#130: Why Your Biggest Client Opportunities Are Slipping Between Your Fingers—and What to Do About It

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Ever go weeks prospecting for clients without something to show for it?

You “knock” on what seems like a ton of doors. But no one seems to be interested.

And when you finally get a response, it’s something along the lines of “I’ll keep your information on file…”

It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

Well, there’s a reason why this happens. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in today’s episode.

This Happens Everywhere!

The first thing you must understand is that you’re not alone. Everyone struggles to find prospects who are ready and willing to engage.

And that’s not just in the world of creative services. It’s also true in virtually every B2B market. From medical devices to software, manufacturing, consulting and advisory services, heavy equipment.

When you’re marketing a “considered purchase,” only a certain percentage of the target market is actively looking for what you sell.

According to research by business development agency Vorsight,
Only 3 percent of qualified prospects are actively searching for someone who provides your services.

What about the other 97?

Forty percent will probably have a need for your services sometime in the next few months. These are your not-yet-ready (NYR) prospects.

And the rest—a whopping 57 of them—won’t be looking anytime soon!

Most Will Hire Someone Later in the Future

An in-depth study by Cahners Business Information of more than 40,000 inquiries generated by ads and press releases uncovered the following pattern:

  • 11% purchased within 3 months of inquiring (not far off from the 3% “ready now”)
  • 17 percent purchased within 4-6 months.
  • 25 percent purchased within 7-12 months.
  • 47 percent took more than a year to buy.

And more recently, Marketing Donut found that 63% of people requesting information on your company today will not purchase for at least three months. And 20% will take more than 12 months to buy.

Where the Real Gold Is

The key is to stay in touch with that “40 percent” group—the NYR prospects, the group most freelancers ignore.

Spending tons of time and energy looking for the magical 3% (or 11%, depending on how you look at it) is a lot of work.

But what if you instead looked for the group that’s right behind them—the NYR prospects who will probably be ready soon or at some point in the near future?

And what if you stayed in touch with that group until they were ready for you?

When you go about your prospecting this way, you’ll automatically find the 3 percent who are ready today. And you’ll be the first person these prospects turn to when the timing is right.

I call this process “lead nurturing.” And once I saw the impact this kind of follow-up had on my income, it quickly became a critical part of my marketing and sales process as a freelancer.

Whom Should You Nurture?

Which prospects should you nurture? And how do you nurture them without turning them off?

It’s simple: You want to nurture every prospect who indicates potential interest in your services but doesn’t have a current need.

A simpler way to look at it is to nurture every qualified prospect you come in contact with, except the following:

  1. Prospects who, after some degree of follow-up, say flat out, “We have no interest or need for a writer.”
  2. Prospects who are not (or don’t seem) qualified—either because you looked them up and can tell they wouldn’t be a good prospect, or because after a conversation or email exchange you realized that they would not be a good fit.

What about everyone else? Does it really pay to stay in touch with NYR prospects? Check out these additional statistics and decide for yourself:

  • Forty-four percent of salespeople (as freelancers, we’re selling our services, so we are salespeople!) give up after one follow-up. Yet 80% of sales require five follow-ups (sources: Scripted and Marketing Donut).
  • Eighty percent of the prospects deemed “bad leads” by sales teams do go on to buy within 24 months (source: SiriusDecisions).
  • On average, 15 to 20 percent of the “not yet ready to purchase” opportunities convert to sales [after lead nurturing] (source: Gleanster).
  • Nurtured leads make 47 percent larger purchases than non-nurtured leads (source: The Annuitas Group).
  • Lead-nurturing emails get four to 10 times the response rate compared with stand-alone email blasts (source: SilverPop/DemandGen Report).

Timing and Trust

So why the delay? Why do so many prospects take this long to make decisions? There are two key factors at play here: timing and trust.

Landing a new client requires both the right timing and a certain level of trust.

The timing for hiring you needs to be right. You can’t create urgency inside the prospect’s organization. But you can stay in touch until they’re ready.

You also can’t build trust overnight. It takes time, patience and a sincere desire to establish a meaningful connection with your prospects. To do that effectively, you need a smart, methodical and sincere lead-nurturing effort with your NYR prospects.

The Lead-Nurturing Process for NYR Prospects

There are four components to an effective lead-nurturing strategy:

  1. Content library
  2. Media
  3. Frequency
  4. Tracking and automation

Let’s go through each one of these in more detail.

#1: Content Library

A huge factor in the success of your lead-nurturing efforts is adding value in every follow-up attempt. So you need good-quality content you can include in your follow-up messages.

