Small businesses selling B2B always struggle to generate sales leads. Survey after survey confirms it as one of the biggest challenges they have.
There are plenty of tools out there that supposedly make it easy, and certainly they do make it easier than it has been in the past to generate many contacts, but it is still hard to generate a warm lead, and then to convert to a sale.
None of the tools are any good unless you have a crystal clear picture in your minds of the value you can deliver, being “wishy washy” and peppering the conversations with adjectives (particularly “awesome” my latest hate word) no longer works.
Following is a list of options that have worked over the years for my clients. Most are pretty obvious, when they are pointed out.
1. Referrals. Being referred is the best sales lead you could ever have. Someone who is familiar with your work saying “Bill is great at …. you should talk to him” to a colleague would be wonderful. Yet, so few of us explicitly ask for referrals. When you have done good work, ask who else your client knows who could benefit from your expertise, not expecting to be referred to their competitors.
2. Testimonials. Perhaps second to referrals are testimonials, people with whom you have worked who are prepared to say in the record how great you are. Video is the only way to go with testimonials. Nobody believes any more that the written ones on your website from “Monica X from Parramatta” are real, they believe you have written them. It takes Monica to front a camera, identify herself and say how great you are for it to be effective, then is very effective.
3. Personal networking. A lot of small business people join network groups, in the expectation that this will lead to referrals and work. It can, but almost always takes time and effort. Others in the group need to understand what you do, and how that is relevant to their problems, then they have to be convinced that you offer the best value solution to them. Being in such a group can be rewarding for small businesses in more ways that just generating leads, as it get them out of the office, and forces them to speak publicly about the value they can deliver, which almost always acts to sharpen the elevator pitch. These skills come in very useful when actually in elevators.
4. Digital networking. LinkedIn is the obvious tool here, too often misused by those who just see you there and immediately start selling. LinkedIn like any social platform requires that you demonstrate your bona fides first, and the best way to do that is to identify the groups, preferably closed ones, where your prospect hang out, and start to engage in the debates and conversations that occur. You can then follow up privately with some, and have a more focussed conversation about their needs and after a rapport is established, your solutions.
5. Seminars, webinars & e-books. In most cases, our clients buy from us because we have something, or know something that they cannot get elsewhere. Demonstrating your mastery of a topic by running seminars on them, producing webinars, and writing e-books demonstrates your mastery. The secondary benefit of this type of content is that it can be used, reused, repurposed, and reused again, and again.
6. Platform cross-posting. Many people blog on their own site, hoping people will stumble over the posts, but there are many other platforms now that can provide a shopfront for your products and services. LinkedIn recently introduced a blogging platform which works very well, you can open up a YouTube channel and post instructive videos, or put great information up on slideshare. Then there is guest blogging, a great way to leverage the lists of others, by adding value to their audience, a win win both ways.
7. Lead magnets. These are things that visitors can gain access to by exchanging their email address. It is a great way to reuse the content you produced in a webinar or e-book. Here the challenge is that you need to attract the eyeballs to the lead magnet before it has a chance of being magnetic.
8. Direct mail. Yes, snail mail does work in this day of digital everything. Now we get so few things in the mail that is not either bills or junk, that a handwritten envelope with a stamp, will always get opened and read. This requires that a modicum of research into your prospects is done, as a wrong spelling or title means immediate filing in the round-file. Best done in small batches, that way you can also test the response to the sales letter you send.
9. Warm cold calling. Bit of an oxymoron there, but a deliberate one. If you do not know the name and position of the person you are preparing to call, do to waste your time. However, if you do know their name, there is a reason they might be interested in hearing from you, and you can articulate that reason in 20 seconds or less, then that implies you have done sufficient research to make a cold call a warm one.
10. Advertising. The last and perhaps most obvious tactic to generate leads. All social platforms survive by taking advertising, they are the newspapers of the 21st century in that regard. You give them your profile and preferences, inadvertently or otherwise, and they sell that to advertisers to whom your profile fits their target. Having said that, the tools available on the platforms are terrific. Both Facebook and Google in particular set about making it increasingly easy to spend ad money with them with features like Facebooks lookalike audiences explained here by Jon Loomer, easy and AdWords strategies outlined by Wordstream.
Most businesses use a mixture of the above, too often randomly rather than as a deliberate strategy. The old marketing communication “rule of 3” still applies: Know what you want to say, know and articulate why it is relevant to the receiver, listen to the response.