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Back in 1991, I read an interview with my agent-to-be, Jeff Herman. His words have had a profound effect on how I go about new business opportunities. He said his success was based on not knowing what couldn't be done. People told him he would have difficulty as a literary agent because he had no experience in the industry. His reply was, simply, that that is exactly why he would succeed.
Being in an industry for a long time can make it hard to see new opportunities because you already have set ideas about the rules and procedures. However, thinking in new directions will allow you to break through with new ideas and better solutions. When venturing into new territory, a map may provide direction, but exploring with your own two feet will let you see the truth. Here are a few ways this idea can help you develop new sales opportunities.
When going after a new market, collect your data from a variety of sources. Before I made a call on a children's retail account, I visited several stores where the company's merchandise was sold. I walked the aisles to see how the product was displayed. I asked the store manager how the product sold, which products competed with the line, and how much inventory they moved on a weekly and monthly basis. I also attended trade shows and asked all the companies in the industry about their current challenges and what they're doing about them. Finally, I scheduled meetings with friends and clients who deal in that industry in one way or another. When it came time to meet my prospect, I had several new ideas and interesting solutions to grow their business.
Visit your customers' customers. A prospect once told me he'd used several sales trainers in the past but had never seen results. I asked if I could spend some time in the field with one of his better reps, just to see what type of calls they were going on. I learned a lot by speaking with customers, who had nothing but good things to say about the sales force but had a list of changes the company could make to increase business--such as changing its online fulfillment, shipping and inventory.
Don't always believe what you read. When one of my clients hired me to get them TV and print publicity, I purchased a media directory with detailed information about editors, producers and reporters. One major newspaper editor gave her preferred order of contact as e-mail, fax and mail, with a note saying, "She prefers not to be contacted by phone, as deadlines are an issue."
I tried e-mail but wondered how many e-mail pitches she just ends up deleting. We didn't have a relationship, and that's what it's all about. So I called, and after the second try, she picked up. I said, "I know you don't take any calls, but I thought I'd save you time sorting through my e-mails if you could answer one question that's not in your contact bio. Is that OK?" I asked for her most important criteria when selecting a story for a feature. She said it must be new, very unique and offer valuable and practical information for entrepreneurs. I thanked her and promised to send only relevant stories in the future. I then went through the directory and called everyone who had "no phone calls" by their name--and ended up placing the client in some of the toughest media.