All small business owners will have, at some stage or another, encountered barren periods during which it seems impossible to find sufficient new sales opportunities. You have probably experienced times when the lead generation methods with which you had previously enjoyed success suddenly stop working as well.
You hit a period where you struggle to find sales opportunities. The longer this barren spell lasts, the more desperate small business owners will become. This is understandable but not helpful.
Often, the barren spell ends as quickly as it started without there being any obvious actions taken by the business owner to cause the situation to reverse. It would be ideal if there was a specific action (or set of actions) which triggered this improvement in lead-generation fortunes. Whatever these actions were could be recorded in your “lessons-learned” database and then reapplied whenever a future drop off in new prospects is encountered.
Prospecting, like so many aspects of running a small business, is cyclical. The natural ebb and flow of commerce will result in periods when you identify a plentiful supply of prospects and others during which you will find few prospects. In these challenging times you must rely on your existing clients to maintain revenues and profits.
There really is no magic formula associated with lifting a small business out of a prospecting slump. It is a matter of continuing to do what you know is good prospecting practice. Never give up. Make it as easy as possible for people to buy from you. In parallel, make every effort to persuade your existing clients to buy more and take up the slack.
It is tempting, when you are experiencing a slump in sales opportunities, to embark on some “panic measures” in an attempt to drum up interest. You might, for example, believe offering a lower price in return for a quick buying decision is good marketing. For example, an offer to save 25% provided an order is placed and paid for by the end of this month might seem attractive.
To your prospects, however, this is likely to be viewed as an act of desperation from a supplier that is struggling to generate sales. In recent weeks I have received similar offers from car retailers, furniture shops, telecommunications companies and corporate hospitality event organisers.
In each case, their prospects are being asked to buy now and receive delivery in the future. The underlying worry for prospective buyers is whether the supplier will still be in business when the time comes for them to deliver the product/service. There are regularly instances of suppliers ceasing to trade after taking orders (with payments) from buyers but before any deliveries are made.
If you show how desperate you are to find sales opportunities, you will simply frighten off many of the people you are trying to attract. They will interpret your desperation as a sign of trading difficulty and will choose to buy from another supplier. Your prospects will often make this decision before engaging you in any dialogue – you lose them simply by conveying your desperation to find sales opportunities.
Even when you are in a prospecting slump, it is important to keep your marketing activities consistent with the perceptions of your prospects. If you don’t normally offer discounts for quick pre-paid orders, don’t do it just to boost short term sales.
There may be certain periods when a wide range of suppliers will introduce price reductions and special offers. You would not frighten off your prospects if you followed the discounting trend at the same time.
For example, when selling to consumers during the New Year sales or Black Friday sales, there is no stigma attached to offering a significant discount, even if you would usually not do so. Suppliers selling to other businesses (rather than to consumers), can also give extra discounts at these times without it causing prospective buyers to consider the move an act of desperation.
It is important to keep your perspective during a prospecting/lead generation slump. If your business has previously been successful at lead generation and in converting those prospects into clients, you will know any slump in leads is not likely to be due to your product specification, price or ongoing quality control. If these were the problem, you would have struggled before and also be hearing from your unhappy existing clients.
It is possible your market has encountered a significant event causing your product/service to become less competitive. This might be caused, for example, by some new Government legislation or policy.
It is always worth checking whether or not an aggressive new supplier has entered the market and changed the expectations of buyers. This type of development will often leave existing (previously successful suppliers) looking uncompetitive when compared with the new entrant. As a result, the new entrant quickly gains market share and traction in the marketplace.
You have to respond to such situations by improving the value of your product/service. You might add new features, deliver better post-sales support or implement a price reduction to bring your prices closer to those of the new entrant. Be careful not to initiate any form of price-war with suppliers eager to offer the lowest price. For small businesses this strategy usually ends badly.
Focus on your value for money rather than price to explain and justify why you are a little more expensive. Use your existing clients to validate and reinforce your claims of value.
- Maintain previously successful lead generation activities until you know what has caused the slowdown in lead generation
- Research how your competitors are finding their sales opportunities. What are they doing that you could start doing?
- Reassess the market conditions to see if there has been a fundamental shift which has suddenly made you uncompetitive.