So, you have this amazing product and know if you can just get it into the hands of the public, you could make millions! But finding and successfully selling to new customers is the hardest thing any business is faced with (whether you have one employee or thousands). How to continually find customers efficiently and cost effectively has stumped even the most seasoned entrepreneur.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix or easy answer to this conundrum. However, once you have sat down and answered a few planning questions, there are four steps every business should take to effectively find customers. First, you must properly understand which customer you are trying to target, second, you need to compile a potential customer list (often referred to as a prospect or lead list), third, you need to make the initial contact, and finally, in order to actually make ongoing sales, it is imperative you follow-up with your prospects again and again.
STEP 1: Zero In On Your Target Market
Finding the right customer may seem ridiculously logical. But saying it and then actually taking the time to refine who your customer really is – or should be – is a much more complex task. Take the time to understand who your target market is so you don’t waste your time finding and selling to the wrong customers.
STEP 2: Acquire a Potential Customer List
You can’t start a party without a guest list and, likewise, you can't start or run a company without accumulating a sizable list of potential customers (often referred to as sales leads). There are plenty of places where you can do this. Here are just a few:
- Personal Contacts: Your friends and family are the most likely to purchase something from you. You shouldn’t hesitate to let them know of your new venture.
- Referrals: Call upon your existing customers to refer friends and family. Offer an incentive.
- Purchase a Lead List: There are many companies out there where you can purchase mailing or contact lists based off the characteristics you identify. Do a Google search for "mailing lists" and you will find dozens of companies.
- Internet Research: This works best if you are targeting businesses for your product or service. Going online and doing local searches for businesses fitting your criteria can generate many excellent leads.
- Trades Shows or Craft Fairs: If you are a B2B-focused business, searching through other business exhibitors will generate nice results. If your business focuses on consumers (B2C), you may want to consider exhibiting. This will allow you to collect potential customer information and buyer information during the show. This is why there are so many raffles held at exhibits or gift fairs. They want to collect your information so they can market to you in the future.
- Community Networking Events: If your business focuses on B2B sales, consider joining the Better Business Bureau. This organization is chalked full of B2B networking. Additionally, look into local clubs where you can hob-nob with people who have your interests in mind (like a woodworking group).
- Social Media: Do you have social media followers on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin? These are definitely contacts you can market to about your products, coupons, sales, company updates etc.
STEP 3: Making Your First Initial Contact
Over The Phone: Use an easy flowing/conversational script to introduce your product or purpose for calling. Remember, telling isn’t selling. If you are doing all the talking, the likelihood of convincing someone they need your product or service isn't going to be high. Ask them questions! At the end of your conversation, close with a call-to-action. To get results, you have to ask the potential customer to do something. Whether it is committing to a trial period or giving you an email or physical address for additional information. Finally, if an individual says they are not interested, ask them if they know of someone who might be. You never know, you might get some additional leads.
Email: If you are sending out an email, offer some value. Give a brief explanation of who you are, provide a coupon or a free article on a relevant topic. Review the anti-spam laws, which require you to include an unsubscribe option to every contact. Here are some additional resources on email marketing.
In-Person: Whether it is via door-to-door sales or a chance encounter on an airplane, it is important to remember a few key points to affective in-person selling. First, don’t throw-up all over someone. Know your stuff and start asking them questions that will lead up to your product or service introduction. Watch them and their body language, doing so will help you modify your approach to their comfort level. Always have sales material on hand to help you in this process (collateral like samples, catalogs). Make sure and end with a call to action and a promise to follow-up.
Traditional Mail: Create the piece you plan to send, whether that is a postcard, brochure, letter etc. You may need to hire this type of work out to a creative firm. Once you have the finished piece in hand, you can either do the fulfillment (addressing and stamping) on your own or hire a fulfillment house to do it for you. If you are mailing a lot, there are both time and cost benefits to using a fulfillment house to address, stuff and stamp. A fulfillment house is able to get a bulk stamp rate, which can save up to 40% off the postage price. Definitely something to consider. However, a hand placed stamp may be less likely to look like junk mail.
STEP 4: Follow-Up and then Follow-Up Again
People are going to tell you no. Lots of them. Did you know that 80% of sales are not made on the first, second, or even third contact, but rather the fifth to twelfth contact? That may seem crazy, but it is true. Finding customers requires thick skin and a strong belief in whatever it is you are selling. Just because someone tells you “no” today doesn’t mean it will be a “no” tomorrow. Keep asking, but avoid being a nuisance.
Keep track of your communication with various leads and prospects by using some sort of free CRM database. Create calendar reminders to follow-up in the future with those who said no.
Image (c) Marmit