Once you’ve done a few mailings, go visit the prospects on your list. Before you go, though, think through what you want to say to them. A short (three-minute) description of what you do and how you can help the prospect’s company make money will get you started. Once you’ve delivered it, ask them what you need to do to get their business, then shut up and listen. Nine times out of ten, they’ll tell you what you need to know as long as you use a professional approach and demonstrate a willingness to pay attention. Don’t be offended if you get a brush-off or two and don’t give up if they say they already have a preferred source for what you’re trying to sell. If that happens, thank them for their time and move on. Keep them on your mailing list, though, and visit them again next month—things change!
You should also have a leave-behind of some sort for every sales call. This can be a version of your latest direct mail piece, a fancier brochure, or even a coffee mug with your logo. And don’t forget to give them your business card. In fact, one of the best tactics you can adopt is to always hand out two cards at a time and ask the recipient to pass one along to anyone else they know who might be interested in your services.
Once you’ve established a relationship, build on it. There are all kinds of creative things you can do to keep your company at the top of the prospect’s list of preferred subs and vendors. Offer to sponsor a sales contest for the prospect for example, awarding a prize to the dealer’s salesperson who sells the most pieces in your line during a given period of time. Watch for the prospect’s own sales event, then have a pile of pizzas or a few boxes of donuts delivered with your compliments on their busiest day. If the prospect belongs to a civic group or supports a local charity, become involved with it yourself. The goal is to keep your name in front of the prospect all the time.
Your own vendors may help you with business-to-business marketing, too. Many manufacturers and distributors have co-operative advertising programs that pay part of the cost of your printing and mailing if you feature their products. Even if they don’t have a formal program, it doesn’t hurt to ask the next time you place an order. Others may have regional sales reps who would be available to go with you to make face-to-face calls. You should also ask if your suppliers do any lead generating of their own—trade shows, magazine advertising, etc.—that they can share with you.
Even with help from your vendors, marketing isn’t free, of course. A hundred first-class letters will cost you at least $100 for postage, envelopes, and computer printer ink. Imprinted coffee mugs aren’t cheap and even a supply of business cards will set you back a few bucks.
The biggest expense, though, is your time. Someone has to compile the prospect list, write the sales letters, and make the sales calls. In most small businesses, that someone is you. To control that particular expense (and to make sure the marketing gets done), dedicate a set number of hours every week to it, budgeting your time the same way you do your money.
Marketing is an investment from which you should expect a return. Fortunately, results from business-to-business marketing are usually easy to track. There is a finite prospect list, you know exactly how you’re marketing to each one, and you can easily identify the orders that you get from them. Make the investment in business-to-business marketing for a few months, then review the response. You might be surprised how much your company’s business has grown.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.