Of all the little white lies that sale prospects might tell you, "We'll keep you in mind" ranks among the most common and insidious. Not only is it disingenuous, it also creates false hope, when what that prospect really wants to say is "No, thanks," "We've already got those capabilities handled," or "Sorry, but no immediate need exists." Worse, it often signals a misunderstanding of or lack of appreciation for the value your firm provides.
Instead of passively waiting for prospects to reconsider and turning into another nameless vendor vying for attention, you must actively strive to stay top of mind. So stop trying to sell yourself and start making contacts call you. Here's how to do it:
Focus on Brand Visibility
You can send only so many emails, postcards, or newsletter mailings before becoming an annoyance or coming across as desperate. You're better off earning prospects' attention and respect by building more brand equity. So, attend conferences, write bylined articles or a blog, attend networking events--do as much as you can to establish yourself as an expert. In-person events are especially valuable because they give you the chance to circumvent the gatekeepers and speak one on one with potential prospects. As the old saying goes, "luck is hard work." You can up your odds of success by giving opportunity more chances to cross your path and having something meaningful to say when it does.
Get Good Word of Mouth
Always provide solid work at a reasonable price--and then don't be afraid to ask for a testimonial or recommendation to accompany it. Likewise, offering occasional pro bono work or volunteering to speak free for local nonprofits can build goodwill, generate awareness, and potentially let you demonstrate your talents to influential community members who might generate future business. Of course, not all opportunities will justify the time required--you might want to skip the ones that offer limited reach or impact. But even if you can't provide assistance, try to at least give some referrals. Cultivating a network of referrals with other providers can help bring in added leads. Your goal is a successful exchange, regardless: Word travels quickly in insular industries.
Forward-thinking companies actively work to create news and use it as opportunities to rekindle prospects' interest. Maybe you release an eye-opening survey or research data, host free networking sessions, or organize happy hours with exclusive panels of speakers. Look for informal ways to connect with new leads and maintain existing relationships. The greater your perceived authority and prospects' comfort level, the likelier you are to receive calls for future business.
In a decade of running a successful management consulting and speaking practice, I've never randomly received direct callbacks weeks or months after making initial pitches. But I've received many inquiries from individuals with whom I've worked to build relationships. They've read an article, attended a speech, or seen media mentions and remembered our earlier discussions.
Unless an immediate need exists, clients seldom concentrate on the problems your services solve, let alone on hiring a new provider. Attempting to cold call is like playing roulette. Instead, strive to make a solid introduction, nurture relationships, build brand awareness, and consistently place subtle reminders in prospective partners' path. That way, when the need does arise, the trail of bread crumbs leads one way, and is easy to follow.