Our business graduate school program’s final course in the area of client acquisition is on Reverse Cold Calling. It is the toughest course to master though the techniques are not difficult to teach. What is Reverse Cold Calling? Regular Cold Calling is when the business person calls others in order to ask for their business. Reverse Cold Calling is when the customer calls the business to ask for their services. It is the holy grail of business marketing, and perhaps the toughest to achieve. What makes reverse cold calling so difficult is that you can’t do it. Every technique you’ve learned up to now involves you doing it. You make the cold calls, you go out and network with people, you go out and advertise. With reverse cold calling you can’t be the one who does it. So how do you implement a technique that you can’t do? The answer, is found in the Olympic sport of curling.
If you’ve seen people on an ice rink with brooms sweeping in front of a moving disc-thing, that is curling. Basically, curling is like shuffleboard, only after one person on the team pushes off the disc, other team members can influence it’s direction and speed by using brooms to change the structure of the ice in front of the disc. (I don’t know anything else about it, so don’t ask.) By sweeping more on the right, the disc will trend over to the right because the ice is smoother and easier to glide over. Sweeping more makes the disc go faster and so on. The key is that once the disc has been released, no one can touch it, all you can do is influence its path.
In order to implement effective reverse cold calling you have to make the ice silky smooth all the way to your business. Then, those new clients will just slide right on up to you.
So, how do we make the ice smooth for this process?
In traditional marketing, you ask current clients for referrals. This is more effective than many other strategies but it does have some potential problems. First, many clients will feel put on the spot by your question. This ends up making them blank out on people that might be good referrals. Second, people don’t like to make decisions for other people, even their friends. So, just because Bob thinks you are the greatest guy since Abe Lincoln doesn’t mean that he wants to make that determination for his good friend Frank, who may or may not think the same about you or the service you provide. The harder you push on something like this, the more it seems like you care more about your next client than you do about your current one.
The easiest referral happens when Bob is at a Barbecue with Frank and Frank says, “Man, I love your deck, who built it?” Bob will be more than happy to recommend you at this point. However, if you sit around waiting for this to happen your business will build very slowly. A slightly harder referral is for Bob to be at Frank’s house and say “You know, you could have an awesome deck out here. I know a great guy.” Even harder is for Bob to just pipe up at lunch, “Hey, Frank do you need a deck?”
In order to sweep the ice you need to give Bob all the tools he needs, plus put the idea in his mind that he can and should be telling his friends and coworkers about you.
Reverse Cold Calling Plan
The first step to making all that ice sweeping effective is to evaluate where someone will be pushing off a disc. You will eventually try to turn all of your clients into people who market for you, but you should start where you have the best odds. The best clients to start with will be those who have big networks of their own and tend to be social. You can tell by how your client is with you. Did he tell you all about his business and his hobbies the first time you met? Does he routinely tell you about his weekend or friends. Does he ever try to market to you? Jackpot! If Bob sits in a chair in your office and says something like “Your rug looks a little worn. I have a friend who…,” then you have found your man.
Now that you have the right person it’s time to give him the right tools. Forget business cards. Have you ever stashed away 5 business cards from someone else to give out to others? Even if you did, what are the odds that you had them when it actually came up? All you need is to make sure that Bob has ONE of your cards, the one he keeps. He’ll write down, or email the info to the next person. The tool Bob does need is something easy to remember you by.
Your web site is best: www.awesomedecks.com is really easy to relay to someone during a conversation and really easy to remember. No one has to write down anything.
Some key tips on your web site:
- Always have the .com address. You can have the others too if you want, but when someone recalls a web site from memory they will almost always try .com. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me why “del.icio.us DOT COM” doesn’t work! If your web site does not have .com make sure you really emphasize that with Bob. “Bob, just remember it’s DOT NET. Tons of people screw up and go to DOT COM. So remember, DOT NET sounds more like DOT DECK.”
- Next, make absolutely sure that your homepage is friendly to someone who has never heard of you before. Don’t make your homepage all about current clients with a button over on the side somewhere that says “Are You a New Customer” Also, skip the flash, the animations, and anything else you think is clever. Someone, somewhere, blocks that stuff, whether with NoScript, or disabled by the company IT department. Only really web savvy people will look at your site and go, “Oh, it uses something that is being blocked.” Everyone else will think it is just broken, or dumb. And if you can’t even get your web site right, how will you get their business right?
A web site is good, but it isn’t enough. Your great-aunt isn’t so web savvy, neither is that one cousin. You need another way to remember your business so they can call later. A simple name seems like it might be easy to remember but it isn’t as good as you think. Tom’s Decks is simple. The problem is that if Bob tells Frank about Tom’s Decks, and later Frank meets a guy named Bill, he might remember Bill’s Decks.
Simple is good, but distinctive is necessary too. My professional writing business is ArcticLlama, LLC. You don’t have to remember the LLC to find me, so no problem there, and llama is unusual enough to trigger a memory, so is arctic. The two together are truly odd, but not so odd that someone will think bad about it. (“Die Skate Punks”, is memorable but probably not the kind of thing that inspires confidence in your grandmother.) Llama can be a little tough becuase of the two “L”s, but it is also the kind of thing people will think that they just misspelled so they’ll keep looking. If you misspell on purpose, “Amy’s Krafts,” they might give up when they can’t find you unless you really emphasized this to your clients, “Krafts with a K.”
Now Put Out the Honey
If your business info can be passed on and remembered during a conversation that is good, but you still have to make the conversation happen. For that we turn to go old fashioned bribery. Tell your clients that you are expanding your business again. Always say “again”. This makes it sound like you aren’t always expanding your business, and also that you have done it before. Both things inspire confidence and make it a little more urgent (after all you might not be expanding your business later.) Then, tell you client that for this expansion, you are doing a special deal. You will give your current client 10% off his next order, or baseball tickets, or a free hat (or somethings else as long as it is worthwhile) for each person that calls and mentions how he heard about you. Also, and this is the key, mention that the new client will also get the discount or gift if it’s in the next couple of months.
Be vague about how long. You want to make sure that there is some urgency (“only a couple of months”) but you don’t want it to come up after a little while and it seem too late (“it was four months ago and he said a couple of months, so it would probably be ok”).
The goal is, that with a good incentive, Bob will actively look for opportunities to mention you instead of waiting for them to come up. That means he will mention your business a lot more. Even if that doesn’t translate into more customers now, it does make Bob someone that knows a good provider. So, when down the road Frank’s wife mentions how nice it would be to have a deck, Frank will remember that Bob knows a good deck business and he will ask about it. Then your phone will ring. Welcome to reverse cold calling.