John Brogan, Founder/CEO of Global IntelliSystems, the Email Marketing/Analytics Company
Sometimes in business it feels like you are fishing along a big coastline with 1,000 other anglers. Everyone is going after the same trophy fish but nobody seems to be using the right bait. It can be frustrating spending months or even years working to land that one huge client, but all your efforts seem to fail. You haven’t failed, it just means you need to change your bait, or change your approach. If you’ve ever spent a weekend fishing then you already know how many attempts and maneuvers it takes to come home with a winner, you just need to use similar maneuvers in business.
I used each of these creative ideas to reach out and touch the “whale” (a Vegas term for a huge client) for my own business, and each method worked well, and on multiple occasions. Some of my largest clients came from use of these techniques. Some of these techniques are costly so use your best judgement as to what works best for you.
Tip #1: Traditional Approaches Rarely Work with Big Prospects.
Those big prospects are continually hearing the same pitch from dozens of companies every day. It has likely reached the point they don’t even hear your pitch as they are busy with their own projects and their assistant has orders to intercept all sales pitches. Your information, and information from dozens of others, is likely being screened directly into the trash. You need an approach that will stop that big prospect in his or her tracks and realize that you have something important to say, and traditional methods rarely work.
Tip #2: Do Not Take Their Silence Personally.
It is easy to get personally wrapped up thinking about the amount of time you spent preparing what you feel is the perfect pitch only to get completely ignored. They aren’t ignoring you, they likely never even received it, so detach the personal feelings as that can fog your creative mind. These big prospects have assistants that help them stay efficient and a letter or flyer is often swatted away like a fly. The prospect is busy and has more important things to do. Keep the personal feelings out of the process and keep a clear head – you’ll need it to close the big sale.
Approach #1: Attend the Same Tradeshow
Find out what tradeshows the prospect attends and be part of that show either as an attendee or as an exhibitor. That will likely put you face to face with the prospect and people outside the office are more likely to talk with you in a social environment. Before the meet-up make sure you know as much about them as possible. Most importantly, know what they look like. You would be amazed how many people want to talk with a prospect but have absolutely no idea what they look like. They expect to read lanyards of passing attendees to find them – no! Make sure you clearly know what they look like. After all, you may be walking into the show, or out for a coffee and the prospect is walking right next to you. It has happened to me at least a dozen times. Learn about their hobbies, favorite sports teams, birthdate, mac/windows preference, or a few recent news stories about their company. Don’t get creepy with the information you gather, just have enough background on the prospect so you can make a soft approach before going into the sales pitch. You will be amazed at the amount of time you are given if you have something in common to talk about.
Approach #2: Ship Something Unusual to the Prospect
I am giving away one of our best techniques at getting some face time with a big prospect. This gets my team an intro and a phone call over 70% of the time. It could be a small moving box filled with bubble wrap and a hand-written letter inside, it may be a ream of copy paper in the box with a letter taped to it, or it could be some additional sports memorabilia the prospect would love to hang on their office wall. Make sure it is something you feel will get their attention. Their assistant will likely open the box so make sure it is something the prospect will ask about after the box is opened and always include a letter with your business card. What you spend on this all depends on (a) how valuable the prospect is to you, and (b) how much time you want to invest in the process. I have had great success with shipping a high-end bottle of wine to the prospect with a small note asking for a few minutes of their time. It worked well especially since the prospect was a wine lover. Know your prospect well!
Approach #3: Use a Little Leverage from a Mutual Contact
Sometimes the largest prospects will simply be out of reach no matter what you try. Billionaires are a great example. They are surrounded by assistants. But many times, a little outside leverage will get the door opened. Find out who that prospect communicates with. Not his or her friend or spouse, but a business associate. The prospect may be in touch with someone who you already know (Hint: On LinkedIn) or someone who is much easier to reach. Find out if that person can make a quick intro for you. I have found that many extremely wealthy prospects are interested in talking but only if the connection is made from someone they trust. The whole concept of trust is very important to the ultra-wealthy prospects. You better have your A-game ready when that contact is made because you may suddenly get a phone call at 10pm from the executive assistant for the prospect saying “I have Bill on the line, he has five minutes” so be ready because you only get one shot.
Approach #4: Talk with Other Workers at The Same Company
You will often find that people working at the same company where the prospect is will gladly talk with you. They likely can’t make the connection for you but they can often tell you details of what is going on in the company (useful for approach #1 and #2), the best ways to reach the prospect, and when they feel the best time is to contact the prospect. They may even tell you that you are off target and that if you contact “Bill” instead of “Ted” you will have much more success with reaching your goal. For example, this can happen when you are trying to talk with the VP of Marketing and that person doesn’t have any involvement with the technology side of marketing. It may not even be a person in the marketing department you need to reach. In other words, you could be fishing in the area, so see if there are workers in the company that can provide you with some insight.
Approach #5: Talk with Other Vendors for the Same Company
This one takes a little finesse but can be very successful if used properly. You don’t need to talk with a competitor, you can talk with a vendor that sells the company totally different products. It is much easier talking with people who are not competing with you. They already have the “in” with the company so they know their practices, how to best approach the company, and most importantly what not to do. They may share with you the name of a contact in the company or they may make a connection for you. I’ve use this approach several times when I’ve exhausted all my other methods. One of my ways “in” was talking with the owner of a major catering company that provided the food for their meetings. The owner passed the word down the line to a close contact in the company and within a few days I received an email that turned into a phone call, then a face-to-face, and finally a sale. It took over a year, but it was well worth the effort for a million-dollar account. You would be amazed how many vendors provide services to a big company and how many of those have trusted contacts inside. If the company has been around for 20+ years, chances are good there is a solid bond between the vendor and the company. This approach works the same way as approach #4.
The Bottom Line
Get creative when going for the big accounts. You will hit some amazing barriers along the way and make sure you write down your techniques so you don’t re-create the wheel when going for the next big account. Keep the phrase “never give up, never surrender” in your mind because some of the biggest accounts will take amazing patience, a lot of creativity, and a few dollars. In the end, you will find the process rewarding, especially when you announce to your team you landed the biggest client in your company’s history.