A new year. Another 365 days; another 31,536,000 seconds. Will you treat these measures of time as a meaningless concept or as a precious allotment of space filled with golden opportunities for you to carve out a giant share of the marketplace?
Here are two important ways to turn your sales time in 1996 from a vague concept into a concrete tool:
1. Think less; develop more business. Stop reliving your 1995 sales successes. For some people, no matter how good last year's sales were, they still torment themselves with such thoughts as: "I wonder if last year was a fluke. There's no way I can pull off another year like that one."
Then there's the small-business owner who sits at his or her desk projecting self-defeating thoughts into the future: "I hate rejection. Will I ever get better at this? How long will it be before I know if I'll get anything out of this effort?"
Concentrating on outcomes can drive you insane. If you're having a hard time shaking off your negative thoughts, force yourself to take a break and do something physical. Take a brisk walk around the block, or go shoot a few baskets.
2. Expand your prospecting horizons by multiplying your niches.Take out a blank sheet of paper and a pen, and start writing down untapped niches in the marketplace-ones you have either refused to cultivate or were too lazy to develop in the past.
Write with abandonment. Put no constraints on yourself. Think broad. Go global. Never doubt the importance of tapping multiple niches in your business development efforts.
Know, however, that some niches have a quicker payback than others. Be aware of where the payoffs are, and monitor your time and efforts accordingly. Consider the following five niches and how soon you can expect returns on your efforts:
1. Niche: Door-knocking.
Turnaround time: Usually one year or more.
Judi Sheppard Missett, founder of the Carlsbad, California, Jazzercise exercise franchise, found door-knocking as natural as dancing during her company's start-up. Along with her 10-year-old daughter and her nieces and nephews, Missett went from door to door, distributing fliers to homes throughout her community. Today, Jazzercise is in more than 34 countries, and door-knocking in neighborhoods worldwide is one of the ways Jazzercise owners and instructors continue to find good prospects.
While out door-knocking, Missett discovered a lot of things about her prospects, even learning why certain people were not good candidates for Jazzercise. For instance, some people told her that since she didn't offer child care, they couldn't attend her classes. This gave her the incentive to make child care available, thus doubling her clientele.
Missett believes she never would have discovered what her prospects' objections were if she hadn't been out pounding the pavement. Knowing her prospects' objections gave her the opportunity to improve her services and, as a result, expand her market.
Keep in mind, this activity doesn't always result in quick returns. A deadly, demotivating thought often surfaces: "I wonder if this is a waste of my time." Missett received some immediate feedback, but in other cases, it took time to see the fruits of her labor. Many of her future students didn't come to her classes until months later, but they told her how much they appreciated her knocking at their doors because it started them thinking about implementing a regular exercise routine.
Of course, Missett did not depend on door-knocking alone. She was active in her local chamber of commerce and the Get Fit program, a community outreach program for elementary-age children. She also sought out existing customers for referrals.
Some niches bring returns faster than door-knocking, but working the territory is all part of the big picture. To stay objective and avoid the danger of depending on a few prospects you hope will bring you business, you must continue to develop multiple niches.
2. Niche: Past customers.
Turnaround time: One hour to 10 years.
You cannot communicate enough with your existing customers. These customers can help usher you across invisible boundaries to new markets for your products and services. But so few people take advantage of this niche.
Ask existing customers to help you with new prospects who are sitting on the fence. You may be just a phone call away from winning over a client. All it takes is a third party (your customer) who has an established trust with your prospect to create that opportunity for you.
You could be wasting precious time trying to get through to a decision maker or convince a prospect of your product's worth. You may not get that account without a strong third-party endorsement.
Understand that you get "hired" and "fired" every day. Every time you talk to a new prospect, you are out on a job interview. Your chances of getting hired improve dramatically when you have some serious clout-existing satisfied customers. But time must be spent developing that clout.
If you have ignored business development for many months, existing customers are your only hope for quickly getting your client list back in shape. Because your credibility has already been established with existing customers, your contact is often a wake-up call for them to give you a lead or a helping hand to get an order.
Last year, I was making calls off a customer list, and within 24 hours, two of my past clients arranged to bring me into their cities to do a "lifetime customers" workshop. On their own, they set up sponsors to help raise the funds. And all it took was a phone call.
3. Niche: Targeted lists.
Turnaround time: A few months to a few years.
A participants list is an excellent resource. Did you speak at or attend a trade show or convention recently? Do you have the list of attendees, or can you obtain it? Ideally, you should make these calls no more than 30 days after the event.
When I spoke at a sales convention not long ago, I phoned every name on the list, including heads of companies and media people. The editor of a major magazine asked me to send him more information about one of my new projects. I jumped on his request and followed up a week later with a phone call.
He informed me he had decided to do a feature story about me and my newest product in his magazine. The story is six pages with color photos. The magazine has a circulation of 168,000, and its readers hire people like me every day.
All this publicity resulted from one follow-up call off a targeted list.
4. Niche: Past acquaintances.
Turnaround time: A few years.
Reconnect with people further back in your history-not necessarily business contacts. Maybe you're missing out on a lot of business from people who have trusted you since childhood.
How about your eighth-grade class reunion list? High school? Fraternity or sorority? Dig deeper into your past through letter writing, brief notes or a newsletter to help keep those who knew you way back when informed of your successful business, products and services.
Working the past acquaintance niche is often effortless because the relationship is unpretentious, with an unspoken trust that exists for no other reason than old time's sake.
5. Niche: The random niche.
Turnaround time: Whenever.
Stay aware. Every day of your life a name or a lead may come to mind. How many times have you thought to yourself "I should call so-and-so"? Then you do, and he is glad to hear from you and tells you he was just thinking about calling you yesterday. It's time for him to change his insurance/buy a new copier/move to a new location.
And how many times have you not paid attention to those gut feelings, only to discover later that the person who came to mind two months ago has gone down another path to do business with a competitor. She didn't think you wanted or needed her business anymore.
Are you spending too much time wasting time? Vow to eliminate common sales time wasters such as long phone conversations explaining unnecessary details or long handwritten journal entries after every phone conversation. Sure, note the important facts, but comments such as: "Seemed really nice over the phone. Didn't make me nervous and gave me the opportunity to say my spiel" are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Besides, if you hadn't taken those notes, you could have made 50 calls in two hours instead of four. Cut to the chase.
Make 1996 the year you develop more niches. Remember, time is power-and only you have the power to turn time into profits.
Danielle Kennedy has presented sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide to more than 46 different industries. She is the author of five books on sales as well as audio and video sales training programs. You can reach her by writing her in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92714.