Here’s an admission I’ve never made in public. I’m an introvert. You may not realize it if you see me speak or meet me in a social situation, but I’m shy nonetheless.
Let me qualify that. The most uncomfortable situation for me is making a cold call to somebody brand-new. Somebody I’ve never met, out of the blue…an interruption. It’s caused by an irrational fear. I can still hear my mother’s voice in my head telling me “it’s not nice to bother people” and “don’t talk to strangers.”
After going through countless rounds of sales training, sales coaching and workshops for some reason I still can’t get it out of my head.
But nonetheless at several times throughout my career I found myself in situations that required me to sell. Not just dealing with existing customers, but doing heavy-duty on-going cold calling. The most troubling situation was when I bought my first business knowing full well that it required me to make nonstop cold calls day in and day out to generate new business. Needless to say the business did not flourish.
I can see why successful sales people are well-paid. They deserve it.
How have I been able to succeed with this monkey on my back planted so long ago? The short answer is I found other ways to make contact with strangers. Here are some examples:
Networking Through BNI For Introductions to Warm Referrals
Depending upon your business a good Business Networking International (BNI) chapter can be an excellent source of warm referrals. BNI is like a modern version of an “old boys club.” Each chapter has only one member from a variety of categories. Most chapters have one financial planner, one real estate person, one property and casualty insurance agent, one web designer and so on. Meetings are highly structured. Each member has one minute to describe a good referral for them each week, one member speaks for 10-minutes about their business and how to refer them and then referrals are passed between members.
Members are encouraged to meet individually to get to know each other on a personal level. Over time this can create a big payoff.
By referrals I mean that members make contact with a friend or client to introduce them to a fellow member. When it works, it’s like magic. It gives members the opportunity to bypass the entire prospecting phase and get in front of the type of person they want to meet. I’ve lost count of the number of times a member has asked for a connection to a specific person who others in the room had a personal connection.
BNI isn’t for all businesses and all chapters are not created equal. If you serve a very specific niche in a narrow industry, it’s probably not a good fit. Weekly participation is a requirement for continued membership, so it’s a pretty significant time commitment. It can be almost like a second job.
Inbound / Content Marketing to Find Qualified Prospects
Here’s a personal example.
I was first introduced to inbound (or content marketing) about nine years ago. At the time I was in an independent publishers rep dealing with schools in Northern Ohio. I represented a number of publishers like National Geographic and several smaller companies.
The smaller lines tended to pay a good commission but the revenue per order was relatively small. The traditional practice int the business was to drop in on school principals, teachers and curriculum people to show the products. Having this ingrained fear of cold calls didn’t help me much. Plus these people are very busy during the day. And the increase in school violence turned previously open schools into armed camps (who can blame them). I had to find another way.
A friend had recommended WordPress. So I signed up for a free blog on WordPress.com and began to write articles (blog posts) about the various products that I represented. These were usually objective reviews that pointed out the plusses and minuses of each product. Over time I began to outrank some of the publishers for their own product name. I also began to receive inquires from around the country that I shared with my peers.
A key part of the selling curriculum materials doing a short presentation for a decision-maker. Knowing my prospects were very busy people I decided to save them time (and save me some gas and time) by creating a series of videos that I called five minutes presentations. I uploaded them to YouTube and embedded them into blog posts with a brief written explanation about the product and a simple call to action, usually to request a free sample.
Because I already had most of my prospects names and email addresses in an email marketing system. At the time I used SwiftPage (a good option if you’re an Act user) but today I use and recommend Aweber as a standalone email marketing service. I sent invitations to specific prospects with a link to a demonstration video (on my website) asking them to view the at their convenience to watch the presentation.
The email marketing system told me who opened each message and who clicked the link to the presentation. This told me exactly who had some interest in the product. Each of person who viewed the video received a thank you message offering a free sample. In some cases I was able to include a PDF version in the email. The conversion rate on these follow ups was very high. The best part was that these followup messages were automated.
These campaigns were very successful and won me a number of friends at the publishing companies. Bottom line it generated a steady stream of low dollar, high margin business that I wouldn’t have been able to do the traditional way. And my customers were happy because I was considerate of their time.
Compared to what we can do today this was pretty unsophisticated. But it worked. And continues to work today for businesses in a variety of industries, B2B and B2C. If you’re not involved in some type of inbound marketing it’s worth exploring. Our website is full of information about it. Help yourself.
After this experience I was hooked on the inbound marketing methodology (at that time it didn’t even have a name). Over time I began to help other companies use similar techniques and eventually became my full-time business. .
Participate in Online Forums to Build Trust
You would be surprised to see how many forums exist in just about any area of interest in any field. No matter how boring you think your business is I’ll bet there’s at least one forum centered around the topic. It’s not boring to the person who needs your solution.
Regular participation in a forum that provides solutions for people needing help can quickly establish you as an expert in your field. It gives people a safe way to know who you are and helps you build trust. It’s the whole “Know, Like and Trust” thing. But it doesn’t happen over night and you have to approach it from a givers gain mentality.
A good place to start is on LinkedIn (if you’re not on this free platform, stop reading this and join now). Almost every LinkedIn group has a discussion area (or forum). Each discussion area has topics created by members and Set LinkedIn group to send notices of new discussionsthose topics often contain a number of replies. Many of them looking for help. Join a few groups where your key prospects belong, (not ones within your own industry). Stop by often or better yet update your group settings to enable email notices or digests of new discussions. Look for discussions where people are asking for help and jump in. They’ll be grateful and you’ll start winning fans and building trust.
You can even create your own group. That way you’re the moderator and control the conversation.
A client of mine began his entire business by creating a LinkedIn group in his niche. He did it initially just to pull together people in is specialty. But it took on a life of its own. He built a business around the community and it has begun to flourish. He has continued the group which now has over 5,600 active and engaged members.
A word of warning. Don’t be the guy who fills up a group’s discussion board with self-serving blasts about how great you are. Unfortunately you’ll see lots of these topics in the groups (depending upon their rules) which add to the noise level within the community. Visit a few groups and you’ll see what I mean.
Social media is not the answer in and of itself
Although much of this discussion centers around business to business sales, other social media outlets like Facebook can give you the same benefits as LinkedIn. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming that any of these platforms are going to generate sales by themselves. Social media is only a piece of the puzzle.
The purpose of any social media site is to connect with people to attract them to your own website. That’s where they can learn more about you and how you can help them. Bottom line, you want them in your house, where you control the conversation. Participation in a few strategically selected social media sites can get them there. Choose one or two that fit your ideal client and ignore the rest.
There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction
Don’t get me wrong, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with prospects and clients. None. But the hard part for many of us is making that first contact. It’s getting over the barrier of our own fears and our prospects’ natural resistance to strangers that prevents us from meeting new and interesting people. Once we get over that hurdle the rest comes so much easier. After all we know our product we know we can help people and we know how to best serve them.
Short of conquering this fear altogether there are other ways to meet new prospects. Try some of the methods I’ve used and see if they help you get beyond the barrier.