Short guide to getting clients for your business
Ah, the bane of every new business owner’s existence, particularly B2B – getting clients. If you’re not a sales person and want to do this yourself (or until you hire sales people), you will probably find selling a monumental task. It doesn’t have to be one if you have the right resources to point you in the right direction – usually a mountain of articles, guides, books and ebooks. If you’re lucky, a mentor.
Or you can read this handy guide to set up the basics! This guide encompasses the experience and knowledge of some great salespeople gathered from a mountain of resources and at the end you’ll find a tiny list of excellent books for further documentation.
Of course, all salespeople have had their own experiences and would probably give different (and often contradicting) advice, so it’s up to you to take the advice of whomever you like, test it out and see what drives the best results. Selling takes practice and you’ll figure out what works best for you.
1. Start setting your frame of mind
All beginnings are difficult and selling is even more so with the wrong state of mind. You shouldn’t think “I HAVE TO SELL” because the sense of desperation will permeate your speech and your prospect will be turned off from talking to you further. You know what they say – nobody likes to be sold, but everybody likes to buy – and it’s true. People need to feel comfortable and know it’s their decision to buy.
Think of representatives dressed in their companies’ colors and logo who try to sell toothpaste, new face creams or other items in the aisles of supermarkets. You know they’re trying to push something on you, so unless you’re already interested in the product or you’re getting freebies out of it, you avoid them. Or very reluctantly listen to what they have to say.
But you still have to sell, right? Sure, just always ask yourself these questions before contacting a prospect:
- What can I offer to this person?
- How can I listen attentively so as to recognize their needs and desires?
- How can I help them be successful?
- How can I provide value to this person?
Come from a state of mind of “helping” and you won’t be seen like some shark just trying to make a sale off someone’s back.
2. Recognize opportunities that come your way
Some call sales prospecting the key to not wasting your time and it’s indeed a valuable thing, especially when you’re looking to make a sales call or make proposals. But your day to day life will offer you some great opportunities without you even having to search, they just won’t have bows tied to them!
The secret to recognize an opportunity is that you make them reveal themselves to you. They’re day to day contacts and meetings that you wouldn’t give a second thought. Maybe you’re chatting with someone while waiting in line, talking with an acquaintance, hanging with friends, attending formal events, etc. All these situations have the potential to become an opportunity.
So how do you make an opportunity reveal itself? By being genuinely interested in other people, asking questions, listening more than talking and then helping with no strings attached.
Michael Port, in his book Book Yourself Solid, writes that networking isn’t the thing that you only do at professional events, all formal and with the eye on the prize. Networking can turn into connecting and you can do that by:
- Sharing what you know
- Sharing whom you know
- Sharing how you feel
Share what you know – If your knowledge of any domain helps people, be it from personal observations, books, experience or anything at all – share it. Advice is free and it paints you as an expert.
Share whom you know – Imagine you’re talking with an acquaintance, say, Maggie, the clerk at a bookstore you frequent, with whom you’re always chatting when you come by. She mentions that she’s disappointed she and her husband can’t go to a movie that night because their babysitter arrangement fell through. What do you do? You can recommend someone.
Why, you know that lovely Alice Smith who babysits your nephews, she might be free tonight. So you give Alice a call and put Maggie and Alice in contact. Maggie will be pleased and thankful for your help and will keep you in mind when someone they know needs your services.
Share how you feel – being a compassionate person who genuinely wants to help makes you trustworthy and it helps you connect with other people. It also gives you an undeniable advantage over stone cold salespeople.
But don’t forget to mention what you do, talk small things about your job when appropriate – so the people you’re chatting with know what you do and how they can also help you.
Once people know what you do, trust you and have received a helping hand, they’re very likely to recommend you to someone or become clients themselves when they need you. Word-of-mouth is the world’s best-known marketing secret.
3. Create your own opportunities
It time to start finding actual people to contact and offer your services to. So how do you find prospects? Well let’s say you’re on top of the situation with your friends, family, acquaintances – you’re already looking out for opportunities in your close circles. The next step is to get out of your comfort zone.
First you can expand just a little.
