Turn Total Strangers Into Paying Clients

Let’s face it, if your daily responsibilities include anything related to marketing or sales, transforming strangers into clients is part of your job description. Your marketing message should lay groundwork and your sales message should complete the transformation by getting the prospect to pull the trigger. So how do we do that?

First define your universe of leads

Many traditional marketing and sales approaches fail because they start in the middle: “Establish a bond,” they say. “Build rapport,” they advise. That’s fine, but not at the beginning. We should start by defining our universe of leads.

To whom will we market?

  • CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies?
  • Those in need of dry cleaning in Reno, NV?
  • Print brokers east of the Mississippi?
  • Likely voters in the state of Kansas?

While the most appropriate universe of leads is unique to each business and situation, the necessity of first defining that universe is, well…universal. Those who fail to adequately define their universe before initiating a campaign will waste enormous amounts of money.

Legendary retailer John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Consider this statement for a moment, and you’ll realize that Wanamaker was an optimist. Get 2% response from a marketing campaign and it’s arguable that 98% of your money was wasted. Trouble is, you don’t know which 98% until the campaign is complete. Defining your universe of leads accurately reduces that waste.

Initiate first contact

After we’ve defined our universe of leads, we need to initiate first contact. So what does your first contact with a prospect look like? Is it a direct mail piece? Is it a cold call? Is it a print ad or a message delivered via social media?

Whether your first contact is a compelling tweet or a note wrapped around a rock thrown through a window, your first impression sets the tone for the relationship. So what does your first contact say about you? And what could change about that contact to make it more effective?

Prequalification follow-up

We all know that it takes multiple contacts before most prospects are ready to buy, so what does our follow-up procedure look like? More mail? More phone calls? More rocks through windows? If you’ve ever traveled in a car with small children, you know that repetition of contact can get annoying quickly: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

When marketers and salespeople take an “are we there yet” approach to their messaging, they alienate prospects and kill sales. So what can you do to mix it up and make your prequalification follow-up as interesting and compelling as possible?


In reality the reason for all that follow-up is to qualify the prospect in or out. With a low-ticket item prospects might qualify themselves by placing an order. With a higher ticket item, prospects might fill out a form or answer a salesperson’s questions.

In an optimal sales process, each prospect is segmented into one of five primary categories or “buckets.”

  • The “ready now” bucket. This is for those who want to buy what we’re selling right now. Gotta love ’em.
  • The “specific dates” bucket. For those not quite ready to buy, but with a solid idea of when they might like to. Example: “I have a tradeshow coming up in October, so contact me at the end of August to discuss.”
  • The “generally receptive” bucket. For people who aren’t yet ready to buy, don’t yet have specific dates in mind, but remain open to hearing from you.
  • The “disqualified” bucket. No need, no desire, no money, no budget. This is the spot for rude, obnoxious prospects and those who ask to be on your “do not call” list.
  • The “unresponsive” bucket. These are the people who don’t respond to anything you do.

Once we know where everyone stands, we know exactly how to follow up with each prospect:

  • If they’re “ready now,” we sell to them.
  • If they have “specific dates” in mind, we schedule them for contact at the appropriate time.
  • If they’re “generally receptive,” we stay in touch until they either have a date in mind, are ready to purchase, or become disqualified.
  • If they are disqualified, we flag them in our system so we don’t inadvertently contact them again (this is for our own peace of mind as much as for theirs).
  • If they’re unresponsive, we can either continue to pursue them as if they were “generally receptive” or cut them off as if they were “disqualified.” I generally make that call based on how well we’re doing with the quality of leads in the other buckets.

The journey from total stranger to paying client depends on our marketing and sales process, and minor tweaks can produce major results.

David Blaise is business growth expert for www.thesalesprocess.com

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