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Whether you’re starting a business or growing an existing one, you need clients. If you don’t like selling and don’t have a strong referral network, getting clients is a big challenge. I’ve helped scores of entrepreneurs who hate selling grow their business, and in my experience, one of the biggest hurdles is how you feel about selling itself.
If you judge selling as manipulative, you probably try to avoid it, and if you can sell in a way that aligns with your values and your personality, getting clients gets easier.
One of the best ways to do this is to start with warm leads instead of cold calls. This means approching people you know or feel comfortable with.
Here are three key ways to generate warm leads:
1. Contact database
By putting your contacts into a spreadsheet, you’ll find lots of great people you’ve forgotten about.
Download your list of names into Excel with data fields for first and last name, then add two new columns. Call the first column “lead status” and the second one “lead type.” In the status column, mark “warm” or “cold.”
Warm contacts on this list are the people you wouldn’t hesitate to call because you know you’d receive a warm welcome. Cold contacts are everyone else.
In the “type” column, decide whether each person is likely to be a potential client, referral source, mentor or something else. Knowing why you will contact each person in advance makes reaching out easier and desired results more likely.
Once you’ve got the columns populated, filter for the warm leads and reach out to all of them. Target a specific number of calls per day for maximum payoff. You may have to use Google or other research to get phone numbers. If you can’t get a number, then use email as a last resort. Be ready to call or email several times to get a response.
If you want to generate new warm leads, networking is an excellent place to start. Instead of looking only for ideal clients, consider the fact that anyone can be a mutual referral source.
If you’ve exhausted everyone in your network, try someone new you have a lot in common with. You’ll be more likely to grab a cup of coffee with someone who shares your love of hiking and traveling, and that conversation may lead you to your next client. We’re more likely to hire and refer people we know, like and trust, but the foundation of that relationship is often common interests, not a potential to become business partners.
Before you get too far with these strategies, make sure you set up a customer relationship management (CRM) database. This will keep you organized so you remember who you need to call back and know which Cathy was the potential client and which one recommended the great sushi spot.
I recommend an online tool like Less Annoying CRM, Insightly or Highrise HQ if you have a small budget. Excel is great for filtering, but it doesn’t email or text you reminders to follow up, which is crucial for acquiring new business. If you’re not on top of it, you’re wasting your time and throwing out potential revenue. Make sure to keep up-to-date notes about activity, actions you’ve promised and when you need to reach out again.
Referrals are an excellent warm lead resource. The problem is, when you wait for referrals, they aren’t reliable or plentiful enough to keep your business going. You need to create multiple referral sources and nurture them.
To do this, make a list of your power partners. These are other businesses that serve your target market in a non-competitive way. Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer. Your power partners include makeup artists, florists and DJs. The magic of these partners is that you can all refer each other so it’s a two-way street rather than beneficial to only one of you. If you get a large list of power partners and are in regular contact with them, your referral numbers will increase and become more reliable.
Once you know your power partners, you can look for them at networking events, and you can ask your existing contacts if they can connect you to others. If you’re introduced to an ideal referral source through a mutual friend or contact, you’re both more likely to make the effort to help each other.
Another great way to get clients and warm leads is speaking. The key to getting clients through speaking is inviting the audience to work with you during your presentation. If you find this step as cringe-worthy as cold calling, here are a few tips:
- Determine your core values and desired audience perception. One of my clients values professionalism, integrity and service. With this understanding, we brainstormed how she could invite members of the audience to work with her in a way that made her feel aligned with her core values.
- Talk to “your people.” During your presentation, you’ll notice a few people are more engaged than the rest of the room. You’ll know they love what you’re saying by their smiles, head nods and questions. When you make your pitch, have those people in mind. If you make more eye contact with them during the pitch, you’ll feel more comfortable. They’re the people who want to speak with you further, so make them feel invited to do so.
- Attend other speaking events. Listen to how other speakers make a pitch. Write down what you like about their methods and what turns you off. Figure out how to integrate the aspects you like into your own pitch.
If all else fails, make sure you have a way to collect names, phone numbers and email addresses at your events. This will give you a collection of warm leads. Enter them into your CRM system and then call them to follow up.
If you start using even one of these strategies, you’ll find yourself with more leads and more confidence. Confidence, in the end, is what makes selling easier.