It's a jungle out there. Yes, small business sales is a wild, wild world. My guess is, you wouldn't be out there if you didn't love the thrill of the hunt. But passion alone is not enough. To be successful, you must hunt selectively. After all, you have limited time and resources and can't afford to pursue everything that moves.
It makes sense to target the big game--the grandest trophies. It's hard work and requires a longer sales cycle, but it's also much more rewarding. So how do you choose a prime target? Consider these factors to determine your greatest chance of success:
- Ease of contact
- Ease of potential sale
- Length of potential relationship
- Initial profitability
- Long-term profit potential
- Your ability to deliver a unique or definitive solution to the prospect
- Your ability to satisfy the prospect's needs and demands
Once you select your prey, let the hunt begin.
Learn the Lay of the Land
The first step is to learn about the company you're after. The internet makes this infinitely easier than it was in the past. Study the company website, then scour the web for industry news and background information. And don't forget to ask around.
What are the company's needs, goals and attitudes? Most important, what is its key problem, and can you offer a remedy? Frankly, if you don't have a real solution, you may be wasting your time. To win a first-time sale from a large target, you need to be able to offer a compelling solution.
But don't limit your research to the company as a whole--home in on its leader, your ultimate prospect. Learn about your prospect's interests and lifestyle. Be creative. Think about how you could meet this person outside the office, say, through a social or charitable event.
Check Your Gear
You can't bag anything without the right equipment. Do you have the proper rifle and ammunition for your quarry? Essentially, this means creating two plans: The first is your marketing plan, or how you'll get in to see the prospect; the second is your sales plan, or how you'll build a relationship, create trust and introduce your solution.
Be sure to tailor your sales plan to your prospect's specific needs. Don't use a generic presentation. Create one designed to serve the prospect's particular needs. This is where your upfront intelligence comes in: The more you know, the better you can do this.
Make Your Approach
The easiest way to get in touch with your prospect is with a direct approach. Send a carefully crafted letter. Try calling for an appointment. If at all possible, get yourself a referral. Chatting up a receptionist or assistant can sometimes get you in the door, provided you're genuinely friendly and low key.
You may also try to "accidentally" meet your prospect at an activity or event. It isn't always possible to access high-powered people through the front door; you may have to go around to the side. I know of one very successful entrepreneur who built his entire business on such side-door opportunities.
If and when you do get to meet your prospect in a social situation, don't try to sell anything at that first meeting. Rather, try to establish a rapport that'll lead to a future appointment. Be patient and persistent.
And if your quarry travels in a pack, be ready to meet and greet other members of the group. Never underestimate them: they may not be decision makers, but they may be influencers who can arrange an introduction or referral.
Going after big game isn't for the timid. It takes time, smarts, ingenuity and determination. Furthermore, concentration is key. The process doesn't end once you're in the door. Keep developing as many relationships as possible throughout the company. You goal is to obtain ongoing information regarding the company's needs, goals and problems so you can continue to provide strong solutions.
Ultimately, you must become more than the hunter. Once the sale is made, you must join the pack.
Ray Silverstein is the president of PRO: President's Resource Organization , a network of peer advisory boards for small business owners. He is author of two books: The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses and the new Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) in Tough Times . He can be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org .