By Tom Woodcock
For decades, people have tried to find business through the painstaking process of cold calling. I battle old school sales managers all the time who swear that cold calling is the way to go. Think about it: Do you like someone coming in and interrupting you –when you’re in the middle of working on a project – and trying to sell you tools? No! Then why would you think someone else would?
Don’t get me wrong. I grew up as a salesperson by cold calling my little guts out. Back in the day, we had no choice. Our lead source was the Yellow Pages. We hoped we would be greeted by a cordial receptionist; more often than not, the prospect’s building sign was the only advanced information we had. This made cold calling not only necessary but mandatory.
The ability to get advanced information on today’s potential customer is at its highest level in history. Via the web, you can secure company information, market presence and even contact information. This eliminates much of the need for a cold call. The issue here, however, is that you lose the physical presence with your would-be customer.
With that in mind, you need to find a way to accomplish this in-person connection in order to gain your initial meeting with the prospect. The best way to do this? Go backwards in order to move forward. Use your associations, organizations and chambers of commerce as resources. Yup, that’s right. Pools of people. Add your own customized network of contacts and you have a leads machine. Consistently attending events, happy hours, business breakfasts and business group meet-ups is paramount to finding opportunity. There are some qualifiers, however, to keep in mind so you don’t waste time and effort:
- Customer-rich? Does the event appear to be attracting customers or potential customers? Though often you’ll never really know until you attend, promotional media will give you an indication of the function’s target market. Customer-rich environments are always your best shot at direct business opportunities.
- Network development potential? Are there going to be current or potential network contacts in attendance? These are individuals who also sell to your customer base. They can be great sources for introductions and inside information. Your personal network should include a high concentration of these types of individuals.
- Association affiliation? Events that are hosted by associations are often well attended. They tend to cater to specific groups, so it’s a bit easier to qualify attendees. Many times the events are limited to members and their guests, but every so often they’re open to visitors. Grab those opportunities.
- Known host? These are events hosted by well-known individuals or companies in a particular industry. People will attend because they know historically that this host has strong networking meetings. Some hosts have a knack in setting up these programs. Why reinvent the wheel? Take advantage of their expertise.
Simply using these four criteria will produce results. At that point, it comes down to your personal approach to networking. You have to develop a methodology that you’re comfortable with and matches your personality. Some people can simply own a room. Others? They need a good, structured plan of attack. Either way, it’s best to attend with a little information and strategy. Here are some tricks to get even more bang for your buck:
- Get there early. Check out those nametags and select a couple of targets you want to approach.
- Ask for permission to call. Politely asking if you can contact a potential client goes a long way. Do not be challenging or confrontational; you’re hoping to obtain permission to contact them.
- Use your existing network. Connect with those who are already in a network relationship with you and leverage that existing relationship in order to meet new contacts. This is the easiest way to gain new contacts.
- Stay late. A lot happens after the scheduled meeting is over. Those who hang around tend to be more open and share more freely in their discussions. This can provide an inside track on potential projects or opportunities.
I’m a firm believer in the power of networking. I feel that if you combine a good physical network of contacts with a functioning electronic network of them, you’ll have the basis for a well-oiled, lead-generating machine. Finding business opportunities should be a primary goal that all companies share. Without leads, there aren’t sales. Without sales, there aren’t projects. Without projects, there aren’t contractors. Continually priming your network will result in a steady stream of leads and prospects. Undervaluing the power of networking can not only be shortsighted but may result in your business’ decline. Forcing a “cold call first” mentality displays a dated sales approach. It also reveals a weakness in network development. With the increase in communication and social connection, it is far easier to find as well as secure sales leads than it ever was.
The final piece of the networking puzzle is this: Be sure to follow up on the information you secured at the networking event. This, of course, is assuming you gained some information. What good is information that you never act upon? It happens all the time. Taking the time to make the phone calls and get the appointments is where the real rubber meets the road.
Not turning networking information into business is inexcusable. The discipline to attend networking events must be followed by the discipline of acting upon the results. A healthy sales effort includes between four to eight networking events per month. That’s roughly 50 per year! I find it hard to believe that kind of networking commitment will not produce results. As a matter of fact, I know it will because I do it myself. The results have been impressive, and it will always be a part of my sales regimen.
How’s your network producing?
Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer for the construction industry nationwide and is author of “You’re Not Sellin’, They’re Buyin’!” He can be reached through his website, www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com or at 314-775-9217.