Tuesday, October 26, 2010

 

Four tips for approaching a cold prospect list

A good friend recently won a copy of the local Business Journal's "Book of Lists" at a networking event.  For the uninitiated, books like this basically rank the top 25-50 companies in a particular metro market based on industry, fastest-growing firms, public vs. private, etc.  These lists often come with names & contact information for key executives at these companies as well.

For my friend, this book represents a potentially lucrative list of customers.  But what do you do now?  When you are handed, come across, or research and otherwise acquire a "cold" list of potential customers, how do you engage?

The specific answer to this question will be different for each business, but here are four considerations that can help you quickly create & start executing a strategy that works.

Define what success looks like (for you and for them).  Of course you want new business from the list.  But what does that look like?  What does success look like when you're working with and/or helping these new customers?  Perhaps more importantly, what does success look like for them when and after working with you?  What could you enable for their business?  What among their current needs and objectives are you most likely to address?  Understanding these fundamental needs gives you a starting point for creating value from the first point of contact (vs. looking like just another company trying to sell something).

What's in it for them, right now?  Answer this question more tactically now, beyond the broader definition of success for your prospective customers.  Why should they listen to you?  What do you have to offer them right now that can help them?  What's worth 5-10 minutes of their time right now that both gives you a crack in the door, and delivers immediate value to their job and/or business?  Most businesses, in a first approach with a new prospect, focus on themselves.  They figure it's more important to introduce who they are and what they do.  And while this is indeed important, it's how everyone else leads their first call or pitch.  If you want to be different and stand out, know the prospect well enough to offer them something contextually relevant and valuable.  They'll figure out what you do soon enough.

Think long-term.  These prospects are cold.  They don't know you yet.  Unless you represent a potential impulse buy, don't expect miracles and one-call closes right off the bat.  In fact, delivering something of value (instead of making a sales pitch) as recommended above assumes that you're in for a multi-touch relationship-building and sales process.  Cold calls rarely convert into immediate sales.  Effectively-done cold calls earn you the next call, where you have the right to go a little deeper, start to talk more about what you do, and position that as a benefit to the prospect. 

Test first.  Before you prepare a massive direct mail campaign or give the entire prospect list to your sales rep, pick a handful of names and make the call.  Test your message and value-added offer.  Script the short voicemail and first few seconds of the live call (if they answer) so you know whether the research and thoughtfulness you put into the approach and offer is working.  This isn't going to give you quantitative, definitive results, but should help you determine if your approach is directionally valuable to both the prospect as well as your effort to convert a cold prospect list into warm relationships and, eventually, closed business.


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