Early in my career I traveled to Dallas, Texas to meet with a client. Knowing my company was already paying for my flight and travel, I wanted to maximize my company’s investment in me by trying to meet with prospects and potential referral partners in town. It sure beat the heck out of sitting in my hotel room alone with only The Bachelor to keep me occupied.
I searched for companies based in the Dallas area that met my “prospect” criteria. I looked up each company’s buyer’s contact information on ZoomInfo and created a prospect list.
(NOTE: I use ZoomInfo to find contact information for just about any contact at a company. It’s like the old fashioned Hoover’s, but I like it better. ZoomInfo only charges an annual subscription fee and has current contact information. I eliminate contacts that haven’t been updated in the last 12 months. This ensures that the people I reach out to are more likely to still be with the company and have accurate emails.)
I wrote an email to each of my Dallas-based prospects. The body of the email was short, concise, and clearly articulated our value proposition. I requested an in-person meeting and closed my email with the dates/times I would be available for an in-person meeting.
The result: My email response rate doubled.
Some of the responses were, “No, Nein, or Nyet.” The quicker I get a “No” the better. I avoid wasting my time chasing prospects that are never going to be a client.
Some of the responders requested a short call. This “exploratory call” is a most important part of the sales process. I can vet the prospect to see if he/she actually has a need significant enough to justify changing suppliers. If not, I politely and metaphorically walk away. But, if there is a need that I can help with, I proceed with the next steps in my sales process.
A few buyers wanted to meet with me. I was pleasantly surprised, if not a bit shocked. In the past, getting buyers to meet with me was like pulling teeth (pardon my dental reference – my uncle’s a dentist and my mom’s a dental hygienist).
Here are Five bits of advice that may just improve your next business trip:
1) Stay for at least three full business days. Perhaps five business days are ideal, but my schedule rarely allows for it.
2) Reach out to prospects 4 – 6 weeks prior to your visit. I try not to reach out too early or too late. Executives are busy and often don’t know their travel schedules too far in advance. I make follow-up phone calls and send “gentle reminder” emails to ensure that the meeting takes place. If I can’t connect with a potential client immediately, I don’t give up. I’ve had several instances in which the prospect responds “last minute” due to an unforeseen trip cancellation.
3) Meet with your referral partners. I try to avoid only focusing on my prospects. I do a bit of research and seek to meet with the peers, consultants and other companies that sell to my client. These partners are interacting with your client and may be potential clients down the road. And there is an added benefit: I learn a lot about my client by learning about the companies they do business with.
4) Schedule your meetings around traffic times. I try to learn the traffic patterns of each city I visit. I know this may sound a bit OCD, but it really is helpful. I schedule my meetings around rush hour traffic. If I know a city has terrible morning and evening traffic, I book my meetings between 11A.M. – 2 P.M. I am never late. I find that using Uber or Lyft saves a lot of time and hassle (and can often be cheaper than renting a car). I recently met with the print buyer at a major airline. Their offices filled up a city block. There was literally no place to park. No need to panic. Because I took Uber, I was dropped at the front door, and I prevented a potential parking nightmare.
5) Send a handwritten thank you note to each person you meet with. This helps me to stand out and it reinforces the meaningful parts of my conversation. I like to use humor so my personality shines through. My goal is to make the card so clever or unique that my prospect feels compelled to display it on his/her desk.
My five little tips have been so effective that I now schedule weeklong trips to visit friends in major U.S. cities to get meetings with prospects. I was in Atlanta in August for this very reason. I stayed for 7 days and scheduled many meetings by sending emails with an in-person meeting date/time request. I also scheduled meetings with well-networked friends.
My next trips? Scottsdale and back to Dallas.
This article first appeared in the Print+Promo publication.