During the dating stage, you’re educating the customer and bringing some influence to bear on their customer journey. Obviously the earlier you can get in on the conversation, the more influence you have over early judgments and decisions that the prospect is making. This is the domain of marketing – to ensure that you’re well represented in the marketplace to your target customers and to bring some influence into their early decisions.

You can do this in two ways:

  • Analyze where the customer has been looking and see how you can insert yourself. The advantage of this method is that the customer is already in the lifecycle – just at an early stage. You need to create the connection points between your business (and business-development activities) and the customer’s lifecycle. This approach takes some effort and is better suited to companies with some marketing and sales resources.
  • Create an offer where the value is immediately evident to anyone you talk to. The advantage is that the prospect doesn’t have to be in the customer journey or even a target customer at all, but if its reaction is ‘Really? You do that?’, you’re in a strong position to determine early on whether you can create a need or not. If not, the customer may be intrigued enough to refer you to other business contacts, or consider you later on.

 

Take a look at the table below for where you can have some early influence, for where you may already be engaged and for some additional things to try.

Exerting Early Influence

What Can You Use? When to Use it When Not to Use it
Cold calling Your offer is very distinctive and offers very high value at a senior level in your customer base.

A good-sized segment of the market needs what you offer.

Your target customers need your services on a cyclical or ongoing basis (that is, they buy with frequency, for example if you’re a product marketing company and your target releases a distinctive product on a reasonably regular basis).

Your target contacts are bombarded by cold calls from companies just like yours.

You’re operating in a very local market (such as a town or small city).

The market only uses your services in very specific and/or very rare circumstances.

Offline event participation, networking, speaker engagements You can identify events where your customers may hang out.

You’re willing to consider sponsoring or exhibiting at such an event, which gives you the right to say hello to everyone there.

You have someone who’s really good at working a room (relating well to people quickly, forming a connection that can be followed up on).

You’re a great presenter and people come up to you afterwards wanting more.

The time provided for networking is limited.

The events are attended more by vendors than customers.

The cost of getting more deeply involved is prohibitive.

You hate talking to strangers, you don’t care why they’re there and you don’t really want to be there either.

You dislike doing presentations to more than five people.

Online events When you can sponsor or have some say in the content and audience.

When you get an opportunity to present, however briefly, your value proposition. It’s even better if you can present some content of value to the audience (see next item).

You’re participating, but without some specific role (such as a presentation opportunity) or some influence on the topics and audiences.
Authoritative content The heart of early engagement, great content, means you have something to say that people want to read or listen to (or share with others or blog about).

You can provide simple tools that help customers who are confused during the customer journey.

You can demonstrate exceptional results from your work with your customers (preferably quantitative, but qualitative is good too)

You, or someone in your organization, is great at writing content for a specific audience.

See also social media below.

Your offer is pretty general (for example, you’re an accounting firm, but you don’t have any specialized services).

Your customer journey is very simple (as in something’s broken and the customer has to fix it right now).

Social media Your customers can be found online, on Twitter, in LinkedIn Groups, even on Facebook, or on specialized social networks.

They follow specific leaders in your area of work or customers who would buy your services.

They follow/read bloggers who are expert in your area of work and provide objective content to the marketplace.

Your customers aren’t found on social networks such as LinkedIn (especially the specific people you want to connect with).

The cost of buying into their network (e.g. becoming a Vistage member or joining a virtual executive roundtable group) is prohibitive.

Social events/ non-profits/ community efforts Unless the gig is incredibly noisy, social and community events are a great place to practice your pitch and get others interested in what you do. Most people work for one company or another – you never know. The people around you aren’t in the right networks to provide the referrals you need. Keeping the conversation social is fine – just keep looking for a suitable opportunity. Some organizations also prohibit promoting your business, in which case, respect that.
Email marketing You have some compelling content that the prospect will sign up to receive, or good content for a regular informational newsletter. Blasting out to large numbers of people who haven’t asked for your communication (it’s illegal).

 

Don’t waste time seeking out quick fixes to broaden your customer base (believe me, there aren’t any!). Ensure that you’re picking the right things to do that are appropriate to your stage of development as a company and to what’s going to attract the prospects.

Next Up: Courting and Proposing