They say, “Given all else is equal, people will buy from the person they know better. If all else is not equal, they still end up buying from the person they know better”. People you know are most likely to give you work. This sounds intuitive yet most organizations don’t spend the time to collect and manage the people they know.
Now a days tools like LinkedIn and Facebook allow users to expand their networks manifold and stay in touch much more often.
Know who you know
I would recommend everyone run the outlook plugin for LinkedIn on their outlook profile at least once. That basically adds every email in your inbox (to, from, cc) and adds the person to your contacts. Then (if you choose to add them to LinkedIn) it pulls up their current company, title, and other LinkedIn updates. When I ran it on my inbox, it got me over a 1000 contacts.
Once you have the everyone listed, try to organize them into business categories:
- A-listers: These would be people who you know well and (more importantly) who know you. Typically these will be decision-makers with the power to assign projects and have budgets to back these projects up. Heads of department, CEOs or Entrepreneurs are examples. Of the 1000, i managed to find only 10 of these.
- Stay-in-touch list: These are all the people who can give you business in the future or who can influence the decision making process. This is an important list. You want to make as many people here go to the A-list. Most of the time, getting business is just about being at the right place at the right time. If your acquaintances know what you’re doing and you ping them often enough to stay in their active memory, they will send things your way.
- People you don’t know: most of these are people pulled in from the CC list or distant acquaintances that you think you once met. About half the people in my list fell in this category.
- People you never do business with: This includes your friends, family and the likes… people you don’t want to engage in your business life
- The No-Go list: Business contacts that you, for some reason (legal, ethical or personal) don’t want to contact.
What to do with the list
What to do with the list is limited largely by imagination. I would recommend you send an email at least once a month to your A-listers and stay-in-touchers.
A-listers are usually busy people with a lot of sales people already approaching them, so be subtle. Make sure the content you share is interesting or relevant to their current problems. For many of them you’ll be lucky if you get a response in the first place. You probably have only a few chances to fire duds here before they close off completely.
Stay in touchers are usually influencers or passive A listers (e.g. an HOD who doesn’t have budget this quarter). You should sub-categorize them based on topics of interest or just fire off general interest things like jokes.
Leave your friends and family out of this – some relationships should be left sacred.
Be honest and sincere to everyone you know. Don’t lie or push the limits on the truth. The idea is to be remembered and trusted. Salesmen are rarely trusted. Try to avoid actively selling. Most people will back off if they realize that their friend is actually a salesman. This is very hard to do when you are running out of cash to run the company but be patient.
Visit your list at least once a month. Make sure you update the categorization of people based on events in the past month (emails you never got responses to), changes in professional status etc. Also review the no-go list for people you might now be able to contact (say due to expiry of non-solicit constraints).
Adding and updating to this list will be a constant process, so try to develop a routine around this. Automate some of it if you can (mail merge etc) but do it very carefully. No matter what your sales approach is, it will almost always boil down to an individual who has to hear and accept it. In a commoditized industry like IT services, the people you know become the key differentiators.