It’s the million-dollar question you probably ask yourself all the time: How do I get more leads? Of course, no rep can succeed without a steady pipeline of prospects. And yet it’s also true that prospecting takes real time and effort, and more often than not, it requires a multi-pronged plan. There’s no one easy way to tackle the challenge.
Reps “need to stop thinking about lead generation as a silver bullet equation, because it’s not,” says Matthew Iovanni, CEO of FullFunnel, a sales and marketing firm. “To be productive, you need to have a diversified lead generation strategy. If you’re going to do this, you need to do everything.”
Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be. Get started today with the help of these nine tips.
1. Ask for Referrals
Salespeople everywhere agree: a referral is gold. It’s what everyone wants and is hands-down the best way to gain new leads. After a good experience with a client, ask her if anyone else at her business could use your services. It also doesn’t hurt to ask her to spread your name around at networking and business meetings. But be warned: your strategy will only work if you’ve delivered on time and your service is top notch.
“The existing clients you work with have to think you’re the best sales rep they’ve ever worked with, bar none,” sales trainer Tim Wackel says. “You have to be somebody they consider valuable. Once that happens, you start getting testimonials.”
Wanda Levy, the president at Coastal Promotions, takes referrals to the next level. She asks for an introduction rather than just contact information. Levy believes that if someone gets an email or a call and hears “John Smith referred me to you,” that person is likely to ignore it or hang up. But if John Smith himself sends that email saying “I’d like you to meet Jane,” it’s a more personal and inclusive connection.
One last thought on referrals: An increasingly common way to try to get them is to offer a rewards program. But experienced sales pros like Gregg Emmer advise treading very carefully here. You don’t want to end up spending more money getting a referral than that client will spend with you.
“My experience is that the quality of the lead goes way down when it is being compensated,” says Emmer, the VP/CMO at Kaeser & Blair (asi/238600). “The motivation of receiving some sort of payment for giving a referral, rather than the satisfaction a person feels when they offer a referral that will potentially improve both your business and the person they referred, is what drives down the quality.”
2. Be Extra Crafty
In the promo products business, creativity counts – in all sorts of ways. Emmer, for example, has used a crafty little strategy at conventions to get new business: he’d make people think someone was referring him to someone else.
“I’d leave notepads in the common areas at convention centers with notes suggesting what a great business partner my company was,” he says. “The notes appeared to be from one businessperson to another and not from me or my company. It worked great.”
3. Hit the Pavement
This one works best for salespeople new to the promo business or new to sales in a specific segment. It’s a two-fold approach. First, walk around your area and see what local businesses are using promotional products. It’s as simple as going into a store or business and seeing if they have anything to take, like a logoed pen. Write those business names down. Next, talk to your neighbors. See if they have any items from people they do business with. Write those business names down, too.
“The list you compile will be local businesses that already know the value of using promotional marketing and specialty advertising,” Emmer says.
When you reach out to make contact, use that first call or email to compliment the company on their promotional product – then you can easily use that conversation as a lead-in to a new sale.
4. Write Targeted Content
This idea applies to emails, newsletters, blog posts, e-books and more. Any content you’re writing to promote your business and gain sales leads should be targeted – if not to the specific person you want to reach, then at least to a situation many people face.
“If I send you a newsletter and it’s full of all sorts of ways you can spend money with me, I don’t think that’s very engaging,” Wackel says. “It needs to be more focused on what the target reader really wants to read. What do they want to be exposed to that will make them really glad you reached out?”
Wackel offers up this example of how reps can use knowledge to successfully target content. “My insurance agent knows exactly how old everyone in my house is. When my kids went to college, he should’ve been smart enough to send me a newsletter that said, ‘Hey Tim, I know your oldest is getting ready to go to college. This newsletter is going to touch on something most people have never considered: renters insurance.’ I find that kind of stuff valuable,” Wackel says.
Translating this to the promo products space, you might want to pitch unique products to customers based on their marketing and promotions calendar. If you know a company has a golf tournament planned for April, you’d want to develop some ideas right now in January. A targeted direct-mail piece, for instance, could yield huge dividends.
5. Try Warm Calling
Cold calling – it’s the bane of every salesperson’s career. It’s hard, it takes a ton of time and the results are mixed at best. Instead of this old-fashioned method of generating leads, turn to technology and embrace warm calling.
“Real, true cold calling, just picking up the phone and smiling and dialing, is a complete waste of time,” Wackel says. “Nobody wants to make a cold call and nobody wants to receive a cold call. I’m not saying you don’t have to call people you don’t know. But there’s a big difference between a cold call and professionally going after someone.”
