be thinking, “Well, how do I do that? A prospect is someone who hasn’t done business with me yet.” Having sold in five different industries over a 45-year sales career, I can tell you that even if you can’t meet a prospect’s needs, it’s perfectly okay to ask for people they know who might benefit from your solution.
This all depends on how you have managed to build rapport and make a connection during your meeting. Asking is easy. “I might not be the right fit for you, but does anyone in your social or professional sphere of influence come to mind – someone for whom this might be a better fit?” Or “We’ve invested a lot of time together. You certainly know a lot more about what we do. Could you suggest where I might take this value proposition next?”
I’ll give you an example. When I started a venture-capital-backed company in 2000, we realized one of the things we could do to advance the energy industry would be to research and consolidate rebates, incentives, governments grants, etc. that would help businesses afford energy-related capital projects. At the time, there was no such database, despite the fact that there were billions of dollars being made available every year to support energy efficiency adoption.
Two of my clients at the time asked me for information on these rebates, saying “I can’t find that money!” One said, “This is the biggest game of ‘Hide the Peanut’ that I’ve ever seen!” So, what happened? I created the database, selling reports of incentives and rebates by territory. We began to gain traction with several commercial real estate firms whose properties straddled multiple utility territories. We realized, though, that we needed to scale.
Eventually we had a meeting with McDonald’s. They told me, “Listen, our franchisees are certainly too busy to read these cute little reports, much less act on them. Could you come up with a full-service administration of these rebates and be compensated on a contingency basis – a percentage of what you helped them collect in rebates? If you could do that, we might be interested.” A bell went off in my head and I thought, “Wow, that’s it!”
These kind of conversations regarding what your prospects like and dislike about your current offerings can introduce you to new ways to find leads. All it takes is a curious mind and a non-defensive posture as you take in all the feedback.
The Third Dimension
Look at the prospects you already have at your disposal. How many of them have fertile networks you should be pursuing? You might be surprised. Just by visiting someone’s LinkedIn page you can find out which trade organizations, clubs and discussion groups they belong to. These usually open more doors to possible customers than you could imagine.
Another tactic is creating a weighted-average one-page proposal to send to these prospects. If you’ve already been helping 10, 20 or 100 clients with needs similar to the others, why not give other prospects who look a lot like your present customers a preview of what they’re missing?
If you do these things, then you’ll find yourself with a hefty list of contacts, all of them relatively warm calls. If you still have doubts, there are other ways to do your homework in advance. There are books like Take The Cold Out Of Cold Calling by Sam Richter or sites like CrystalKnows, which takes a person’s name and scrubs info from their LinkedIn profile, website and Internet presence to create a psychological profile for them. I saw this in action during a panel discussion, in which it was used to profile one of the panelists. When all the info came in, she blushed and said, “I want to start by saying I’ve spent 20 years of therapy trying to overcome a lot of what you just heard in that profile!”
Of course this was all in good fun, but the bottom line is that there are many ways to make a cold call warm and make connections with the right people.