Generating New Leads for Your Pipeline
BY: RYAN JOHNSON ON FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 07, 2014
For small businesses, a healthy pipeline of new potential customers can be the difference between success and failure. Try these tips to keep business prospects coming year-round.
Evaluate Your Own Business
Start by taking stock of your business. Finding and keeping steady work requires strategic planning, a step busy business owners tend to skip.
“A full SWOT [Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats] analysis will help you build your job pipeline and keep it full,” says business performance consultant Terry Corbell, founder of The Biz Coach.
Start by writing down your strengths and weaknesses – things you have control over, such as your skills, contacts, and credentials. Next, list the opportunities and threats to your business from external forces, such as the current market, your location, and competition.
Finally, look into whether you’re leveraging your strengths to secure new jobs and addressing your weaknesses so you don’t lose business to competitors. “Many business owners don’t know what advantages their skills afford them or how quickly a weakness can be turned around once it’s identified,” Corbell says.
Develop a Job Prospect List
Subscribe to area business journals and join your city and state business associations.
“Attending these groups’ meetings allows me to network with other business owners and find out about new commercial construction jobs,” says Andrew Colas, president of Colas Construction in Portland, Oregon.
Get to know people in related businesses as a way to generate leads. For example, if residential construction is your forte, stay abreast of area property sales. “Develop relationships with local real estate agents,” says Jamie Strotmeyer, owner of Henry Street Building + Design in Burlington, Vermont. “The jobs may be small, but they can help to fill in the gaps.”
Keep Up with Past Clients
A lead doesn’t necessarily need to be a brand new client; it can be a new project for an existing customer or cross-selling a new product or service.
When a client expresses satisfaction with your work, that’s the time to ask if he or she knows anyone who needs similar work done. Then, follow up on those leads right away. “Happy customers are the best source of referrals,” Corbell says.
Boosting customer satisfaction will build your reputation for being thorough and detail-oriented, and will help you land future jobs. “Doing quality work on every job is the best way to ensure a steady workflow,” Colas says.
Generate Good Word of Mouth
While you are talking to those happy customers, asking them to write a good review about you on Yelp can help establish your business as a reputable place to go for service.
Eighty-five percent of consumers say that they read online reviews for local businesses, and these are consumers who have already identified a need that they have and now want to select a business to use. Make sure your business is there when they start looking.
Of course, to get good reviews, you need to provide good service. In the social media era, every part of your company is in customer service, meaning that you need to make sure that any interaction a customer has with any part of your company needs to be positive. The average Facebook user has 190 friends. That’s 190 people who could have heard great or terrible things about your company. The true return on investment of social media is not in ad response, nor in clickthroughs to your website, but in affinity for your brand built on an organic person-to-person basis.
Becoming a Thought Leader
Always take time for marketing your business, even when you are busy. If you neglect marketing while you’re busy, there will not be any jobs in the pipeline when business quiets down. At this point, it’s too late to start getting the word out.
Content marketing – creating useful, non-advertorial content on your topics of expertise – is an excellent tool for drawing leads into a sales pipeline is because it helps educate and interest sales leads before you are even aware of them.
In his article The New Rules of Sales Pipeline Management, Al Davidson notes, “If prospects are reading articles and viewing informative content from your company on your website and on social media, they are getting better educated about your solution (and are getting more likely to buy from you) before they even get a phone call from a sales rep. Content marketing gives you an opportunity to publish your company’s own original thought leadership to talk about industry trends, offer informed commentary on the issues that your prospects are facing, and build credibility.”
Searching out online and social media discussions that you can lend some knowledge to is another sound strategy for establishing yourself as a thought leader. This shows that you are passionate about your business and take an authentic interest in helping people, even if it doesn’t lead to an immediate sale for you. It also helps keep you in people’s minds when they do require a service.
A Long View Will Pay Off
There is a lot of pressure to meet daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly targets. However, successful businesses will not focus exclusively on the back end of the pipeline. Taking these steps to bring new leads into and through the pipeline are just as important. Keeping both your pipeline and your funnel healthy with a long-term focus will help you and your sales in the long run.
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