How do I market to local businesses whose owners are too busy to join associations?
Marketing & Advertising mentor Lisa H. Buksbaum responds to thefollowing question from an inc.com user: I would appreciate feedback regarding B-to-B marketing on a small scale. I have started a consulting business that targets small businesses within a local (20-30 mile) region. My current clients do not follow any regular publications, associations, etc. -- they are too busy fighting fires at their business. I would like to reach more businesses of this type. Do you have any advice?
Lisa H. Buksbaum's response: One of my favorite things to do is to meet people and connect with them in a substantive way. Two of my passions are people and marketing so when I meet new people, I love to ask them questions about their businesses, their accomplishments, what their biggest challenges and frustrations are and how they spend their time. You will find prospective clients wherever you look. On a plane, at the health club, at a professional organization networking event, at your civic or religious institutions that you attend, waiting on line for a movie.
Never leave your home without a business card, EVER!!! I secured a multimillion dollar contract by meeting a lovely man and his wife at my child's visiting day. It was a weekday night in July and most of the parents were in casual clothes watching their children play sports as we toured the camp facility. At the swimming pool, I noticed a Japanese couple that were dressed up and sitting by themselves. Apparently they had just been stationed in the U.S. and had moved here three weeks earlier. I went over to say hello and we learned that our children were in the same bunk. After an animated twenty-minute conversation, I asked for his card. He was the director of corporate communications for the largest telecommunications company in the world. Two months later, I signed the largest contract of my career, all because I broke the ice to make him feel more comfortable.
I believe that I am successful in this endeavor because I genuinely listen to peoples' responses and am not busy formulating my story. I am listening to them and they hear that. I also care about what they are teaching me because it is making me smarter as a professional and as a student of life. This respect and authenticity shows. Then people feel good because they have unburdened themselves or start to have more clarity in articulating what is really important to them.
Another excellent way to fuel the success of your consulting business is to show prospective clients how you help your existing clients build their businesses. Because people are extremely literal, it is very powerful when they hear other business owners talk about overcoming obstacles and achieving results. I recommend sending out a 15-question survey to your current clients asking them to describe how your company worked to overcome obstacles, what you accomplished for them, what publications they read, what professional or civic organizations they belong to, what is the most significant thing you did for their business. Also, take your current clients out for lunch and ask them what their biggest priorities and obstacles are for the new year. You'll be surprised how much additional opportunity is sitting there waiting for you. At the end of the meal, ask them to think about three to five referrals -- business owners -- that they believe would benefit from your consultancy services. People enjoy being "in the know" and helping other people. By referring you to colleagues or friends, they are able to benefit another small-business owner. A couple of days after the lunch (or at the lunch itself) make an appointment to talk about these other priority areas or obstacles that need to be resolved.
A fantastic way to generate excitement and awareness about your services and to position yourself as an expert and authority is to speak at industry functions. Explore local business and civic organizations in your area. Call them up and tell them you are interested in joining their organization and also want to speak at an event. Prior to making any commitments, ask them several essential questions: what is the mission of the organization, how many members they have, who they are, what kinds of businesses they have, and to send you a calendar listing of events from the last year and a schedule of the next few months. Reviewing these programs will give you a good sense of the individual organizations. Try to attend an event at each group to get a sense of the energy in the room, how many people attend the event, what is the title of the person that attends the event in order to determine if this is an audience of prospective clients that have the authority and budget to hire you.
If you are speaking at an event, ask if you may invite guests. Ask them to send you an additional 30 invitations so that you can do a handwritten note "hope you can come to this event" on each one. This is an excellent way to impress current clients or to secure additional clients by inviting some prospective clients to come as your guest. Also ask if anyone from the media is coming. Perhaps you can invite a reporter from the local paper to cover the event (with a photographer) for the business section. You can send reprints of the article to prospective clients in your credentials materials.
If the business owners that you are reaching do not go to any professional events or read any professional publications, you can send them a quarterly newsletter filled with tips on how to improve profitability, productivity and showcase examples of how you helped your clients break through to achieve impressive results. Most people write newsletters all about themselves. If you write yours so that your clients are the heroes of the stories, then clients will want to solicit your services to help them solve their problems.