By that I mean you start doing more things in your spare time where you meet people. Do things you enjoy or think you will enjoy where you can encounter new people – board game nights, dance classes, climbing courses, professional clubs/meetings. Be on the lookout for such events in your city and use Meetup.com to your heart’s content.
There you can create relationships with people, you can tell them what you do, offer your help when appropriate (point 2 right here) and even say “Hey, if you know someone who would need [what you do/sell], give them my number”. Basically, think of everyone you meet like a potential client, just don’t try to sell to them. Just making known what you do and that you’d like to help is more than enough and it can gain the trust of others.
There. You’ve had some fun, met some interesting people and even did some networking!
Now we’re getting to the tough meat and we have to expand a lot and do some research.
- a) Find your target market (or 2-3) – imagine your ideal client and be as specific as possible: “human resources training managers in midsize to large companies located in the Boston area”, or “ small attorneys’ offices in the South Carolina area”. It makes the search easier.
- b) Start looking for those prospects – use any way you can: Yellow Pages, directories with registered businesses, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Angie’s List, anything. Also think about what their goals are and find the online communities they would post in (dentists’ association websites, LinkedIn business groups etc.).
- c) Research those prospects – once you’ve settled on a business, find out what they do, find out what they do best, find out what they would need and figure out how you can help them. Then find the individual to talk to, the one in charge of the decision to use your services – LinkedIn is great for this.
One way to put them on paper:
- Geographical Location
- Classification (e.g., retailer, manufacturer, government agency)
- Industry (e.g., health care, software, travel)
- Special Characteristics (e.g., well-established, rapidly growing, family friendly)
- Decision Makers (by department, division, or position title)
Be sure to find at least the name of the decision maker(s) and if you can’t find their number, then call the office and ask to talk to the person or to schedule a telephone meeting.
- d) Contact your prospects. We’ll expand on this in the next point. Most of the books on selling will tell you to cold call first and then email them or schedule a live meeting and I fully agree with this. A human voice and a few seconds of persuasion can do wonders, while a cold email always risks to end up in the Spam folder unread. Cold emailing is a much more difficult art, but we’ll get there too.
4. Approach a prospect
a- COLD CALLING
1) Find out what they’re lacking and how you can help them be successful. What’s in it for them? How would being your client bring any advantages to them? That’s all they care about and it’s only natural, that’s all you’d care about if you got cold called yourself.
2) Build your speech and start calling
- Introduce yourself, but be very concise, just say your name and company and then get right to the point.
- Be very short and keep your language and tone conversational.
- Sincerely flatter them, compliment something about their work/company/project.
- Tell them how you could help them reach a goal/be more successful.
- Tell them why you’re the best at it.
- Have a clear call to action and ask for a commitment – ask for their email to send them an offer, tell them to meet up in a certain day, just get them to agree to a next step that will get you closer to getting a sale.
You won’t get a sale just by calling, calling is simply a step toward that goal because everybody will need a little proof that you’re the best and will actually help them – which you can’t provide on the phone. You at least have to send them an email with a proposal and a link to your website so they can see your previous work.
I read a few times some advice about asking the prospect if they can talk and even if they say no, you should say you’ll only take a minute of their time and carry on – this supposedly shows respect for their time. It sounds like: “You just said you’re busy, but I don’t care and will carry on trying to sell you things”. I suggest we skip this and just keep it very short. They answered the phone, so they must have 60 seconds to spare.
b- COLD EMAILING
We’re a web design agency, right, and we regularly get cold emails that start with “Dear Sir/Madam”, even though our names are easy to find online, and offer to build us a website! I love those, they entertain me to no end.
You can send successful cold emails, but are very likely to simply receive no reply for most of your emails. It’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cold email at all. Cold emailing can be very effective.
– say in the subject line exactly what you’re doing.
– be very short and to the point – just a few sentences to convey what’s crucial.
– use a conversational tone and don’t be boring or formal.
– use paragraphs!
– DON’T write an introduction. They don’t care who you are at this point. First they need to see what value you’re offering and if you use your company email and a signature, they’ll check you out themselves if they’re interested. Plus introductions waste time.
– tell them something good about their company/project they’re working on/meeting where you heard them speak/introduction you’ve had etc. Something positive to stroke their ego a bit
– tell them exactly how you can help them: “what’s in it for me?” – make that abundantly clear and of course, let them know why YOU are the best for the job.
