Obviously, there are a lot of ways to generate new business. I’m going to list a few here in order of effectiveness.
- Cold Calling
- Direct Mail / Sales Letters
- White Papers
- Executive Seminars
- Speaking Engagements
Contrary to what a lot of people believe, cold calls can be effective. You just have to be seen as a business peer (not a vendor), provide value, and do not waste their time. The bad part of cold calling is that business people today are busy and rarely enjoy an unsolicited call. This negative attitude has been amplified by thousands of telemarketers irritating people during dinner time with phone calls. But it can still be effective when done properly.
Sales letters and direct mail are a great cost-effective way to generate leads. I personally like sales letters better (see here), but direct mail can be effective as well. The beauty of letters is that there is no restriction on length. Data from the DMI shows that longer letters perform better than “one pagers”. As long as you are telling a compelling story and providing value to your prospects, I do believe they will read three to five page letters. Direct mail postcards are different. Here you have to convince someone to take the next sales action step with just a few words. In either case, an appropriate offer is critical to your success. It could be as simple as providing free access to industry research or a white paper.
White papers are great because they position you as a specialist in your field. Since they are typically four to five pages, you can provide a good level of detail without giving away all of your valuable insight. I’m torn between making web users register for white papers. The usability side of me says that people hate to register for information and that they provide fake data or leave the site before registering. But the marketer in me wants their basic contact info so that I can continue the conversation. Typically I default to the user. I often recommend my clients give away their research and writing and if their value is strong enough the user will come back to them for more information.
Tradeshows are marketing staple in a lot of industries. They are a great way to reach multiple users under the same roof. The hard part with tradeshows is standing out. There is A LOT of competition for your audience’s attention. 99% of all booths look the same and 99% of all booth workers give the same lame pitch. But if you can catch their attention, there’s no better way to meet more customers in a short period of time. I’ve seen the best ROI come when you combine tradeshows with Executive Seminars.
Executive Seminars are different than having a booth on the tradeshow floor. In fact, the seminar does not have to be associated with a tradeshow at all. You can do them anytime. The main difference is that seminars are invitation only and typically provide a high level of interaction with a senior audience. I’ve seen companies have great success by doing a series of seminars in a city. They will have one meeting a week for a month. Each meeting will have a different area of focus that the audience cares about. This allows the invitee to attend one or all of the meetings – all the while they are seeing you as the expert and hopefully networking with other peer executives in the area. The key is to have a small audience of high level executives (50 or less) and provide GREAT food while discussing industry trends, problem solving techniques, and business growth strategies – DO NOT TALK about your products or services. If it smells like a sales pitch, you will lose interest and attendance.
This leads me to the best form of lead generation, Speaking Engagements. Any time you are in front of a crowd, you’re the perceived expert. If you provide knowledge and value, you will have a long line of people waiting to talk to you at the end of your session. This technique, used at tradeshows, is especially effective. You get a lot of decision makers and influencers in your industry looking to you for expertise. Any time you can create a buying environment instead of a selling environment is powerful. It takes a lot of writing and being published to be sought after as a speaker, but if you can put in the hard work and provide insight; you’ll have much more opportunity than capacity.
And that’s the best situation to be as a small business. I’ll dig into more detail on some of these techniques in future posts.
Nick is the co-author of "The Age of Conversation", an Expert Blogger for Fast Company magazine, and authors an AdAge Power150 blog on the topic of marketing and branding.
Download his free report, "7 Principles of Attracting More Clients," at www.nick-rice.com