In December, I was a panelist for a session of the HETMA conference. I can not recall the exact conversation that led to us discussing getting cold calls from vendors. Several of us who are “customers” replied how much we dislike getting the cold calls or emails. What struck me most about the conversation and has been on my mind ever since is a question we got in the chat window during our conversation. An integrator asked, “If we can’t cold call you or email you, then how do we get in front of you?” This struck me because I believe that any industry is an ecosystem where we all need each other. Manufacturers need reps, reps needs integrators, integrators need designers and designers need customers. You could draw lines between all these groups showing their interdependencies. Therefore, as a customer, I need to be sure I am giving manufacturers, designers and integrators the opportunities to show me what they have to offer. So, I have developed several suggestions for people who are trying to break in with a new customer or even break into a new vertical.
First and foremost, do not try to fool your customer and don’t start your relationship with them based on a lie. Here are some examples of what NOT to do in this regard. Do not write to me and tell me that a colleague at another business is using you as a vendor and suggested that you reach out to me. We will check on that and verify whether it is true. Usually, it’s not, and the relationship is over before it began. Additionally, don’t call every person in my business asking them if they are responsible for AV, and when they say no, ask them who is and then say that person “referred” you to me. Again, customers check on those things.
Second, don’t try and harass a customer into doing business with you. This happens a couple of ways. The first (and most annoying) is when a salesperson sends an email asking for a phone call or a meeting, then follows that email up with one trying to guilt the customer into responding. These often take the form of “I took time to write to you, don’t you owe me a response” or “just let me know if you are interested or not.” In fact, no, I don’t owe you a response and it is safe to assume I would have written back to you if I was interested. Everyone has very busy schedules and you simply sending me an email does not constitute a required response.
Finally, don’t show up on LinkedIn and ask to connect and then immediately try and sell me something. Like many others, I use LinkedIn as a business and networking platform. I have no problem connecting with anyone from any segment in the industry. If you are using LinkedIn simply as another cold calling tool, you are using it wrong. If you are using it to learn, grow your network, and someday perhaps have a business relationship, then hit me up.
Let’s now move on to some things you should do if you want me to pay attention to you. The first thing you need to do is research me and my business. Related to the topic of LinkedIn, research is a great way to use that platform. Make a connection to me, see where I work, see what type of things I am interested in, what type of posts I like and what I post about. Get on Twitter and look at the same things. Get on the company website of where I work and find out what my organizational structure is, and what the core of my business is. Then, after doing all that research, you can approach me in an educated way. I have had countless people reach out to me and tell me their product will greatly increase my bottom line. If they had done any research on me, they would see that makes no sense in my business. Additionally, writing to me telling me how they can help me reach international customers, makes no sense for me. Each time a salesperson does this, it puts a mark on them and their company as someone I don’t want to do business with.
So what is the best medium to reach out to a potential client? I don’t think there is a universal rule for this and I’m sure different people have different preferences. However, doing some research may help in that as well. For example, I am not a telephone user. I hate getting calls on the telephone, even from people I currently do business with. How would you know that? Your first clue would be that in no profile written by me will you ever see a telephone number at which to reach me. That should be a clue. A second clue is that I am on social media quite regularly. Perhaps that would be the best way to reach out to me. Finally, when you do reach out to me, personalize it. Make it clear to me that you know who I am, you know what business I am in, and you believe you have a product or service that will actually solve an issue I have. Then offer to set up an introductory meeting, if the customer expresses interest.
The methods I am writing about here are definitely ones that take more time and a larger investment. If you are looking for good partners and a long term relationship though, it will be time well invested.