Posted: Tue 2nd Feb 2021
Before I go any further, let me set the scene; I am a businessman, not a salesman. In the grand pantheon of business activities, sales is my least favourite activity. I view it as the most unfortunate price to pay for anyone with the ambition to start a business venture.
To clarify, it's not sales conversations that I oppose. The cut and thrust of negotiations around contracts and price are fundamental to business, and I find them strangely rewarding. It was drumming up the opportunities to have those conversations in the first place that always drove me crazy.
I hate interrupting people when they aren't ready to listen, and the thought of coming across as 'pressurising' makes me deeply uncomfortable. Why? Because whenever I'm on the receiving end (which is a lot when you are running a business) I hate it.
That's not to say I haven't persevered with outbound sales. I've tried everything in 14 years running a business. And not just any business; a marketing agency, no less. Not only have I routinely encountered personal business development headaches, but I've had near-daily exposure to the struggles of clients trying to wrestle with their own.
The ability to attract new customers is pivotal to success. That's why every small business has to confront it. The problem is a reliance on traditional business development tactics that are not fit for purpose.
Why traditional outbound business development methods don't work for most small businesses
According to a Forbes article, cold calling requires an average of 17 calls to the same company to speak with the right person. That is a response rate of just 6%. Only one in 10 of those successful calls results in a meeting, which means the lead generation rate is 0.6%.
That's before you even factor in the miserable activity of cold calling itself, or the collateral damage that accompanies calling the same company 16 times before you connect with your target. Let's just say; they won't have fond associations with the caller or their business.
Many businesses hope email marketing can drum up new business, but it's a fruitless endeavour. Email marketing without specific opt-in permission is illegal thanks to GDPR, which puts the mockers on most cold approaches. Legality aside, all you are doing when using e-marketing to cold prospects is buying a one-way ticket to the recipient's junk folder.
Even Mailchimp, the gurus of e-marketing, say the average email campaign will enjoy an open rate of just 21.33% and an average click rate of 2.62%. That includes the ones where people have actively chosen to hear from the sender!
Direct mail has many challenges, not least cost. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the major one: reliability. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) may claim a response rate of 2.9% for prospect lists. Still, they don't shine a light on how many responses turn into genuine sales opportunities, probably because it's almost impossible to track.
Some 80% of marketers may believe that live events are critical to a company's success, but why? It's often for reinforcing brand presence - a notable goal in its own right, but certainly no indication that live events generate a stream of qualified sales opportunities.
The face-to-face contact of networking is seemingly unsurpassable, with 95% of people agreeing that face-to-face meetings build better business relationships. That is until you start asking yourself if you're speaking to the right people. If your business is happy to sell anything to anyone regardless of price, or quality, networking might offer the solution. If you have a specific market niche, need to speak to people in particular roles and locations, and want to sell on value rather than price, you will find effective networking opportunities in far shorter supply. That inevitably means a lot of time spent talking to the wrong people.
Spending on digital advertising may have been in the region of £15.6 billion in 2020, but that doesn't automatically make it an effective way of attracting customers. It's the medium of choice for eyes on product, which makes it the domain of B2C sellers, not B2B. Also, we could never call advertising 'proactive' from a lead generation stance because it still requires the right person to stumble across your ad. There are no guarantees that will happen unless you enjoy the luxury of bottomless pockets.
Social media may influence the buying decision of 84% of board-level executives, but that's purely a side effect of content marketing. Like advertising, it isn't proactive business development, because it all depends on who sees your content. Given the noise on most social media channels, that answer is usually 'not enough'.
That's not to say that social media doesn't have its advantages. It just needs approaching with a different mindset.
A new approach to business development
Small business owners are busy. While business development is critical to success, it doesn't detract from the reality of running a business; having to wear many hats and juggle a million tasks. As a juggling veteran, I know that the keys to any small business task are efficiency and effectiveness. Get those two things right, and you know you are on the right path.
The right path for business development requires you to look beyond the usual suspects. Nobody gets noticed by following the same well-trodden path as everyone else. And what is the similarity behind most of the paths we've just examined? Lack of empathy.
Everybody knows that cold calls are invasive; that's why nobody likes to receive one. Everyone knows that cold emails and direct mail are impersonal, which is why they end up straight in the junk. Everyone knows that ads are trying to get us to hand over our details, which is why we give them a wide birth. If you follow those kinds of tactics for business development, you align yourself with the negative associations we all carry.
Your prospective customer doesn't want to feel like a number; they want to feel appreciated. That requires a suitably appreciative approach; an approach that demonstrates an understanding of the person's situation, and the ability to go above and beyond to make someone else feel special. It demands empathy, and it's the cornerstone of my preferred approach to business development - personalised video introductions through social media.
Personalised video introductions: Outbound sales for businesses that value people as much as results
The approach's central concept is high-quality, individually personalised videos sent to 1st-degree connections on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (and of course, Enterprise Nation!).
The keyword above is 'personalised'. This concept isn't about creating a single piece of content that you can share with everyone you contact, such as a corporate video. That is 'content marketing', and your prospective customer will have seen one a hundred times before.
We are talking about creating a bespoke piece of quality communication for a hand-picked audience of one. A video that builds a meaningful professional connection through the words you speak, the personal details applied, and the effort required to make it happen. Best of all, it is an approach that you can be proud to send.
The real clincher is the remarkable results you can achieve if you get it right.
Personalised video introductions are fully measurable when done correctly. In 120 approaches to previously uncontacted board-level executives on LinkedIn using this methodology, I managed to achieve a reach rate of 55%, a response rate of 44% and a lead generation rate of 10.8%.
Results proved to be nearly 20 times more effective than cold calling, arguably the most comparable method of proactive traditional business development.
Not only does it work, but the response from recipients is overwhelmingly positive. Examples of responses I have received to these outbound approaches include: "That is the best intro approach ever", "Thought your video was excellent, very thought-provoking on many levels", and "Loved the personal message - very impressed". How many times have you seen a response like that to a cold email, direct mail or phone call?
Employing personalised video introductions for lead generation purposes needs minimal financial investment. However, they require a positive mindset, the motivation to try something new, the ability to build a compelling journey, and a willingness to spend the time to do it right. The difference is that unlike almost any other form of business development, you know it is time well spent.
Dave Holloway is a trusted Enterprise Nation Advisor. He is also the author & founder of 'Wonder Leads: Remarkable led generation for positive small businesses' - the #1 Amazon US bestselling Sales and Selling new release. To learn more about personalised video introductions for outbound sales, please contact Dave through the Enterprise Nation portal.