Networking and Sales: The Low Budget Marketing Strategy That Works

Most small business owners and/or marketing departments face the challenge of growing sales with a budget that forces them to maximize every dime.  Too many times I’ve heard some version of  “We have no money for marketing” uttered marketing on penniesby a client, and my answer is always the same “That’s no excuse.”

For one, it’s rarely true. Often they don’t have MUCH money, but that’s not the same as having none. If you truly have none, shut your doors now.  If we’re honest about your limited budget, we have somewhere to start.  Of course the first thing you need if you don’t have it is product literature – a business card and brochure at the minimum.  I know, we do live in the world of online connecting, but you need to give the people you meet in real life something concrete to walk away with that convinces them that you are actually in business.  After that, you need a plan that involves little dough and lots of ‘go’ on your part.

Networking is the keystone of your low budget marketing efforts, and sales is right there with it.  Too many people get hung up on the difference between Sales & Marketing, and to that I say “Hogwash.”  The line is and should be blurred beyond visibility. Marketing is creating the message and keeping your brand in the forefront of people’s mind; Sales is closing  the deal. If done properly your networking (marketing) will blur itself right into a sale.  If you don’t know where to start, start here:

  1. Your local Chamber of Commerce: often maligned as cliquey time wasters, I can tell you that a Chamber is what you make it. For a fee of usually under $300 you can gain access to hundreds if not thousands of other business owners, and very often inexpensive or free ways to market your business.  If you want to explore how to effectively use your chamber, check out Frank Kenny.  At the minimum, go to the events they offer, join  a committee  and get to know the directors.  Actively seek out business by asking for it.
  2. Community Involvement: joining a charitable organization, the PTA, or any other community based group that has a mission is a great way to get to know a lot of people in a non-threatening environment. Of course you already know that nobody likes to be sold, but people DO want to buy from people they know. Make sure they all know what you do if they ever need your services.
  3. Cold Calling: and stop rolling your eyes, gagging, or whatever the idea of cold calling makes you do.  I used to turn my nose up at it too, until I got turned onto S. Anthony Iannarino‘s philosophy. The truth is that there was a time when most salespeople were dependent upon cold calling. Now, in the internet age we’ve all become a little soft. It’s so much easier to be rejected via email or LinkedIn, and we can at least tell ourselves we tried.  Cold calling works, and I would argue even more effectively because so few people do it.  You need to have a plan when you call, and be simultaneously interesting and delicate, but by using it you can at least get a meeting to introduce your company.
  4. Surgical Marketing: In order for cold calling to really work, you have to have both a target AND a plan of action.  You need to be able to tell that target in a matter of seconds how you will help them, not what you can sell them. If you haven’t created a target list, do it, and then figure out the best way to approach each individual target.
  5. Referral Requests: You have friends, former co-workers, and professional connections. Use them. Again, your request must be delicate and it wouldn’t hurt to offer a referral reward alongside it. Nearly every business starts out by leaning heavily on the circle of people that know and care about the founders. Every person you know well should understand what you do, how passionate you are about it, and what the perfect referral is.
  6. Social Media: It isn’t free because it costs a lot of TIME, and it has the potential to be a huge time suck, but managing a Social Media page properly allows you to illustrate what you do and how it helps your potential customers.  It can open up an entirely new stream of lead generation.  (You didn’t think we’d make a low budget marketing list without it, did you?)  Eventually you’ll have to pony up money to measure its effectiveness, but in the early days it will take lots of your time and analysis to see what works.

All of the above will cost you minimal amounts of money and tons of sweat equity, but it is the way out of your low budget marketing scenario.  You will have to network to create opportunities and then sell the deal by persistently following up on genuine leads. You’ll have to be able to identify those worthy leads and close the deal; at the end of the day it will always be about your ability to sell.  Do the above consistently, keeping your goals in mind and remaining undeterred no matter how many rejections you encounter, and you’ll work you way out of the low budget marketing scenario and earn yourself the ability to become truly strategic about how to market and grow your business.

Do you have a story about building sales on a shoe string budget? We’d love to hear it.

Cold Calling is Dead

A few weeks ago I had a meeting with a prospect where we discussed a complete marketing strategy for the business they just purchased. The meeting went well, we clicked, and we developed a plan for going forward. A week or so later I got a phone call from one of the new client’s associates telling me that he’d love to come to our place of business and “see what we did.” Since I also own a promotional goods store I assumed that’s what he was talking about. We’re in the middle of a rebuild so I asked how soon he wanted to come in and see product, thinking that in a couple of days the place would be better organized.

Outdated Techniques don't work.

That’s when he hit me with “oh no, I want to talk to you about what I sell.” I smiled, which of course he didn’t see because it was a phone conversation, and asked what that product was; I should have guessed – Phone Systems. He has other technology as well – video phones and those sort of techie gadgets I actually love. I asked a few questions he couldn’t answer and was sent to the website, but he wanted to come in right away to meet me. I’m as busy as everyone else I know and I try to cling as strictly as possible to my schedule, so that meeting was out of the question for at least a few weeks. I told him to email me his information and I’d get back to him.

That was 3 weeks ago, I’ve heard nothing, and I’m in a state of bemusement over the entire ordeal – I didn’t think anyone actually “believed” in cold calling anymore. It was my assumption that with the advent of Social Media and our interconnected lives, one could almost always get an introduction to a target client. Of course this guy really had no shot once I realized he didn’t know his stuff; he phoned someone he didn’t know, hot for a meeting to sell a product he didn’t fully understand. I’ll give him an “A” for energy, but a “D” for the rest of the lot.

If he ever calls back this is what I’d tell him:

1. Do your homework: no one will ever buy something you don’t understand.
2. Do your homework: if you have a target customer, find out as much as you can about their business before you call up… the standard “I want to come and see what you do” just doesn’t fly. Most successful business owners are too busy to act as tour guides in addition to their other responsibilities.
3. Learn how to network: If your target customer has a pulse you can usually find out a lot about them and try to connect in some way before you get to the hard sell. They should know who you are before you pick up the phone. Find them on Social Media, ask if they’ll receive your newsletter, or send a package about your company with a handwritten note. Take some time to understand them and make them aware that you’re alive before trying to sell them.

It sounds like a lot of work, right? Well it is, but in order to use your own time wisely and avoid wasting the time of a ‘prospect’ you need to do all of the above before you make that call. In this day and age there’s really no excuse for randomly calling someone in this fashion. Anyone worth selling is too busy for your disorganized, aimless cold call.