If you’re in business, you’re in sales; whether you are an artist or an accountant, to make money you must continue to find prospective buyers and turn them into clients.
“Endless Prospects: Your Unfair Advantage,” is the title of the first of three seminars on the art of finding prospects, turning them into clients, and then turning those clients into “raving fans” who send you more prospects, says Lorette Pruden, a Team Nimbus business coach.
The first three-week series, “Endless Prospects,” will begin Thursday, July 10, at 9:30 a.m., at the conference room at Sovereign Bank in Skillman. Cost: $200. For more information and reservations contact Pruden at 908-359-4787, or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The second course in the series, “Turning Prospects into Clients,” will be held in August.
“We call this series of classes the Mastery Series, because it is designed to take business owners and sales professionals beyond knowing what they need to do and help them to master how to acquire the new clients and new business they need,” explains Pruden.
Pruden herself has been a business owner for the past eight years. She opened Inventive Strategies, her own small business and management consulting firm in Montgomery, in 2000, after over 20 years in the corporate world. She says, however, that it took her several years “before it dawned on me that I was no longer big business. I was a small business and I needed to readjust my thinking and the way in which I did things to be successful.” That realization, she adds, is often the biggest realization that entrepreneurs with corporate experience need to make.
Pruden began her career as an engineer. She received a bachelor’s in chemistry from Maryville College in Tennessee in 1970 and joined Mobil Oil, working in research and development for new products. She received her Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton in 1981, attending the university on a Mobil Incentive Fellowship.
“During my years at Mobil I had the opportunity to work in training and leading teams of people,” Pruden says. “I learned how powerful cross-functional teamwork can be. I was in the right place for opportunity to fall into my lap.” The work also got her involved in organizational development.
When Exxon bought Mobil in the late 1990s Pruden took the opportunity to change her career and opened Inventive Strategies. Her own epiphany about small business brought her to the Team Nimbus program. Four years ago she became the Somerset County franchise holder for that company, which specializes in working with businesses of up to 100 employees.
Finding the right prospects. “Many small business people are not successful because they don’t have enough sales, so they take a sales training course,” Pruden says. “Now there is nothing wrong with learning how to close a sale, but often closing the sale isn’t the real problem. Finding enough of the right prospects to approach in the first place is.”
Business owners and sales people need to really understand exactly who a good prospect is for their business. While some people see everyone they meet as a potential prospect; others have too narrow a focus. “Not everyone is a prospect, but you also have to keep in min that just because someone doesn’t need your services today doesn’t mean that you should not bother to develop a relationship with them,” says Pruden. They may need your services at a later date, they may know other people who do need your service, or they may offer a complementary service that can help both of you attract more business.
Go where your clients are. These days it is difficult to find a person in business who isn’t aware of networking. But who are you networking with? “Trade organizations are important for many reasons — continuing education, meeting people in your field, or enhancing your credentials as an expert,” says Pruden. “Trade organizations are not a good place to meet prospects, though.”
Depending on your business, trade shows, chambers of commerce, and even trade organizations for your prospects’ business are better places to look for clients. “I have one client who has literally quadrupled his business by attending meetings not of a trade organization in his own field, but in a related field,” she says. He is meeting people who need his services. For example, a real estate agent may find clients at a builders’ association, while a mortgage banker might do well by attending a real estate association meeting. Look for the unexpected places to find clients. A personal chef might go to a Newcomers Club or Welcome Wagon, or even a daycare center — all places where busy people with little time to cook might be found.
Developing relationships. Meeting people once or twice at a networking event is not developing a relationship. “Developing relationships is really very simple but many people are reluctant to do it because it takes time. They don’t see it as a direct pathway to revenue,” says Pruden.
She believes in the “5/20/5 rule” she learned by reading books by sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer. “Spend five hours a week outside your regular working hours meeting people, meet 20 people a week, and spend five years developing those relationships,” she says.
In other words, developing business relationships takes time and effort and it doesn’t usually pay off overnight. But these type of relationships will pay off in more business — and more long-term business — than cold calling or other sales techniques. Pruden suggests several ways to get to know your prospects better, including inviting them to lunch or a social event to find out more about them; introducing them to a potential prospect or influential person who can help them with their own business; learning about their families; and taking the time to ask about them when you meet.
“We all do these things off and on,” adds Pruden. “The secret to developing successful business relationships though is to do them consciously and consistently.”
“Tiger Woods is a master golfer, but that doesn’t mean that he has total mastery of his sport,” Pruden says. “He is always working at it. He has a coach he works with every day. To operate at the highest level you must constantly practice and hone your skills.”
Ideally, she says, getting new business should be like a faucet that can be turned on and off. “When you are busy, you can slow the faucet to a drip. When you need more business you can turn up the flow.”
Developing a consistent system for finding prospects helps even out the feast-or-famine effect that many small business owners experience. “I know so many business owners who work on that system,” Pruden says. “One month they have all the business they need, so they quit prospecting. The next month they have no business so they spend all of their time prospecting.”