Monday, April 19 2010
The first challenge of most business owners is to find prospects who turn into clients, but how and where to find them can be a puzzler.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet that instantly generates a slew of clients. What usually has to happen is that we surface a number of suspects (people we SUSPECT may be interested in products and/or services such as ours), and from that pool we find our PROSPECTS, or people who are prospective purchasers if all needs and conditions are satisfied. Finally, when the decision to purchase is made, we have clients (or customers or patients or members or whatever you wish to call them).
What may be different from one business to another is the process for attracting suspects, cultivating prospects, and acquiring clients. In some cases the process is relatively short and simple, in others, the process may require multiple steps to qualify the prospect and nurture the relationship to fruition.
The key to success is to meet your suspects halfway--showing up where they are looking for or thinking about the solution to the problem you solve or the experience you offer, so that even if they don't know that YOU exist, you have the basis to begin a relationship.
Here is a short list of quick and easy ways to surface likely leads (suspects and prospects who turn into clients) for your business:
- Offer a valuable piece of educational material on your website. This piece of information could be a free report, ebook, audio, newsletter, assessment, or other tool; all that really matters is that it is of sufficient perceived value to entice your visitor to exchange her name and email address in exchange for it. Caveat: Make sure that you require a double-opt in process, rather than an immediate redirect to the free stuff so that you capture valid contact information, or you won't be able to follow up.
- Speaking at a meeting, seminar, or other public event. As the guest expert (which speakers usually are), you are in a position of visibility and credibility that is a powerful combination for prospecting. Invite your audience to give you feedback, request a copy of your presentation, or redeem a free or reduced price consultation with a feedback card that you bring to the presentation. Or you may simply hold a drawing for a book or other prize at the end of your presentation, using the drawing entry forms or even business cards as leads.
- Referrals from your current clients are usually much more likely to buy than cold leads, so consider putting referral programs in place. There are three ways to get referrals, and you should be using all of them. The first way is to earn referrals, meaning that your clients are so thrilled they can't stop telling others about you. The second way to is ask your clients, colleagues, and Power Partners for referrals, and to take responsibility for following up so you don't burden your referral partners with the work of referring. The third way to generate referrals is to reward those who refer in both a public and a generous manner. Perhaps you thank them in your newsletter, award points that they can redeem for cool prizes, or better yet, send them personal thanks by mail.
- Post special offers and/or specific programs in your online communities. Examples include Craigslist in the small business ads or classes sections; or in listservs such as Yahoo or Google groups; online communities such as LinkedIn, Biznik, and Facebook; or even online forums and bulletin boards.
- Live meetings and events provide the perfect opportunity for eyeball-to-eyeball connecting, and can be fun, too. This doesn't have to be a networking meeting per se, although those can be terrific for meeting new folks. Also in this category are association and trade meetings, conventions, rallys, and other meetings that offer opportunities for interaction between participants.
- Drawings or giveaways at trade shows, conventions, or other live events can generate loads of great leads, as well as plenty of folks who are not at all interested in what you offer, so be sure that your prize is something that is of specific interest to your target client, or that the pool is already pre-qualified in some way. One way to pre-qualify is to use entry forms that gather pertinent info rather than simply using business cards.
- Direct mail to a qualified list of suspects can be very profitable, as long as the list is qualified and the offer is strong. Lists can be obtained in a variety of ways, but one way that I really like is the endorsed mailing to a Power Partner (a non-competing professional who shares your ideal client). This strategy combines direct mail with referral, and can be very persuasive. The endorsed mailing can be as simple as a letter from the Power Partner to her clientele introducing you (and your special offer) and explaining why she's recommending that her clients work with you.
- Advertising is often the first thing business owners consider, and for most folks traditional advertising is a total waste of money because it is not measurable. Advertising can be a good lead generator when it is what is called direct response advertising, so that you can see a return on your investment by the number of responses you receive. This would include a coupon, special offer, toll-free phone number or other response mechanism that can be measured and evaluated. Remember that pretty ads may win awards, but direct response ads win leads.
- Recorded messages on toll-free information lines are a wonderful way for the shy suspect to investigate your product or service without the pressure of having to speak to a sales person, so do consider using this as a tool. The free message is not about how to buy from you, but usually a message educating the suspect on the pitfalls, dangers, or unexpected outcomes of choosing a vendor before knowing all the facts, or some other piece of information that is necessary to make a good decision, followed by a special offer and call to action.
- Coupon mailers can entice new clients to try your services at a fraction of the cost of regular mass direct mail. This is an especially good option for retailers or recurring services businesses like dentists and garages. Caveat: If your offer is for a price reduction on a regular product or service and you run the offer consistently, you will teach your prospects to wait for the coupon to buy. However, if your coupon is for a discount on an additional item or free bonus or premium, you will not canibalize your regular sales, attract new customers and keep your margins high.
- Directories such as the yellow pages are often best for emergency services, but a solid offer in a directory ad can bring in the new folks like clockwork. I like to test messages and offers with a Google adwords campaign before committing to a full year in a directory, so that I can be confident that my ad will actually work without just crossing my fingers and wishing.
Of course, there are lots of other ways to attract new clients, but there is a reason that these are on this list: They work. Now go out there and find new clients!