Buying or selling: Great marketing shifts the balance

Inbound or outbound — and lead quality — are often determined by decisions and activities long before you see your first inquiry or make your initial sales call.

Consider your responses to two situation (same story from a different perspective)

You are a vendor — seller — and you receive an inbound call/inquiry from someone saying they (a) would like to purchase your services because they had been referred by a colleague/friend or (b), they completed an?inquiry form requesting more information about your services.

You are a potential customer and you receive (a) an inbound, unsolicited and unrequested, call or email from someone saying they would like to offer you their products/services or (b) the business was responding to your inquiry and would be happy to provide more information.

Looking at this from left to right, on the left you have hard rock cold solicitation, spam, or other efforts at mass direct connection; on the right, your reputation is so good that potential customers are ready to purchase from you, without signficant competition, because they have a direct referral.

In between, we find the softer inquiries, resulting perhaps from referrals, or alternatively?from advertising and maybe from search engine orientation. Here, the quality of the inbound lead (did the person have a previous relationship before following up, or simply saw the ad and wants some early-stage information) could vary greatly. The follow-up call from the company will either be seen as intrusive solicitation or a welcome response.

Clearly, from a marketing and business development perspective, the more you can move your leads/inquiries to the right from the left — to active inbound referral inquiries from hard-rock solicitation and uninvited sales (spam) calls — the easier things get, and the more you command a healthy place in business.

But this isn’t always so easy to do, in part because of the boom-and-bust cycle affecting many of us. When things are going well, we have so many inbound,w arm inquiries we can’t keep up. When things are bad, we want desperately to see those calls; which never seem to come, and then we start flailing around looking for business.

Before we beat ourselves up too badly for this divergence, let us remember we are selling relatively high ticket/low volume services. You may be able to handle a few jobs simultaneously, but unless you are working in the quick-fix residential world, the job cycle is relatively long and at some point, the backlog becomes meaningless. (Will anyone wait three years for the job to be done — and if they do, will the economy be the same then?)

Then what can you do to solve the problem?

  • Make sure to retain good communications and connections with your clients through the job completion and once it is done. (I really like follow-up free warranty repairs/services, to allow you to visit the site and keep in touch.) You want to always know when other work from existing and referral clients is available.
  • Connect, contribute and participate in relevant client focused associations, playing for the long-term (including association executive/directorship relationships). Again, this connection keeps you in touch and communication, and generates leads before they become public;
  • Spend the money you need on solid websites, eletters and other online tools, with simple but effective inquiry and response forms. These will make it easier for potential clients to connect with you when it is time; and will broaden your referral and opportunity scope.

Finally, use and work with the relevant media effectively, possibly our own organization. We’ll work with you on strategies to enhance your credibility and reach — and suggest idea that go beyond spending money on advertising. This in part is because of the paradox of our own business — the product we have to sell (advertising) is less valuable for business development than the product we produce for free (editorial content and industry/community relationships). This in turn means we are much more likely to extend editorial courtesies, guest columns and other resources to our advertisers than the PR people who pitch us cold. In that regard, our business is much like yours when it comes to marketing and sales decision-making processes. We prefer to provide service to people who want to do business with us, instead of being sold something we didn’t ask to buy.

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