Features | July 25, 2022
Broken Sales Pipeline? Here Are 3 Ways Your Promotional Products Business Can Generate Leads Now
You are likely in a positive but perilous position right now:
Demand from clients is high. Business is on an upward swing. And you and you’re team are maxed, doing everything you can to keep up with the deluge. Champagne problems!
But if inflation keeps rising and the economy cools, and especially if recessionary waves start lapping at our shores, the one thing you must fix now is your broken pipeline. Because the most important thing you can do about a (potential) recession tomorrow is to prospect for new business today.
What do we mean by broken pipeline?
A broken pipeline means either new business leads are trickling in occasionally or, worse, not at all. Most promotional product distributors have weak or non-existent pipelines. It’s the nature of a high-referral business: you’ve grown your sales by word-of-mouth and that’s largely how you’ve built a steady, healthy book of business. And because you’ve built your business that way, you’ve neglected the muscle you need the most when the economy softens.
Weaker economic times call for different energy than merely waiting for leads to come to you. Today, you’ve got to make sure you have a plan to go get them.
Here are three things you can fix NOW to create a healthier pipeline:
1. MAKE REFERRALS A PRIORITY WITH EVERY ONE OF YOUR CLIENTS, STARTING TODAY
84% of new business is driven by referrals. But many of us forgo asking our client for a referral and instead, wait for the referral to come to us.
Think of your client as sitting in the middle of a map: their position on the map is surrounded by other places you can reach but only through them, in every direction from your contact is a new contact, all you need to do is ask. We’ve written about this before, but the best time to ask for a referral is at the heroic moment: right after you’ve delivered on a successful project or pulled off the impossible.
Referrals take a special kind of mental energy, proactive energy. And the secret to a good referral network is doing your homework.
Example: Take your top 10 clients (or a recent client) and create a referral mind-map. Draw their name at the center and link their name to a possible opportunity: What other departments in their company do they work with? (Use LinkedIn). Who else do they know? What organizations are they a part of? Associations?
After you’ve done your homework and mapped out potential names, departments, or businesses, use this intel to be ready when you ask for that referral. Clients are busy, and they might not be able to recall their network on-the-spot. If you asked, “Who else could we provide this kind of white-glove service to?”, they could look at your blankly. Instead, you could ask, “Do you happen to know Susan or Tom in the HR department? If so, do you think you could make an introduction on my behalf?”
Next step, you know exactly what to do: Ship the prospect one of those cool kits you’ve created as a self-promo and follow up with a call, but just remember, referrals require two keys to open any door: knowledge about your client’s network and the willingness to ask - at the right time and in the right way.
2. RETURN OF THE COLD CALL
Outbound works now more than ever. Outbound? That’s right, the dreaded cold call. Surprised?
This past week I was talking with Matt Fischer, CEO and founder of Probitas (the full conversation will be published in an upcoming podcast episode). I asked Matt what he enjoys most about the business today, and he replied (without batting an eye), “cold calling.”
Matt said, “I’m excited that I’ve been able to cold call for the past few months, it has been rejuvenating. I have way more energy and excitement about my day-to-day work than I have had in a long time.”
I asked what kinds of results he was seeing, cold calling in a post-pandemic world and Matt replied, “That’s the thing some don’t realize, people want to be called on, people want to be pursued, we're just so afraid to do it.”
One simple reason the cold call is back? No one does it anymore.
That means the prospect you call today isn’t fatigued by a dozen other calls that day and is more receptive than in years past. And the real secret to cold calling? Being confident that what you offer is a solid solution for your prospect.
Cold calling takes some work but it pays. To start, begin with your lost clients’ list (everyone has a list of those: buyers who moved on, and as a result you lost the account; the buyer is gone, but the organization is still alive and thriving). Next, begin with companies you already work with but target a different division than the one you’re working with now, or a different department. Working with marketing? Call procurement. Working with procurement? Call marketing. Your relationship with your client establishes a form of trust right at the beginning of your call. Finally, if you’re excelling within a certain vertical (maybe you’re amazing at working with finance or tech), call their competitors and name-drop. Everyone perks up when they hear their competitor, and name-dropping establishes one fact right away: credibility.
A couple of recently published cold calling resources for you: Entrepreneurs Recommend Their Top Cold Calling Strategies (That Actually Work) from Forbes, and Here’s how to make an effective cold call pitch from Fast Company.
3. FIX YOUR INBOUND PROBLEM
How many monthly qualified inbound leads do you get from your website, content, and social channels? (Qualified = prospects who fit your ICP, ideal client profile).
Count the number from last month: One? Two? Ten? And how many leads have you tracked YTD that have converted into clients? If these numbers are not at the tip of your fingers, you might have a pipeline problem.
Outbound and cold calling and referrals all work, but nothing works more stealthily than a strong inbound program. In a recent Forbes article, Loredana Niculae predicted that “sales channels will be mainly inbound in the B2B space as millennials take over key B2B buyer and management roles.”
Where to start with inbound/content? The recently released 2022 B2B Content Marketing Report: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends reveals a list of the B2B inbound content assets that produced the best results in the last 12 months, they are, in order of impact:
Short articles/posts (less than 3,000 words)
Long articles/posts (more than 3,000) words
We often make content too hard when it’s quite simple: Just pick a lane and get started.
One final, tiny tip to activate right now: Meetings don’t solve problems, but they can force the conversation to the foreground and laser your focus. Schedule a weekly business development meeting with you and your sales team now. Don’t let the topic of existing client projects enter the room, this meeting is all about new business.
Sometimes you might end up staring at the wall blankly, other times, you’ll kick around lame ideas, but ultimately, you’ll end up harnessing the strengths you have to determine how each person can work together (in their own way) to solve the problem. But getting something on your calendar makes it important, and signals to your crew that it should be important to everyone else as well.
Take heart: The value of what we sell is higher now than in any previous year in our industry’s history. We have a more robust selling toolkit than ever before. Clients are spending money purposefully and intentionally and are willing to pay higher premiums for quality merchandise. Now is the time to stand proudly and talk with prospects about the high impact of our medium.
So, kick down those doors and share your client stories confidently with any qualified lead who will listen.
Marketing and Sales Business/Growth Strategies Customer Service