Cold calling still works, but it’s inherently a difficult way of building your sales pipeline. Neither side likes cold calling – not the caller or receiver.
Fortunately, even for sales professionals who are responsible for generating their own leads and prospects, a variety of proven strategies and tactics exist that can reduce or eliminate your need to pound the phones. Here are a few.
Referrals from existing customers. Your current customers know far more prospective customers than you do – they work with them, hang out with them, spend time in the same social and professional circles. Your current customers also know better than anyone the real value of what you do – not just want you sell but what they enables for them in their personal and/or professional lives. Make sure you’re tapping into that relationship, and thanking/rewarding your customers for doing so.
Check back with past customers. Just because they left doesn’t mean they won’t come back. Do you have new products or services? Have you improved significantly since they last bought from you? Just because they left, doesn’t mean they won’t also refer you to people or businesses they know who are qualified and interested. Keeping good relationships with past customers is a significant source of new business for countless smart companies.
Watch the social Web for buying signals. You’re one-click away from knowing which of your prospective customers are complaining about a relationship they may have with your competitor. You’re a Google search away from seeing which individuals or organizations are asking public questions about problems or desired outcomes that your product or service was created to solve. The better you understand the needs of your customers and the reasons why prospects come to you to buy in the first place, the more likely you can search for, identify and take action on those behaviors and signals when they appear on the social Web.
Participate in customer communities. You’re a seller, but you’re also a subject matter expert. Find communities online where your customers are congregating and talking amongst themselves, and become a peer. This doesn’t happen overnight, especially as your customers are likely used to people like you who come in and want to sell. But if you represent yourself as a source of knowledge and advice, you can win their trust. And the next time they have a problem or question, they’re more likely to come back to you first.
Work with referral partners. Who else does business with your customer? How well do they understand what you do, and how you could help that customer in a complimentary way? The better you cultivate your partner relationships, the more likely you can convert those relationships into proactive and reactive prospect introductions.
Upsell current customers. Don’t just call current customers and start selling. Check in. See how they’re doing. Ask about their business and what’s missing. What are their obstacles to reaching even greater success? You might find they need more of what you have but have been too busy to reach out (or simply haven’t made the connection that you can help the more than you already have).
Hire an appointment setter (but make it good). This one might not be fair, as it’s really just having someone else do the cold calling for you. But what if the appointment setter was calling to offer not a product pitch but a consultation? Do you have 10-15 minutes worth of best practices to share with prospects independent of what you’re selling? Could you use that appointment as a warm introduction to you, your company, and the value you can provide the prospect as a subject matter expert?
Answer questions. Find the online communities where customers asking open questions, and start answering. In B2B, this includes forums like LinkedIn Answers and Focus.com. Create a paper trail of how well you understand your client’s problems and how to address them. Plus, the people asking the questions are more likely to come back to you if they like your answer and want to hear more.
Join the comment conversations on targeted blogs. Interact directly with prospects in an environment where they’re already comfortable and sharing back and forth with other prospects. Use a good RSS Reader to help you quickly identify the blog posts you want to be associated with.