Small companies on the growth track will always be scouting for new customers – never more than in the current economic climate.
But sourcing leads can be time consuming, while buying ‘warm’ prospects can be expensive and no guarantee of quality.“The main issue is not volume of leads but the quality and flexibility of those leads,” says Andy Reid, managing director of Strange & Dawson, customer acquisition specialists.
He and our panel of other sales and marketing experts offer their tips on how to generate new sales leads on a shoestring:
1. Get referrals: Don’t be bashful about asking existing, satisfied clients for introductions. “Be rigorous about asking if your clients have a few people in their network to whom you could be introduced, ideally by them,” advises Stuart Cross, founder of Morgan Cross consulting.
2. Cross-sell: Your customers may not always think of you for different work – you need to keep your ears open for opportunities. Target your higher value, easy-to-convert customers with relevant messages and offer your services for other work. Offer to help existing customers with non-earning issues to solidify your relationship.
3. Forge partnerships: This is the best way to create ‘new’ value, says Grant Leboff, author of “Sticky Marketing”. Think about what problems you solve for customers and identify another company that does the same thing, but in a different way – a restaurant might join forces with a cinema to create a special offer.
4. Improve your offers: “Offer a few options and a price scale, not just one pitch,” advises Stuart Cross. “You get into more useful conversations about what potential customers want – and can afford.” Always offer introductory vouchers and discounts, and money-back guarantees if you can afford it, adds Richard Denny, bestselling author and founder training experts the Denny Group. Or contact deal sites such as Livingsocial or Groupon to reach new customers.
5. Get networked: Social media has transformed the way small companies communicate with new and existing customers. Whatever your business, you’ll be expected to have some presence online, so take advantage of the technology and use social media to build brand awareness, carry out market research, talk to existing customers and possibly win referrals. Just don’t rely solely on one channel or medium for leads– think about where potential customers would look for you, and make sure you’re there.
6. Don’t push, pull: Put yourself in a customer’s shoes and think about what they value. If you’re sending out e-newsletters, include offers or compelling content. “Sell the result – what you can do for the customer – not the business,” says Richard Denny. Develop custom landing pages on your website for new products or services, and give your customers every option and opportunity to contact you – via email, post, phone, Twitter, Facebook and more. Keep it dynamic by using video, which you can share on YouTube, too: look at the viral effect of Blendtec’s ‘Will it Blend’ series.
7. Flaunt your expertise: People value expert recommendations even more than peers, according to Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer. So it’s worth becoming one: offer to speak at trade events, business clubs, or write for print or online titles, answer Quora questions. This is softer brand-building, but keeps you on people’s radar. Says Cross: “My book is like a posh calling card.”
8. Think local: “Most people prefer to do business locally if they can, and that’s only likely to increase,” says Denny. Promote your business in local directories, regional newspapers and radio – and don’t dismiss the impact of smaller, targeted direct marketing campaigns.
9. Be persistent: Start with a manageable number of leads (Denny suggests whittling down 500 to around 20) and contact them – by name – regularly. “Rarely does anyone respond the first time. You can’t just send one little flyer and expect results.” Quality control is easier, thanks to analytics tools, but if in doubt, ask yourself whether a prospect genuinely needs what you’re offering, can afford it, and is in a position to buy it pretty soon. If not, move on. Adds Andy Reid: “With online products such as Google AdWords you can target people looking for products/services like yours by street, town, city or country. Because you only pay for visitors to your website you can make limited budgets work harder but also track conversion and manage volume levels.”