After delivering a talk, a mousey-haired chap shuffled over and introduced himself. Let’s call him Ian. Ian is an illustrator; he creates cool illustrations for businesses who want to stand out in a sea of generic over-used stock photos. I was working on a book at the time and thought I might need his services to create unique images.
Ian diligently followed up with an email, attachments of his work, links to his portfolio, and questions about when I wanted to start. I was only two-thirds done with my first draft and editing would be required. So not yet.
Two months later, my inbox chimed. Ian attached more portfolio work and asked if I was ready to get started. Not yet. Rewriting. The editing took longer than expected.
A month later, Ian again asked if I was ready to get started. When I saw his email, my nose crinkled and my teeth clenched. I swiped left. Delete.
No reply. Ever again.
It’s a shame, because I really liked his illustrations.
You’re awesome. So what?
Not all prospects are ready to buy from you. But knowing how to occupy the headspace (not in a weird way) of those people is critical to maintaining a pipeline of prospects and building the long-term value of your company.
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake Ian the illustrator made, which was to ask if I was ready to consider him while repeatedly showing (i.e. pushing) his work at me. This strategy is ‘me’- focussed. To be frank, I didn’t really care about his work. My concern was getting my book published. That’s how your buyers feel. They don’t care about you or your work, they care about themselves. So your objective with prospects should be to build relationships, build trust, and be of value, because people only do business with people they know, like and trust. Here are seven proven ways to help you do just that.
1. Use your magic
Make a dream list of the top twenty prospects that you’d like to to have as your customers. Keep this dream list at the front of your mind so you can think of ways to add genuine value to their lives, just like you would any good friend. When you’ve made your dream list, review it daily, asking yourself, “how can I help and serve these people today?” and then let it go. Being intentional has a magical way of attracting ideas and events to you. Seek and you shall find.
2. Socialise, don’t stalk
Follow the people on your dream list (and their organisations) on Twitter, Instagram or any other platforms they’re using. Engage with them in a meaningful and genuine way. Someone selling their social media services followed me on Instagram and added me on Facebook. She liked every post, commented on most and went on a retweeting frenzy.
This came across as disingenuous. You wouldn’t like or retweet every single one of your friend’s posts, so why do that with someone you’re getting to know? Be genuine, engage with them, and treat them as you would a friend. You might actually end up making a new buddy.
3. Delight their inbox
Instead of clogging up your dream list’s inbox with stuff about you, share insight that might help them or their business. Setting up a system saves you hours browsing the internet every day by bringing the information to you. Set up Google Alerts or RSS feeds for your prospect’s company, using their industry keywords or any major interests they might have. Direct these to FEEDLY so they don’t clog your inbox. Invest 30 minutes a day sifting through this new resource. When you find an article or insight someone from your list might find interesting or useful, share it, explaining why it might be of interest. Be sparing with this tip; if you send too many emails they’ll ignore you after a while.
4. Make them shine
Following on from the last tip, you could also use your new content aggregation to sift through and think of ideas that might help prospects. Instead of asking me to look at his portfolio, Ian the illustrator could have pointed me to a website for crowdsourcing cover designs. I would have been thrilled. Sharing ideas shows prospective customers you’re trying to help them, which builds trust while waving the magic wand of reciprocity. And don’t give in to the desire to take credit for ideas or hold it over their heads. It’s all about the client, not you.
5. Connecting the dots
When you think of your dream list regularly, you will find yourself meeting people you could connect them to. Someone once introduced me to a business owner who was keen to meet me and potentially collaborate, but I had no interest in collaborating with them. Super awkward. To avoid this common mistake, first ask yourself why the connection is useful to both parties. If it’s not, then don’t do it. When you think of a good reason both parties could benefit from the connection, explain to both parties why you think an introduction might bring value to them and whether they would like you to make the intro. Only when both parties are interested should you make the introduction. Who can you introduce that would add value to the life or business of your dream list?
6. Celebrate their success
The daughter of a prospect who worked for a company on my dream list was revising for her high school graduation exams. During our first meeting, this lady talked about her daughter’s revision and how nervous she was. The day before the national exam results were announced — I couldn’t miss it, it was all over my Facebook feed and the national news — I sent her a good luck note, wishing her daughter well, knowing she would be stressing about it. I would have said the same to any friend. She was touched by the gesture and proudly shared the results with me the following day. Her organisation become my first customer. Celebrate their success, and be genuine about it.
7. Think peripherally
Ian the illustrator knew I would release a Kindle version of the book. Instead of sharing his portfolio, had he said something like, “Hey Anis, a client of mine made a Kindle book and I remember how complicated and stressful it was for him, especially working with Mac’s Pages format. Thought you might find this document useful, giving you step-by-step how to get from Pages to Kindle. Hope it helps, Ian.” That would have saved me one whole week of stress, time I could have spent developing new business. I probably would have hired him after that.
So think back to your previous conversations with dream listers. Do any problems spring to mind? Can you anticipate challenges they might have? Maybe they’re having a hiring or supplier problem, or a personal issue you might be able to solve? Sales is about problem solving, not just the specific problems your product solves, but also exploring ways to make people’s lives easier.
But isn’t this all creepy?
Just like your personal relationships, you have to care about the people you want to serve, to genuinely care about them and their success. When your actions come from a place of love or service – the polar opposite of the energy vibration associated with pitching and selling – your actions will not feel creepy at all. Your prospects will know and feel you care about their success and soon enough will fall madly in love with you and your products or services. They’ll become raving fans.