Let's begin by identifying a gray area in sales. I have had very successful salespeople ask, "How do you continue your prospecting efforts in a tactful yet persistent manner, without being pushy?"
The phrase "tactful persistence" should come to mind as you are thinking about the next contact with your prospect. Ask for permission, during that last phone call or in-person meeting. "What month should I follow up?" makes you an accountable salesperson rather than a pesky one. Asking for a callback date from the prospect on each call you make means you don't have to spend time calling prospects who are not ready to make decisions.
Of course, sometimes the difficulty lies in just reaching the prospect at all. You may have planned on calling a given prospect back in two weeks, when he or she won't be ready with a decision for two months. If you keep enough prospects in the sales funnel, you won't mind when they push you off. Just be prepared, so that when the day comes for followup you are there, armed with notes from the last conversation to reignite the call. This is especially important in the OCS world, where "I'm in a contract, call me closer to 2014," is a common response. Well that's the vibe, sometimes, right? Are you tracking those callbacks? Are you demanding the same of your salespeople?
Consider contact management software to help manage your information. There are several "off the shelf" solutions you can purchase for under a few hundred dollars, but you want to be sure to put the time in to learn how to use the program to its fullest potential. ACT and Salesforce are two of the bigger players in the market; however, some of our clients have managed their own data very well using Microsoft Excel. Using an Excel spreadsheet to manage your lists is an affordable way to keep track of notes of conversation and callback opportunities. Most importantly, if you insert a "last results" column (or field), you will be able to sort your records, which is necessary to manage data properly. Last results can be defined as "appointment set," "not interested," "callback [month]," "bad number," etc.
All your prospects should be gathered into this "master" Excel spreadsheet or contact management solution and consistently worked. You can hire someone to enter the names and affiliations of prospects from networking events, and you also can purchase prospecting lists based on key demographics such as staff size minimums, zip codes, and industry type.
The question often comes up, "How often should I leave messages?" How would you feel if you got a message every other day from the same salesperson? If you are going to leave messages, leave them sparingly. When you do leave a message, vary the substance. Perhaps you have some interesting information you just uncovered to make your prospect's job easier. Maybe you just got permission to add a new service to the package that you can discuss with them. Make your message compelling, so the recipients are drawn to call you back -- but, at the same time, don't expect a callback: it rarely happens! Your services may not be on your prospect's top five priorities for the week. Try calling without leaving a message, too, in an effort to reach the prospect "live."
VARIETY: THE SPICE OF CONTACT
Now that you've positioned yourself as a resource, combine direct mail with your telephone marketing efforts as a "touch point" throughout the year. Send your prospects articles that might interest them. A holiday card, to bring in the season. A newsletter that contains a value-based article. Make allies of their assistants. Gather information from each person you speak to, so that each time you reach the prospect (or leave a message), you are armed with some new information that positions you as a resource. Many of our OCS clients don't have a strong belief in hard-copy direct mail communications, and while we agree that catalogs can be dated, there is a time and place for sending mail, especially on a permission basis, when it provides perceived value to your prospects, or simply builds brand awareness.
Reaching decision-makers and keeping them engaged is a multichannel marketing effort. It is the combination of "soft touches" by phone, email, fax and direct mail, on a consistent but not overwhelming basis, that creates and strengthens awareness of your brand. While the prospect wasn't ready to do business when you first called him, when he is ready for your service, he will think of your company. Tactful persistence leads to stumbling upon "good timing" -- being right there when the prospect is ready to buy. When you can't make the sale on the first call, good timing often wins you that sale!
Finally, bringing together participation in trade shows, website marketing, public speaking, publishing articles in alternative media and taking advantage of other opportunities will make for a well-rounded multi-channel marketing approach that will keep you "top of mind." But it all starts with tactful persistence.
AMANDA PUPPO leads MarketReach Inc. of Lawrenceville, NJ, which provides business-to-business outbound telephone marketing for refreshment service operators. It offers lead generation and appointment setting, customer satisfaction surveys, database cleanup, customer reactivation and introductory call training. Puppo is a past recipient of the Small Business Administration' New Jersey Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and has a Staples store named in her honor. She may be contacted by calling (609) 448-6364 or emailing Amanda@MarketReach.biz.