– if appropriate and possible, point out some issues you’ve noticed about their business that you could help with. Shows you took the time to do some research and are truly interested in helping out.
– have a clear call to action that’s easy to answer to – no “Let me know what you think” or things like that. That means leaving the ball in the middle of the court. No, you should actually hand them the ball: “I’d like to schedule a meeting – Tuesday afternoon would be great, tell me if it’s a good time for you too” .
– follow up! If your email goes unanswered, follow up with another email in a week or two. It shows you actually care and makes you stand out.
An accountant friend just told me she was impressed with an email her company received: it was a freelance editor offering to proofread their website and documents who also pointed out some things on their website that he noticed could use improving. Of course he got a call.
5. Make the sale!
—-Making the sale online
If you work mainly remotely and have to make the sale by telephone or online, the way to do this is to send your prospect an email with a proposal/an offer and a very clear call to action.
Having a graphic designer in your team would be great so they can make the proposal look professional. So would a web designer who could either make a cool page on your website specifically for the client to access or a graphically pleasing email in html. Or you can email us for this purpose, of course.
Don’t forget to have a great call to action, a button or a link somewhere for the prospect to follow if they want to do business with you after reading your proposal – the call to action should open up their email to send you a message, it should send them on a special page on your website etc. Once they contact you again, send them your contract to sign and you’re done!
—-Making the sale in person
If you’ve reached this far, you’re ready for a meeting with a prospect! You have the state of mind, you just need to learn a few techniques that will make the process run as smoothly as possible. But since the subject is so incredibly vast that many books have been written about sales meetings alone, we will only delve into the most important things to do at the meeting and leave you with an immensely valuable reading list.
First and most importantly, although it’s obvious – reread everything you’ve researched about the prospect. Know everything there is to know about their business and figure out their needs and how you can help them. You have to be prepared.
Then there are the 4 stages of a sales call that you should follow, as documented in Spin Selling (which I highly recommend):
- Preliminaries. These are the warming-up events that occur before the serious selling begins and they include the way you introduce yourself and how you begin the conversation. The first 2 minutes of the meeting form crucial impressions in the mind of your prospect that influence the rest of the sale. You typically should be warm and confident and genuinely compliment something about the office/business and/or ask questions about something new and interesting they’re trying to achieve. Make them feel comfortable and don’t simply start selling the second you walk through the door, leave a few moments for pleasantries. Unless they are high strung, agitated, extremely busy etc. when you can forget the preliminaries for good and even keep the following points short. “I see you’re a very busy person, so I will dive right into the subject”.
- Investigating. Asking questions is the most important of all stages as you will be uncovering needs and getting a better understanding of your clients and their companies. It’s particularly important in large sales. Studies have shown that salespeople can increase overall sales volume by more than 20% by developing improved Investigating skills.
- Demonstrating Capability. You have to demonstrate and convince your clients that you have something valuable to offer, that you have a solution to their problems.
- Obtaining Commitment. Or close the sale. A successful sales meeting will end with a commitment from the client. An order is the final result, but if the sale is very large, there are more steps to take to reach that final destination, such as agreeing to watch a product demonstration, setting up a meeting with a higher level of decision maker etc.
Let’s expand on the very important stages 2 and 4.
STAGE 2 – INVESTIGATING
We need to emphasize 2 things:
– finding out your prospect’s objections and fears is one of the most important things you have to do
– questions are more useful than monologues
If you don’t address your client’s objections in time, the meeting will end with them saying things like
- „I’ll have to think about it.”
- „It’s too expensive.”
- „We already have a supplier.”
- „We really don’t need your services.” (you wouldn’t be there if they really didn’t)
- „I need to get approval from my boss.”
That’s usually not the truth, it’s just that your clients has doubts about you and isn’t convinced. Most likely you didn’t address some of their objections, objections that they probably didn’t even mention. But if they don’t say what their fears are, how are you supposed to guess?! Well, you have to ask the right questions during the investigating stage.
The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions. – Claude Levi-Strauss
There are 4 types of questions that successful people use in their meetings —Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-payoff – or SPIN. Not all of them are required or have to be used in that order, especially if you need to keep the meeting short, you should just use them wisely according to the situation you’re in.