What kind of content should you send? Here are some ideas:

  • Articles you’ve written. If you publish a newsletter and have a few articles lying around from previous issues, move the best ones to your library.
  • Reports or white papers. These can be powerful nurturing pieces. Here again, reports and white papers give you credibility while offering value to readers.
  • Useful and relevant tools and resources. Checklists, cheat sheets, templates, process maps, step-by-step plans, shortcuts, worksheets, scorecards or other tools you’ve created. Don’t have anything like that in your files? Why not create a few of these assets by documenting how you go about creating some of your work?
  • Success stories. These are short articles that describe how you’ve helped a client solve a specific challenge and how the client specifically benefited from your service.
  • Third-party content. Your nurturing content library doesn’t have to be completely self-authored. It’s better to have a good mix of self-authored content and third-party information.
  • Books. Books are memorable. After all, it’s not every day that a prospect gets a free book in the mail, especially one that’s relevant to their work. Pick books that are timely, relevant to the prospect, tied somehow to what you do and written by credible sources.
  • Videos and podcasts. Whether it’s a video you’ve put together with some practical and relevant tips, or a podcast you came across that would be relevant and valuable to your audience, rich media can be a great way to stay in touch while adding value.
  • Helpful tools. If you come across helpful and practical tools, apps, utilities, software or websites that would help your leads do their jobs more easily, add them to your library. Become the person who brings those valuable ideas to your prospects’ attention. They won’t forget you!
  • News stories or general announcements. Interesting news reports can work well. But so can general announcements about new things you’re doing in your own business.
  • Handwritten cards and other creative items. Get creative! Handwritten cards stand out in a world of electronic and mass-produced correspondence. The personal touch goes a long way toward staying top of mind with NYR prospects.

Where to find relevant information to add to your library:

  • Industry publications, newsletters and blogs. If you’re keeping up with your industry, target market or craft, you’ll automatically run into great content you can use for nurturing leads.
  • Pocket. This app enables you to “clip” and store articles and other content from the web. Once it learns your clipping patterns, it makes recommendations of relevant content you might like. Which makes it easier to find other great, relevant content.

#2: Media

Using multiple media not only diversifies your efforts but also adds variety to your messages, which can help cut through the noise of junk mail and flooded email and voicemail inboxes.

There are three basic media you’ll want to use in a rotating fashion:

Postal mail. Keep it simple. Stuff your printed nurturing piece into either a standard #10 envelope or yellow oversize envelope (a 9 x 12 envelope works). Include either a sticky note or a cardstock note with a personalized handwritten message, such as this:

Hi John,

Came across this article recently.

Thought you’d find it interesting.


Throw in your business card, hand-address the envelope and you’re good to go! Few people ever get mail like this anymore, so your piece will stand out.

Email. It’s efficient, recipients get emails right away and there’s usually no gatekeeper, so the chances of getting through to prospects can be higher than with postal mail. The downside is that it could get lost in the shuffle and never read.

Phone. Throw a few phone calls into your nurturing mix. The telephone is a very personal and interactive medium. It humanizes you.

You can use the phone as a single nurturing touch point. Or you can use it as part of a “one-two punch” strategy to let the prospect know that you just emailed them something and wanted to give them a heads up.

Example of a good nurturing voicemail message:

Hi Jill.

Ed Gandia here. I’m the business-to-business copywriter you contacted back in December. I’m calling because I’ve recently worked with two clients to turn some of their white papers into one-sheet summaries for their sales teams.

This concept has really caught on with these two clients, and I thought it might be something you’d be interested in exploring.

If you’d like to connect, you can reach me at 770-555-1876 or [email protected].

Take care.

This one is simple, relaxed, sincere and to the point. And notice that even though it’s obviously promotional in nature, there’s value in there. It’s not your typical “Hey, do you have anything for me?” message.

#3: Frequency

Remember: 44% of people give up after one follow-up. Yet 80 percent of sales require five follow-ups (sources: Scripted and Marketing Donut).

That doesn’t mean you call or email five times with an “Are you ready for me?” message. Five or more attempts means you stay in touch in a relevant and personalized way over a period of time.

The frequency and nature of your follow-up depend on:

  • Stage of the sales cycle
  • Who contacted whom
  • Prospect’s responsiveness and cues
  • How long they’ve been on your nurturing list (the longer they’ve been on without any kind of response or acknowledgment, the lower the frequency)

Use these three factors to guide your decisions. But in general, sending something every one to three months is about right.

Of course, you’ll want to adjust that frequency up or down based on the three factors above. But when in doubt, use two months as your baseline frequency.

#4: Tracking and Automation

A simple spreadsheet will do when starting out with your nurturing program. Add a prospect per row and use a column to track what you sent that prospect (and when).

Once this activity becomes a habit, consider implementing a contact management system. Here are some popular options:

Resist the temptation to automate this process with emails or services such as “SendOutCards.” Remember: The personal touch is key to effective follow-up!

Adopt the Right Mindset

Key point: Don’t treat lead nurturing as a desperate attempt to convert a prospect to a client. Let go of any expectations and instead focus on sending relevant and personalized messages. Detaching yourself from a specific outcome is key.

Finally, understand that 80 percent compliance (good enough) is better than not starting your nurturing initiative because you want to get everything “just right” (perfection). So don’t wait to act until you have it down perfectly.

Think “ready, fire, aim.”

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