There are not enough hours in the day to find every potential customer the old-fashioned way. Taking the time to locate and forge partnerships with non-competitive vendors or service providers is one of the best ways to maximize your time in finding new prospects. Here’s an example that illustrates the point perfectly:
A company that sells bottled water to office buildings and an interior commercial plant maintenance vendor were both trying to find new leads and increase sales. Neither one of them was really fond of getting thrown out of buildings that had “No Soliciting” signs on them, but they both knew that they had to grow their businesses.
One day, the plant vendor said to the water vendor, "You know what? When you deliver water to your current customers, what do you do? You walk from the front of the suite all the way back to the staff kitchen to deliver the full bottles and cart away the empties. The next time you make your deliveries, maybe you could do me a favor and take the long way in each customer’s suite, looking left and right as you pass through. See if they have any plants at all, and if they do, notice if they’re fancy plants or plain ones… and notice how healthy they look. Oh, and when you drop off your invoice with the office manager, ask him if they take care of their plants themselves or outsource that task. Do you think you could do that for me?”
Excited by the potential to get the inside scoop on dozens of office suites he had never visited, the plant vendor continued with his part of the deal. “By the way, whenever I go into my clients’ offices, the first place I have to go is the kitchen sink to get water for their plants. While I’m there, I’ll look around the kitchen to see whether or not they have bottled water. If they do, I’ll make note of what size bottle they buy – whether it's those big round ones or the neat, square, stacking ones. Then, I'll see how many full and empty bottles they have on hand. That should give you a good idea of not only how much water they buy each month but also what style container, right?”
The arrangement made so much sense, the pact was sealed on the spot. The plant and water vendors agreed to do a little research and give each other data on their customers’ needs for each other’s products… and the name/number of each office manager to boot!
As you might imagine, their sales skyrocketed as a result. There was no sneaking past security guards… No knocking on doors… No ignoring “No Soliciting” signs. They were both already behind enemy lines. They just needed to share easy-to-collect data that could be leveraged to grow their respective revenues.
Now, how does this apply to energy efficiency? If you're in the HVAC business, you should be partnering with a lighting vendor. You should say, "Give me a list of 5 questions I can ask while I'm on-site doing my HVAC improvements so I can tell whether or not this might be a good prospect for a lighting upgrade. I don't have to know everything there is about illuminating engineering; I just need to know the 5 questions you would ask to determine if it’s a worthwhile prospect for you to pursue. In return, I will give you my list of 5 questions. Every time you're doing a lighting audit, you can ask the chief engineer my list of questions and send the answers back to me. If I score it and they become a legitimate prospect, I’ll follow up with them. We could give each other referral fees for deals that actually close, or just monitor the flow of leads back and forth to make sure the sharing is mutually beneficial."
That's a great way to get cross-promotion, very informally. Your non-competitive colleagues are in buildings all day long. Why are you not having them carry your questionnaire in there, taking five minutes with the chief engineer? It would have taken you five hours to get a meeting, and that guy's already there. Have your collaborator ask the questions that you need to have answered in order to determine if his client represents a good prospect for your offerings. If the answer is yes, then act on it immediately. And if you close the sale, be sure to thank your collaborator! You know owe him/her big time!
By the way, don’t wait for your collaborator to score you a hot lead to put effort into trying to score one for him! Have your people carry his questionnaire to your job sites. It’s quite rewarding to help a colleague close a sale. And the psychic debt that such a sale evokes is a wonderful incentive for your collaborator to redouble his efforts to do the same thing for you.
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