Whether you’re a professional, full-time salesperson or a newly-minted seller-doer, it doesn’t take long for you to figure out that the hardest thing to do when selling is convincing a company to do business with you the very first time. That is, to acquire a brand-new client.
Think about it… first, you’re ‘stealing’ them from a competitor, one where they presumably have had a pretty good relationship for a period of time. And two, your sales pitch – by definition – is basically, “I know you’ve been working with my competitor for a long time and have a good relationship with them, but I want you to forget about that and take a chance with us… a company you have absolutely no history with!” OK, I’m exaggerating… but not by much.
So, what’s a business to do? In the real world, you build awareness in the marketplace with your marketing efforts, do some networking at a conference, maybe do some email and phone outreach and so on. And eventually, you’re able to get a first meeting with a potential buyer. But in their mind, they’re thinking, “OK, you’re doing some interesting things. But why should I change providers? Prove to me that you can do what you say you can do.”
And that’s the key… ‘proof sources.’ If you can ‘prove’ to a potential buyer that you can do what you say you can do… and that you’re as good as you say you are… then you might actually have a chance at getting them to agree to “give us a try.”
So, what proof sources are available to you? The good news… a lot:
First, there is ‘content’… blog posts, eBooks, webinars, speaking at conferences, infographics, an active LinkedIn presence, white papers, etc. And the more you produce, the more you showcase your SME – subject matter expertise. For example, if you’ve written a couple dozen blog posts and published an eBook on concept testing – that largely ‘proves’ that you are an expert in the area of concept testing. That you really do know what you’re talking about.
An additional benefit of content is that it can help to differentiate your firm from the competition… also helping your sales cause. Using the example above, all of that content about concept testing allows you to say, “We’re not a generic research firm, we’re specialists in concept testing.” And that makes you different.
Bottom line: the frequent and consistent publishing of content becomes a critical proof source to support your selling efforts.
The second – and maybe more compelling – proof source is your current clients. Or rather, the kinds of things you can leverage your current clients to do for you:
- Having a long list of client names (or logos) under ‘Our Clients” on your website is a good start. The more, the better.
- Having a long list of client testimonials – showing the names and companies of those who provided them – on your website is also important.
- Don’t have many? At your next project wrap-up meeting, when your client says to you, “You did a terrific job!”, respond with, “Thanks! Can I get that in writing?”
- Case studies, where you profile a project that went really well and provided positive, measurable (that’s critical) outcomes for your client.
- If your client won’t give you permission to use their name in the case study, it’s OK to be anonymous. Instead of their name, try something like, ‘A nationwide provider of snack foods based in the mid-Atlantic area.’
- References, having a handful of clients who will say great things about your firm and the work you do for them when asked about it by a potential buyer.
- Always get the client’s permission before you give out their name as a reference.
- Referrals, when an existing client recommends your firm to one of their business contacts… because the work you do is so darn good.
- Not getting as many referrals as you used to? Don’t be shy about asking your best clients for them. “Mary, who else do you know that might also benefit from the services we provide?”
Yes, I really do believe that acquiring first-time clients is the most difficult thing you do as a salesperson. Difficult… but not impossible. A good sales effort supported with smart marketing and a handful of proof sources is the key to being successful.
Good luck and good selling.