Tips For Breaking Into A New Sector

Distributors offer their tried-and-true tips for breaking into a new sector.

Do Some Sleuthing
Before approaching a client in a market you’ve never worked in before, find out more about them. Look at successful promotions in that specific industry and find out what will appeal to that individual client. “Turn them from a suspect into a prospect by research,” says Jamie McCabe, president of McCabe Promotional Advertising (asi/264901). “The more you can understand about them, their industry and their needs, the more you can speak to them expertly.” Look at their company website and social media accounts to get a feel for the culture. If you’re approaching an end-buyer with a target audience made up of mostly millennials, says McCabe, you’ll have to be ready to pitch brand-name products. “Since it’s a new market for you, you probably don’t have a lot of internal intel on them yet,” he adds, “but establish a research process to find out what they need, and then you can recommend brands and products that speak to them.”

Create a Game Plan
Establish a smart strategy for approaching new markets. Alex LeFevre, president of Identify Yourself (asi/232242), says his company has had luck zeroing in on one client in its sights and focusing resources on identifying their needs. “We don’t send emails or self-promotions to 100 of the same type of client,” he says. “We’ve found it works better if it’s more targeted. So we look at one location in particular. You get one, then two, then three and you build from there.” How specialized will your approach be? “Do you want to be the person everyone knows because you work in a lot of different markets?” says Ed Levy, president and founder of Edventure Promotions (asi/186055). “Or are you the bar/restaurant distributor, for example, who knows that industry really well? Know the type of business that excites you and in which you believe you can make the most impact.”

Make In-Roads
It might be a new market, but that doesn’t mean you fix what isn’t broken. Approach a new client by using the same communication strategies you would for any prospect. McCabe prefers cold-calling and emails, while also searching LinkedIn for contacts and continuing with direct-mail campaigns. “You want to get them to respond,” he says. “That way, they know your name when you make contact and ask for the opportunity to pitch.” Once you’ve successfully booked a presentation, “draw on your experience with previous customers and your sales experience,” says LeFevre. “You also wing it a little bit, of course.”

Don’t Spin Your Wheels
The sooner you find the decision-maker, the quicker you’re on your way to making the sale. LinkedIn has been a tried-and-true tool for Levy, who recommends looking at the company’s employees to find the likely decision-maker, and then sifting through their connections to identify someone who can give you a warm introduction. It can also be as simple as calling the company and requesting a contact name. “You have to get out there and just ask,” says LeFevre. “Find out about them and start a conversation. You’ll hear more ‘No’ than ‘Yes,’ of course, and it takes a while. But get over that hump and just be confident.”

Offer a Gift
As you work on getting your foot in the door, use sample products you’ve ascertained would potentially work for the prospect’s needs and include your logo and contact information. Use them as direct-mail pieces, or go right to the company unannounced and drop them off. These gifts will put your name in front of prospects and serve as a potential idea generator. Note that many suppliers offer discounts on samples to be used for self-promo purposes. Russell Bird, owner of The Promo Addict (asi/302225), regularly takes advantage of these programs from his preferred suppliers. “People love free stuff,” he says.

Stand Out From the Crowd
There’s a good chance the client you’re looking to approach, especially if they’re well established, has a vendor (or several) they already work with. That means you’ll have to bring your A-game to differentiate yourself from the competition. “You have to figure out what they need and a way you can make their lives easier,” says Levy. “When you’re reaching out to the prospect, let them know what you’re doing and how it will impact them. It can’t just be about price. The large e-commerce retailers have changed all that.” It’s especially true when the prospect already uses multiple distributors for a variety of products. “What you’re planning to show them has to be different,” says LeFevre.

Pass the Test
If you do get the business, the order has to be executed flawlessly for any chance of building on the account and expanding into other companies in that sector. “You have to do well on the first order, which is how they test you,” says LeFevre. “If you fail, you probably won’t get a call back. If you do well, you can ask for a referral.”