There is a big disconnect in a lot of SME prospecting and marketing, particularly in B2B businesses offering niche and/or technical products and services, an area where BSA focuses our attention. Many of these companies will start with a mass-marketing objective to ‘spread the word‘ as widely as possible using digital channels, yet the businesses are based around solid cohorts of long-term, loyal, repeat-business clients. They (You?) deliver great products/services and build relationships with people who grow to trust you. These customers/clients typically have an ongoing requirement for what you do and they keep coming back.
A real business goal
Rather than flooding the market, the real goal may be to consistently add regularly new customers. 10-20 new clients in a year can represent significant growth. This particularly true if you typically work closely with a modest number of active clients. In this sort of business, the development goal should be about building quality clients delivering repeat business. One-offs are OK but there is a danger they distract from the core business. Given the specific nature of your company, it is also normally pretty easy to tell whether a potential prospect may have a ‘fit’ with what you offer, or not. Here I am NOT suggesting that you can tell whether a given company will have a current interest you and your business. Rather, I am saying you can answer a more important question:
Is it likely that this company buys (or has a meaningful potential to buy) the products/services we supply?
I propose that this should be the starting point for effective marketing of a niche business. If the answer to the question is ‘No‘, then move on. If the answer is ‘Yes‘ then, in principle, it makes sense to engage with the business. Interestingly, at this stage, whether or not the company has a current interest in you is less important. Building your ‘brand’ amongst these companies where you have a ‘fit’ is a great way to grow a really solid, sustainable business. You get the opportunity to engage with your market and help them really understand how good you are and appreciate the value and benefit you deliver.
A BSA client from the process engineering sector recently visited a major exhibition. They don't do mass marketing but have a consistent and targeted approach to prospecting and business development. The team that visited were wearing branded jackets and the main comment that came back from them was the (pleasant) surprise as to how many other visitors recognised them. The company has a strong brand position built through steady, targeted prospecting - and doing a really great job! Perhaps not surprising then that the company has grown to 100 staff, and doubled turnover in the past 5 years.
Make every prospect count
Don’t just throw mud and hope some sticks. Try to be different, more engaging. Put some time into researching and understanding a prospect. You are aiming to build a valuable and long-term relationship with them so a bit of effort up front is worth it. By having a better understanding of the potential ‘fit’ with a particular company You will be able to bring them into your conversation rather than just talking at them about how great you are. Don’t get me wrong, the quick-wins are out there but, to some extent, finding them straight away is partly down to luck, being in the right place at the right time. Luck is OK but not very reliable! By focussing effort into fewer, but more highly selected prospects, you can build a meaningful channel for dialogue. Building relationships with these companies makes it more likely that when they have a need, it is you they will think of.
You are putting yourself in the right place at the right time!
Prospecting is a process
This approach may not have the short-term impact (or cost!) of a mass campaign but is much more sustainable. Many years ago I met a man who had just set up in business. He had been sold on the idea of a mass-mailing campaign, spending his money mailing 10,000 businesses. The response was 5 replies and no business. He had no resources left. He was stuck. I don’t know what became of him but I have never forgotten him. Business development prospecting is a process, not an event. Here are my top tips:
- Have a real belief in what you do
- Build a prospecting process that engages you with relevant target companies.
- Talk with your prospects, not at them
- Demonstrate your capabilities to businesses where they are relevant
- Build awareness, confidence and trust
- Plan for the long-term
If you deliver real value and can communicate this ability to relevant prospects who understand the real benefit you can bring to them, they will buy! Not all of them, and not all the time, but they will buy. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss further