Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does. – Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
In the first section we talked about understanding where you are right now.
In this second section we’ve been looking back, at what you’ve done and the foundations you have to build on.
And we’ve come to the point where you have something to offer to the world and you now need to start getting leads, you need to talk to prospective customers.
I was going to have a few pages on technology but I’ve decided not to do that here – because the technology doesn’t matter.
A focus on the technology, in fact, can detract from the substance – from the thing you have to do in the first place.
Technology can help scale something good, but it can’t turn something bad into something good.
So let’s talk about what good lead generation strategies look like.
How to open a conversation with a prospect
How many ways can you think of to reach a prospect – to start that first conversation?
Let’s look at four ways that come up pretty often.
The first is reaching out to them directly, either getting in touch or making yourself discoverable so they can find you easily.
The second is to be introduced by someone who knows you and trusts you – a friend, someone you have already helped.
The third is to be introduced by a connector, someone who the prospect knows and trusts and who is willing to “engineer” an introduction, usually in return for a payment.
The fourth route is to be introduced by your prospect’s customer, someone who sees what you do as a way to help their supply chain.
If you’re just getting started, then, how can you implement these strategies?
Reaching out directly to a prospect is a difficult business, one summed up nicely in the famous McGraw Hill ad that shows a grumpy man sitting in a chair.
My version of this is shown in the image below.
It’s very easy to reach people these days – you can connect with them on LinkedIn, you can send an email, everyone has contact details listed on their websites.
And, as a result, everyone gets contacted through a variety of media all the time – it’s an incessant barrage of connection requests and adverts.
That doesn’t mean you can’t stand out.
The people who I know that do this successfully seem to share certain traits.
They are identified by their business, their profession, their passion.
When you’re the CEO of a company, the Managing Director, a seasoned professional or you really care about the topic – that comes across in your content.
Think about your social media feed – aren’t you looking for useful stuff from people that you feel you can trust.
It’s very easy to spot inauthentic content, stuff that’s posted to try and get a reaction, where someone is using a strategy to build “relationships” with others.
I think that in today’s environment nothing has changed from yesterday’s environment other than the medium we use.
If you care about what you do and tell the world about it honestly and passionately then the people who can benefit from what you do will take an interest.
But it will take time, time to build credibility, time for them to see what you put out there and get to know you, and eventually trust you.
Direct marketing is not a quick route – so start building your brand and message well before you need to.
Eventually, it will become the biggest part of your lead generation strategy if you do it consistently over time, but in the beginning you will also need quicker routes.
Who do you know that knows you and trusts you?
This is where you turn to the people you know, your friends and the people you’ve worked with already.
What you’re asking them to do is help introduce you to prospects that know and trust them.
You’re asking them for a recommendation, for an endorsement.
This is a powerful approach – you’re much more likely to get time from a prospect if you’re referred by someone they know and trust than if you go in directly without any history.
So, who do you know that can help you out?
And how can you ask for help without damaging the fragile web of trust that holds everyone together?
Even your friends aren’t going to help you out if they’re not sure that you can do what you say, that you won’t put them in the embarrassing position of having to apologise for having introduced you.
You have a responsibility to do the best work you can do and provide an unconditional guarantee to the prospect – you need to protect your friend’s position whatever happens or you’ll lose that friendship.
A favour can help you out initially and get you started with the first few conversations but if you need more conversations you need to invest in creating those conversations.
Which is where connectors come in.
Paying for introductions
There’s no shortage of people who will help you get in front of your prospective customers in exchange for a payment.
Some of them will charge you up front while others will be willing to introduce you for a percentage of the business you generate.
The main thing here is having a budget for advertising – because that’s what this is.
You’ll also exhaust any one person’s list pretty quickly – once you’ve reached out to their database a couple of times the people who are interested will have responded already – so you’re now trying to target the less interested rest.
You might be better switching your investment to another person and their list when that happens.
When you’re getting started this can be an expensive and high-risk strategy – because you’re committing to paying for something without a guarantee of results.
A commission based approach reduces that risk – but you need to find people willing to work with you on that basis.
You can make that easier by giving them a larger share of your first sale if you can make subsequent sales to the same prospect.
For example, if your average project value is $2,000 then a 10% commission of $200 will not excite too many people.
But if you’re going to typically make ten sales over the time you have the customer, then the lifetime value is $20,000.
In that case, you could afford to give away 50%, even 100% of the first sale – $1,000, $2,000 – because you’re still going to make $18-19,000 over time.
And your introducer will be much more excited about getting a four figure sum for making a phone call on your behalf.
Your prospect’s customer
The fourth strategy here is to understand and reach out to your prospect’s customer.
For example, if you offer a cost-optimisation service and you’ve worked with an organisation and delivered results, then they will probably be open to introducing you to their supply chain, the people that serve them.
That kind of introduction will often get you a first meeting, from which you can develop the conversation.
Create a network of partners
It’s worth taking the time to reach out and try to build that network of partners who can help you grow their business, especially if you can also help grow their businesses.
But don’t spend all your time networking and pitching to partners – they can suck up your time as well as they work out what’s in it for them.
Create a simple model to show partners what you do and how you can share value and then get on with the job of delivering value to the customers you have right now.
Happy customers are the best source of new referrals – and also the ones that can bring down your business if they’re dissatisfied with what you do.
It’s time now to look at what to do next, how you’re going to prepare yourself to build your business or project over the next two to ten years.
It’s time to look at what tomorrow might bring – and move into the last stage of this book project.
We’re at 46,000 words so far.
Not long to go now.