In order to warm up a cold call, do some serious research first. Use the internet to your advantage – it’s so easy now to find anything online that you should have no problem determining if a company is new, celebrating an anniversary or has hit a milestone. Prowl around for company news and see what information you can arm yourself with for a more productive first call or email.
“It demonstrates that you have interest in the business, not just in selling something,” Emmer says.
6. Use Your Creativity
If you think you’ve got a great wacky idea to collect leads, go for it. Try and get prospects’ attention by catching them off-guard with silliness, like Fred Snyder, a VP of sales at Geiger (asi/202900), did.
“We once generated leads by putting an 18-inch gorilla in a box,” he says, “and gluing its hands to the inside lid so when you open the box, the gorilla popped out at you and said, ‘Learn about guerilla marketing at Geiger.’”
Geiger sent the box to clients it wanted to pursue. “It had a decent level of success,” Snyder says. “It puts you on a different plane from the people they’re currently buying from. It says, ‘Hey, look, these people are pretty sharp.’”
The Right Way to
Nobody wants to be the stereotypical used car salesman: pushy, manipulative and in your face. It’s just not flattering. But the idea of coming across that way can stunt a sales effort before it reaches full potential. Sales trainer Tim Wackel believes most sales reps stop trying after three attempts because they don’t want to be overbearing. But, he says, most sales now happen after five or more attempts. Just make sure all your follow-ups have some kind of value.
“If your follow-up is, ‘Hey I’m checking in. Did you get my proposal? I haven’t heard from you,’ then I’d suggest you stop sooner rather than later,” he says. “But if your follow up is, ‘Hey, we had that conversation last week and I thought of something else I really should have shared with you. Call me back.’ If you’re having those kinds of follow-ups, you can do as many as you want.”
It’s also important to give potential clients a professional way to say no. After Wackel and his team contact someone six times with no response, they send a multiple-choice survey with three options: don’t contact me again, give me a month or so and follow up, or call me right now.
7. Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
If you want to truly expand your sales, you can’t sell to the same type of company over and over again. Niches are fine, but you should also look to industries you don’t normally work with. Clients in that space might welcome the fresh ideas you’d bring with you.
“The guy that’s got all the experience is going to make a lot of assumptions about my business,” Wackel says. “They’re not going to ask a lot of questions.”
Contrast that with someone new – maybe even you. “Chances are they’re going to ask a ton of questions,” Wackel says. “They’ll make zero assumptions, and we’ll probably have a better exchange of information. I’m always open to someone who says, ‘Look, I’ve not done this dance with you before, but I’ve danced with others and we’ve been really good, and I think we could make a great team.’”
8. Leverage Social
Levy has it right when she says buyers are getting younger and younger. You need to meet them on their turf. That means you need to hit social media hard. You absolutely need a Facebook or Twitter account in your company’s name to start conversations and engage with potential clients. Give them useful info rather than sales pitches.
Overall, Levy thinks the best leads are on LinkedIn. She uses the networking platform to research companies she wants to work with. Then she does advanced searches to find someone with a job title she thinks she should contact. Best case scenario, she’ll have a mutual contact who can introduce them, or will already be connected in her own network.
Snyder agrees that LinkedIn is a valuable asset. “I get a lot of people reaching out to me through my LinkedIn profile,” he says. “I take it very seriously and I applaud them for making the effort. We all like to buy from people we like. Finding common ground through social media is a great way to generate a lead.”
9. Promote Yourself
Ask yourself this: would you want to buy from someone who didn’t have faith in his own product? When you don’t promote yourself with promo products, you’re suggesting they’re not as powerful of a marketing tool as you’re claiming.
“We’re in the business of selling promotional products,” says Cindy Wooten, a consultative sales rep at Universal Creative Concepts (UCC). “What better way to show you have faith in the power of your products than by using them yourself? Some salespeople say, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to waste my money.’ What does that say to the people that we’re selling to? Make sure that you’re handing out stuff with your name on it. It should be a no-brainer.”
Of course, Wooten feels that promoting yourself doesn’t have to be through products alone. At non-industry trade shows, like a tech event, get there early so you can mingle with exhibitors. Many will offer an incentive – like a coupon, contest or free product – to get attendees to visit their booths.
What does this mean for you? These are effectively pre-qualified leads – users of promo materials. Granted, the booth rep may not be a company buyer, but you’re getting face-time with a person who can get you in the door.
Jennifer Billock is a contributing writer for Advantages.