Attracting new clients is the main goal for any entrepreneur, and with good reason. If you want to stay in business for the long term, you need to go and get new clients, no matter what type of business you are in or the level of your current business.
The key to a successful prospecting strategy is to have a structured pipeline. Now we all know this, but common knowledge is not necessarily common practice. There’s a business to manage, clients to take care of, a team to lead and the list goes on… But taking the time to structure your pipeline ensures that you know where you stand at all times in terms of the following aspects:
- The number of prospects
- The status of each prospect
- The revenue each prospect may represent
- Your conversion rate
- And any other information that can be particularly of interest for your type of business
As an entrepreneur, you want to structure your prospecting efforts to create a ‘wow’ effect that will make you stand out in the marketplace. You want them to feel your rigor, your disciplined approach and your desire to work with them.
Having a structured approach also means letting go of potential clients who (a) are not interested in your services or (b) don’t fit the profile of the type of your sought-after clients.
[tweetthis]The prospect’s journey: suspect -> prospect -> client [/tweetthis]
There are distinct categories someone will fall into as you build your relationship with them.
The suspect is a person you met at a networking event, who subscribed to your newsletter, who is part of your LinkedIn network, etc. At this stage, you don’t know if this person is a good fit for your business, or if you can really help them in their situation. Your goal here is to focus on learning more about the person, understand their needs, wants, and desires to see if you are a good match for each other.
I often meet entrepreneurs who tell me they have a list of 100-200 prospects. And they are often surprised when I tell them that these 200 names are suspect, not prospects.
The prospect is a potential client who fits your ideal client profile, who is interested in the solutions you have to offer, and someone with whom you can see yourself working. They might not need your solutions right at this moment, but you’ve already confirmed that it’s a fit.
You will want to nurture these relationships, stay in touch on a regular basis either :
- In-person – have coffee or lunch, invite them to events you are hosting or attending
- Virtually – invite them to join your social media network, your newsletter distribution list and/or send them articles you think they might find to be of interest
A structured approach to managing your pipeline
To be efficient and effective, you’ll want to create a follow-up system for your prospects that details what happens during the first, second and third step. Here’s an example:
Step 1: You meet a potential client at a networking event.
Step 2: You invite them to continue the conversation by phone or over a coffee. You could also invite them to join your LinkedIn network or suggest that you add them to your newsletter. This acts as a way to stay in touch.
Step 3: You have your first formal meeting.
Keep this meeting casual, it’s not about you. It’s about them and learning more about them. That’s the focus of this meeting.
- Understand their needs, wants, desires. Ask questions, lots of questions, such as “What is your biggest challenge right now?” You should be talking only 20% of the time. In this area, I highly suggest the book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership (here’s a summary)
- Share how you could potentially help them, how you’ve helped people in similar situations and the results they’ve seen. (See my latest You Tube video on the subject.)
- Have your brochure or pitchbook in your briefcase if they ask for it, or use it as material to leave behind. I like ending my meetings with “Here I brought this (handing over my pitchbook). It’ll give you more information on what I do and how I do it. If you have any questions or comments, you’ll have my contact info at the end. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.”
Step 4: Follow-up
This is crucial, and this is where a lot of people drop the ball. You must follow up (and not only once!). A lot of people are not comfortable following up. If this is the case for you, see it as ‘touching base’ instead, and see it as a service. When your dentist calls you back because you never returned their phone call, are you mad or grateful they did? It’s the same thing here, people are busy –it’s as simple as that.
- Send a thank you email three days after the meeting thanking them for the time they took to meet with you and comment on the conversation.
- Send them an email to see if they had questions regarding the documentation you left.
- Send them articles, events, or resources they might find interesting.
2% of sales are made on the first contact
3% of sales are made on the second contact
5% of sales are made on the third contact
10% of sales are made on the fourth contact
80% of sales are made on the fifth to twelfth contact
National Sales Executive Association
Step 5: Decision.
After your follow ups, the potential client will either make the decision of doing business with you or not. If they decide not to do business with you, be graceful and thank them for their time and keep the lines of communication open. I like saying something along the lines of “If ever you have a question or are looking for information, please don’t hesitate to email me or give me a call. I always like helping entrepreneurs” (and I really do, so they feel the authenticity in my tone).
For the people with whom it’s a complete fit (personality, services, timing in their life), they’ll become a client. Your caring by asking questions in your initial meeting and your follow up set the tone of the experience of working with you. From this point, you can take care of the more formal aspects, such as a proposal, contracts, etc., and onboard them with an exceptional client experience.
A disciplined approach to managing your prospects
As I mentioned, I often meet entrepreneurs with a list of potential clients that is 100 names long, many of which have not been contacted in months, or years. You’ll want to create an Excel document to help you centralize all this information:
Source/Referred by: this will allow you to know where new clients are coming from
Date initial and final contact: this will allow you to calculate your average prospecting timeframe
Status: at which stage are the potential clients
LinkedIn, newsletter: this serves as a reminder for you to add them to LinkedIn and
Next contact: when is the next time you intend on contacting them
After each meeting you’ll want to update your database and answer this question: Should I move forward with this person? This unique question will help you make a decision as to what your next step with this person should be and make sure people don’t fall through the cracks.
And sometimes…the best decision you can take is to remove a person from your list, if they are not a right fit or aren’t part of your target market. This is sometimes a difficult decision to take but always remember the Universe doesn’t like empty space – by removing someone who doesn’t fit, you’re making room for someone who does.
Structure + discipline = success.
Join in the conversation
Now I’d love to hear from you, let me know: What’s your biggest prospecting challenge at this moment? Share your comments with me by clicking here.
Until next time! Stay strong, you never know who you’re inspiring!