Would you call a prospect 15 times?

The road to new business is often a long and torturous one. For anyone who’s ever been involved in winning new business, you’ll recognise that customers don’t simply flock to your door and buy from you instantaneously. Instead, it often feels as though you’re locked in an endless battle of trying to win people over.

So what happens when someone shows an interest in your company?

Surely they approach you to get their hands on what you’ve got to offer, don’t they? Well, in the game of cat and mouse that is new business, it’s not always that simple. It still requires a lot of work from you the ‘cat’ to pursue your quarry.

Cue the phone calls, emails and countless messages left in the hope of catching your target at an opportune moment. So if you’re giving up after the first attempt because your prospect is out, or you’re worried about being a ‘pest’ you’re doing yourself, and your chance of winning the business for your organisation, a big dis-service.

Of course, if you’ve left a few messages to say you called and you’re getting a wall of silence in return, you could safely conclude that your prospect is not going to buy from you. And that’s absolutely fine, no sales person or new business manager wants to become a nuisance. It’s simply a case of reminding a warm, qualified, interested prospect that you’re there, and you might just have what’s wanted.

Let’s say you meet a prospect at an exhibition. You have a good conversation and they seem interested in what you do. Imagine the scene:

1. You call them the next day when you’re back in the office. They are in a meeting.
2. You call them later on and they’ve left for the day.
3. You call them again the next day and they’re out of the office all day in training.
4. You try again the next day – guess what? They’re out seeing a client.
5. You email and get an autoresponder saying they’re on annual leave.
6. You call again and your prospect is unwell or has had a family emergency.

Imagine this scenario of calling and not getting through to the person plays out over a week, two weeks, a month. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how disheartening this situation can be – and it’s very, very tempting to abandon.

Then one day you ring and the prospect takes your call. He/she remembers who you are and is keen to have a conversation. It’s something I see frequently, where a potential customer shows an interest in your offering, but for any of the above reasons doesn’t make contact.

It is absolutely necessary to be persistent and focussed on your quarry. And your CRM* needs to be part of the picture too. After all, if you’re juggling a load of opportunities, you need to know exactly where you are in the sales cycle.

Put simply, if you don’t keep trying to get through to the person you want to buy from you, then chances are they won’t! When it comes to new business there are very few ‘quick wins’; it all requires a degree of persistence and perseverance. And in the world of B2B, this is even more pertinent – especially if yours is a high-value, consultative sale.

The pursuit of new business becomes even more complex if what you’re selling isn’t available off the shelf. Yes, the ice cream man is going to make a killing on a hot sunny day, but for those people without a “99 cone”, it’s not as straightforward.

While people might like the sound of what your “high-value, consultative sale” type business offers – be that an office fit-out or an outsourced employee benefits service – without any immediate tangible benefits being obvious it becomes more of an exercise in proving how you can add value, by building reassurance and confidence in your business. (And don’t confuse what you’re saying on your website as ‘proof’! Only your customers can do that!).

There are no easy wins…
Of course, not all business comes about through pursuing contacts. In many cases companies receive inbound enquiries and requests for work. But unless you’re in the fortunate position of being dominant in your marketplace, it’s likely you’ll have to work a little harder to win new customers – there are many more Joe Bloggs’ Firm of Accountants than there are PWCs, after all.

Tenacity trumps luck
While you may worry that leaving half a dozen messages to say you called is excessive, if you don’t then you’re allowing your prospect the opportunity to forget about you. And in my experience, the potential customer usually appreciates your perseverance. Perhaps they haven’t had time to call and find out more. Perhaps they were interested in the proposition, but an urgent situation cropped up in their own business and it was pushed clean out of their mind.

If you’ve given them something interesting to think about, or what you’ve put in front of them has caught their attention, then chances are they will recall it and be up for a conversation. But that conversation is unlikely to happen, unless you make sure it does.

It’s also worth thinking outside the box a little here. If you know your prospect is tied up with a big contract for the next few weeks, perhaps some information in the post might serve as a timely reminder. That way you’re not asking for their time on the phone, you’re simply letting them know you’re there and ready to talk when they are.

Marketing is no silver bullet
While essential to getting your message out there to attract potentially interested clients in the first place, marketing isn’t the answer to everything. There has to be a connection between all the different marketing elements (i.e. PPC, email, billboards, direct mail etc.) and what happens after the initial interest has been created. In B2B land, it’s rare for a prospect to buy on the strength of one ‘touch’ with a company. In fact, it takes between five and seven touch points with a company before that customer will buy.

Marketing has to work hard in getting you those opportunities for a conversation – it’s no different for Joe Bloggs’ Firm of Accountants than it is for the big players. Take Sainsbury’s. Their current campaign of adding a ‘little twist’ to your meal is all encompassing: TV ads, remarketing, direct mail, social media, and in-store promotions, to name a few. They’ve collaborated with the Huffington Post and www.homemadebyyou.co.uk to create a platform where people can share their own ‘twist’ recipes, cleverly making their marketing campaign as much a part of the cooking routine as the pots and pans. Their own website features recipes from the TV ads where – conveniently – people can buy the products. In short, they don’t let their customers forget about them!

Messaging is key
However you engage a potential customer, whether through an exhibition, email, paid search, telemarketing etc., the messaging has to be of the highest standard. That means relevant, clear, interesting, and focused on your customers’ needs and not on your business, and dare I say it, how passionate you are!

Just ask yourself, how many times have you wandered past a stand at an exhibition because the display tells you nothing about what the company does? Or why not recall the last cold telephone call you received asking about your ‘office stationery requirements’. Can you remember the name of the company? I’ll hazard a guess and say, probably not.

Good messaging is crucial, and my soap box subject too. Because if you’re not giving your prospect something worth remembering, they won’t; and all the follow-up phone calls and emails will be far less effective.

So when you’re courting a prospect and have left another message with the gatekeeper, remember that next time could be the time when you get to have a chat, and hopefully secure some business.

*CRM For most companies, CRM is an acronym for ‘Can’t Remember Much’!! I’ll have a blog called ‘What should our CRM look like?’ in the next week or so. If you’d like a link, please let me know.