How to Sell When You Don’t Have Leads

Two things benefit you tremendously when you start selling, even though they don’t feel very much like something positive and beneficial to your development. The first is selling a commodity, especially when you have little to no differentiation outside of your ability to sell. There may not be anything that improves your character or skills quite so much as not being able to rely on any factor outside of the value you create for your prospective client to win big deals.

The second factor is learning to sell without leads. There was a time when leads were rare. There was no such thing as content marketing, and there wasn’t an easy way to trade something of value for your client’s contact information. It was both difficult and time-consuming to build a list of your dream clients, let alone acquire the contact’s direct phone number.

Without a steady flow of leads, you were forced to identify people who bought what you sell and continue to pursue them over time, as there was no replenishment.

Identifying Your Dream Clients

When you don’t have leads, you have to do the work of identifying the companies in your territory that would benefit from the outcomes your company helps to generate or improve. To do this work, you have to start by building a list of the companies that might already buy what you sell.

If a company is already using what you sell, you have found the best possible prospective client available to you, and likely something much more than a lead from a web form that offered the contact an ethical bribe for some piece of content.

There is enormous value in learning to displace your competitors, something that is necessary to win new business when you are calling on companies that are already buying what you sell. Even though it takes time to displace your competition, there is no higher return on the investment of time than calling on people and companies that already spend a lot of money in your category.

Building a list of dream clients means looking at the clients your company already serves and finding companies that share the same attributes. If your company has experience in certain verticals, you can start building a list of your dream clients in each of the verticals, leveraging your experience (or your company’s experience, if you are new to sales) to develop the talk tracks that will help you get a meeting by sharing some of the things you have learned working in their vertical.

The old school sales rules required salespeople to identify new potential clients continually. When you left a face-to-face meeting with a prospective client, you would walk into the two buildings next to your prospective client’s facility, walk into the building across the street, and ask to speak to the person who would be responsible for buying what you sold. I have personally won multi-million dollar contracts by following this approach.

Ranking Highest to Lowest

The problem with leads is that many of them are a bust, but you have to engage them to find out whether they are a potential client or not. The way most salespeople approach leads is by preferring new leads to older leads, even though there is little difference between the two categories. A new lead is not necessarily any more compelled to buy than a lead from two weeks ago, even if the newness of the lead seems like a better bet.

When you are building a list of potential prospective clients, you need to prioritize your list. When you have no factors that will allow you to distinguish one group of prospective clients from another, the easiest way to prioritize your prospecting effort is to rank them by revenue. Larger companies generally spend more money than smaller companies even if some smaller companies spend more in your category than some larger businesses, some of whom may never buy what you sell.

As you use your prospecting sequence to pursue what may be nothing more than a list of company names and a hunch, you will quickly discover who buys what you sell and who they have as a partner or vendor. As you gain more information, you can then resort to your list by estimating what each company spends in your category.

Targets Are Better Than Leads

You can live, thrive, and survive without leads in most industries, provided you continually do the work to build lists of potential clients. Targets are better than leads because the companies that spend the most in your category are most often strategic users of what you sell, which means their business depends on what you sell.

In a workshop once, a group that had been working on executing their content marketing for three years put up a slide that showed that two of their dream clients downloaded a piece of content they posted on their website. They were elated that two of their dream clients filled out their form.

When I inquired whether they already knew that the company was a target for them before the contact took action on their website, they explained that they had always wanted this client’s business, knowing that they would benefit from what they sold.

When pressed as to why they waited three years instead of picking up the phone and calling the contact, they explained that they only called on the leads that came through their website. Since they spent so much on acquiring the leads, they were obligated to follow up with every lead. Both the company and its prospect lost three years of better results.

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