Geri Denterlein of Denterlein Worldwide, a Boston-based public relations firm that counts a number of real-estate developers and law firms as its clients, recently put in place a new policy: each week, employees must e-mail to the managing director the names of 5 contacts with whom they have recently touched base. “Our best source of new business is people who know us and have worked with us in the past,” says Denterlein, “So it’s vital that we be much more proactive in reaching out to contacts than we were in the past when business was flowing freely.” The firm has also cut in half the standard length of a contract to 3 months from 6 months, and Denterlein’s staff is getting proposals out to potential clients much faster—in less than 48 hours in most cases.
“The big change for us in 2009 is that we are more flexible on minimum amount of an engagement that we’ll pursue,” says Gay Gaddis, the founder and CEO of T3, an Austin-based advertising and marketing agency that specializes in digital media. In years past, her firm only went after client engagements that were worth between $1.5 million and $2 million. Now, “some larger clients are breaking RFPs into smaller amounts,” Gaddis says, prompting T3 to pursue accounts in the $500,000-to-$1 million range. The company, which had $300 million in capitalized billings in 2008, is still selective, however: “We won’t take just any piece of business,” Gaddis says. “We really want to work with large and midsize companies that are making digital marketing really central to what they do.”
Ralph Gaines, president and CEO of BeBetter Networks, a Charleston, West Virginia company that helps employers put together wellness programs and manage preventive health care, says that compiling and distributing data is important. The $16.8 million company, which just came off its best quarter ever, collects statistics on health risk factors (obesity, high blood pressure, a history of smoking, etc.) for individual employees and for a company’s workforce as a whole. Over time, the ability to use that data to establish trends and to project costs becomes increasingly valuable. “We're not out selling ideas or products based on slick marketing tools and selling methods,” says Gaines. “When you’re data driven, you succeed.”
It’s easy for a salesperson to become frustrated with a prospect amid endless haggling over price and once-routine contract terms. But instead of anger, you should focus on empathy. “Times are tough right now for everyone,” says David Spector, who works for Google in its New York City office selling the company’s measurement and analytics product lines. (Spector also helped to found a sales club at MIT.) “It’s important to realize that clients are suffering along with salespeople -- there is a direct correlation,” he observes. “Companies need to be laser-focused on their customers and the customers’ challenges, always making sure to be answering the question, How can what I have help you succeed?"
This last tip is a simple one: “Don't cold call on Fridays,” says Phillip Edwards, vice president of Pandemic Labs, a Boston-based marketing firm that specializes in viral and social media marketing. “It really pisses people off and ruins your chances” of turning a cold call into a genuine prospect.