- Situation Questions – gather information about facts and backgrounds, find out about their current situation or current supplier.
- Problem Questions – explore problems, difficulties, hardships about their current situation. “Are you worried about the quality you get from your old machine?”.
- Implication Questions – these questions explore a problem’s consequences on the prospect’s business so they can understand how the problem is urgent or very serious and in need of solving. “What effect does this reject rate have on customer satisfaction?”. They’re very important in larger sales to create a sense of urgency.
- Need-payoff Questions – basically you get your prospect to tell you how YOU could help them and makes them focus on the solution rather than the problem. Sounds sneaky, right? It’s not. They’re positive solution-centered questions and they include questions like “If we could improve the quality of this operation, how would that help you?”. Studies show that top performers ask more than 10 times as many Need-payoff Questions per call as do average performers.
Of course they do, since these questions make you, the seller, sound positive, solution-centered and helpful!
STAGE 4 – OBTAINING COMMITMENT
You can also use closing techniques when trying to obtain commitment – but they’re tricky. Closing is defined as a behavior used by the seller which implies or invites a commitment, so that the buyer’s next statement accepts or denies commitment. There are many closing techniques out there, hundreds to thousands of techniques, and many of them work brilliantly with small sales.
- For example, there’s a technique called assumptive closing – the seller assumes the sale has already been made: “Would you prefer the flowers or the hearts wrapper?” or “Where would you like this delivered?”.
- Other closes are more aggressive, such as order-blank closes where the seller starts fiing out an order before the buyer has expressed agreement to buy. Aggressive closes can intimidate a prospect though and make them feel uneasy – not something you should strive for because it almost guarantees that there will be no repeat sales.
They sound great, right? They’re useful with small sales, but the higher the sale, the smaller the chance that these textbook closes will work. On the contrary, using them could permanently hurt your sale, if you use more closes and very often in the discussion you could annoy your client and have him throw you out of the office. Especially if your client is sophisticated and knowledgeable about sales techniques.
So what should you do? Well, you should still close, that’s for sure! The meeting should have a definite objective, such as an order, a future meeting to demonstrate what your product can do, a future meeting with a higher level of decision maker. You have to have an objective and close the sale with it in mind.
To reach that objective and obtain a commitment, you have to ask for it:
- “How about we schedule another meeting for […]? Would next Tuesday be convenient for you?”
- “If it sounds good, let’s fill in an order for next month. Would X amount be all right, with a discount of Y?”
Be your usual polite self and don’t push or be in any way aggressive. Just ask, be sure to ask.
After you demonstrate your capabilities and have your prospect convinced that you’re the best person for the job, don’t leave it at that because your client will not know how to proceed next. Give them the next steps to follow.
One last thing to do and our trip through selling will end!
Whatever the end result of the meeting, you should always follow up.
If you got a commitment, follow up a few days to a week later with updates about the situation, to schedule a meeting or to remind them of a meeting, maybe to add more value to what they already agreed upon. Find a good reason to contact them, something to keep you in their minds that they will also find useful (information or added value).
If you didn’t get a commitment and basically lost the sale, you definitely MUST follow up. It never hurts to try again using different information and tactics, at times you will be able to turn a “no” into a “yes”. So analyze the meeting, figure out what was the exact problem that kept the prospect from doing business with you, follow up with a call and tell them how you will solve that problem and why they should give you another meeting! Dissolve the obstacles, make your prospect happy and you’ll probably get that sale even after a few nos.
And you’re done! Pfew, it wasn’t so short, but at least it’s the basics that you need to know to land your first clients. Now you have to get on the horse, do your research and start working towards getting clients.
If you have anything to add, if you know something that works even better or tried out something and would like to share the results, leave a message in the comments section!
- “SPIN Selling” by Neil Rackham
- “Book Yourself Solid” by Michael Port
- “How to Become A Rainmaker” by Jeffrey J. Fox
- “The Connectors” by Maribeth Kuzmeski
- “Get Clients now!” by C. J. Hayden
About the Author
Copywriter and graphic designer with a creative spirit and a good disposition. Just don't take her Kindle and comic books away.