Remember how Kevin Costner’s character in “Field of Dreams” based his plans on whispers from the corn fields, “If you build it, they will come”? And in the movie, they actually did come. If only real life worked like that! If reality is your cup of tea, you’ll quickly realize that things don’t just happen like that. Instead, it’s imperative that you actively cultivate your list of customers, and proactively promote your products and services to them. In order to do that, building and maintaining a sales lead list of potential (and past) customers is essential. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you work to develop lists of potential sales leads.
Look close to home
Have you ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be) to make a list of everybody you know? Try it – you’d be amazed by how many names come to mind.
Your sales lead list should start right there: friends, family, contacts and acquaintances. Remember, all other things being equal, most people prefer to give business to somebody they know. So these people make a great place to start building your list. A cool thing about people who know and like you is the added benefit of the introductions they’ll make to other people they know. Accordingly, don’t be afraid to ask if these contacts know anybody else who should be on your list. Assuming you’re nice and not too much of a nudge, they’ll be glad to help you.
You can also contact people who were your customers in previous career positions you’ve held (assuming this doesn’t cross any non-compete boundaries with your previous employers). If you earned the respect of customers in an earlier role, they just might be inclined to work with your new business -- even if you’re hawking something completely different.
Get out and network
Another great way to build a sales pipeline is to get out and meet new people. Look for relevant events or trade shows in your area where you can network and collect business cards. Rent a booth at a local festival and collect business cards in a bowl; Give a talk at the local business hotel and invite people from the Chamber of Commerce to attend. Consider that social membership at the country club. Find as many ways as possible to get direct contact with potential customers, and let them match a face to your new business name.
Don’t forget to network with fellow business owners as well. Strategic partnerships are built by businesses that are seeking the same type of customers, but for completely different, non-competitive products or services. If you can find a partner, you may be able to share your sales lead lists, and each gain the benefit of the other’s good name.
Read about potential customers
Head to the library and check out recent issues of trade journals relating to your small business. You’ll find articles about people who buy what you have to offer. Pore over the daily newspaper, particularly the business section. There are potential customers being written about all the time, and you’ll know them when you see them.
Of course, the internet is like a library on steroids! It’s an excellent source of information, and a great tool for generating sales leads. Not only can you search for news stories, events and other tidbits that are relevant to your business and customer base, you can also do some networking. Start by tapping into the entrepreneur community here at StartupNation and search for other members who might be potential partners, mentors or customers, and then do some networking on the message boards to see if there are people out there willing to share their secrets for drumming up sales leads.
Buy a sales lead list
You should carefully consider the option of purchasing a sales lead list. There are dozens of companies that sell lists, and a wide variety of price ranges, but expect to pay around $500 for a good list. Look for a company that will allow you to narrow your target down as much as possible.
Purchasing sales lead lists will get you a lot of names, but don’t expect a high percentage of those names to end up as customers, no matter how tightly you whittle down the list. Purchased lists invariably contain a significant number, maybe even 20-30%, of names and addresses that are no longer valid.
Once you’ve assembled a healthy sales pipeline through your lead list, you’ll want to keep track of each sales prospect and any contact you make with them. Make sure you track things like contact information (updated regularly), referral source, last date of contact, notes from recent conversations, and any other information you think will be pertinent. You can set this information up in a simple spreadsheet or database (Microsoft Excel or Access, for example), or there are dozens of customer relationship management (CRM) software packages available for purchase.
If you build a sales lead list, and take time to develop relationships with the people on it, profits will come. Just remember to keep your eyes open for creative ways to find potential customers and grow that sales pipeline, and then let them know you’re out there.
Steve Pick is a freelance writer for StartupNation.com