Consider the different approaches of the following two sales professionals: John searched for prospects online in an effort to land meetings with the largest potential customers he could find. Dan also searched for prospects online, but with a more defined and targeted market in mind.
Both John and Dan required a certain clientele that could afford their services (in our example, information technology services). But while John was simply considering the size of the prospect, Dan selected additional important criteria, including location and the number of IT managers employed by the prospect company; these had been indicators of past sales success. After he picked his top 50 prospects, Dan emailed each a white paper he had written about IT challenges. He then followed up with a phone call one week later, asking for an appointment to discuss the white paper and the prospect’s IT challenges. Dan’s success rate for landing that critical first conversation was 50 percent. John’s was only about 10 percent.
Selling is tough, and it’s almost impossible if your market isn’t aware of your company. By targeting his customers and informing them of his services before he contacted them, Dan was much more efficient with his time. Likewise, you need to raise awareness of your company through a simple yet specific marketing program before you make that initial sales call. Here are five steps to make marketing work for sales in any industry.
1. Target your market.
Before you outline the marketing actions you will take, it’s critical to know your market. As a small business, you don’t want your marketing efforts to be a tiny drop in a big ocean. Instead, you want to make a big splash in a smaller pool. This requires you to select a manageable number of top prospects you can strategically focus on. Winnow the prospects based on factors such as the prospect company’s revenue, location, number of employees, industry, its customers and its major challenges.
You want your pool to be focused, but it has to be large enough to meet your revenue goals. For instance, let’s say you have a revenue goal of $500,000. If you close 50 percent of your proposals and your average project size is $25,000, then you’d need 40 proposals a year to meet your goal.
So what about leads? If 30 percent of your leads became proposals, you’d need about 133 leads per year. Backing up a bit more: What percentage of your contacts become leads? Let’s say your conversion rate for turning contacts into leads is 30 percent. In that case, you’d need about 443 people in that pool each year, and you’d contact about 37 each month.
Of course, you’ll add new contacts throughout the year, and you’ll keep current and past customers in your pool if they might buy from you again.
Dan, for example, maintains a “Top Relationship List” of several hundred people in a spreadsheet. He regularly updates it with new contacts and eliminates those who have retired, switched jobs or are no longer part of his target audience.
2. Gather insight.
Once you’ve targeted your market, spend a fair amount of time researching. Put yourself in your prospects’ shoes and assess their needs. Go beyond listing your products and services: Ask yourself how your services can meet their specific challenges. Search for articles, blogs and statistics that define their problems, and cite these resources in communications with them.
3. Create marketing collateral.
To increase awareness of your company, your solutions and yourself, raise your profile with marketing collateral. These materials don’t have to be lengthy, and you don’t even have to write them. But they should include a detailed description of customers’ problems along with supporting statistics and/or anecdotes, plus solutions from and relevant information about your company. You could distribute this information in a blog, through a newsletter, by posting articles on social media, or by creating and sharing an infographic that shows a trending problem. (In IT, an infographic might focus on customers not reviewing service contracts.) If you need help with writing or illustrating, hire an inexpensive freelancer (LinkedIn and Upwork are resources for finding talent) to create marketing collateral for you.
Regularly reach out to your targeted audience to share timely industry information like interesting articles, a link to helpful research or a short white paper you wrote (or that a freelancer wrote for you). Include your contact information and offer to discuss your prospects’ problems and help them find solutions.
Dan tracks what he sends with entries in his “Top Relationship List” to avoid sending anyone the same article more than once. Occasionally he sends individual personal emails to a very small group, but more often he distributes the content as an email attachment or link through an affordable bulk emailing program—iContact, Constant Contact or MailChimp, for example. With these, you can prepare your marketing campaigns in advance, scheduling them for specific dates and times so you don’t have to spend every Monday morning wondering what you’ll send out that week. These programs all offer ways to track who opens your emails so you can better tailor messages in the future.
4. Contact your prospects.
Once white papers, articles or other information have been sent, it’s easier to call prospects as a follow-up rather than making a cold call. Remember, people want to talk about themselves. Positioning the call as a time for you to learn more about their businesses, their challenges and how they relate to the information you’ve sent is better than asking to take up their time to tell them about your products and services.
5. Build the relationship.
Your ultimate marketing goal is to develop a relationship and be a problem-solver for your customers. As you prove to be a trusted adviser by supplying helpful information, you can demonstrate how your products solve their problems.
At this point, it’s time for marketing to turn into sales. Share a product/service spec sheet with key parties at prospect companies, engage with them in a Skype demo, or offer a free trial of the product.
Throughout the year, continue to expand your arsenal of marketing content. Catalog it in a spreadsheet and use your own “Top Relationship List” to track when you send items. Depending on the length of your sales cycle, you might need to send only two emails to each prospect, or you could find yourself regularly sharing content with your target market throughout the year as you build relationships.
Even after the sale, you can use these marketing-for-sales techniques to stay in touch and keep leads warm. Done right, clients will view your efforts as nonthreatening common ground for future conversations.
This article was published in March 2015 and has been updated. Photo by @DimaBerlin/Twenty20