How to Convert Prospects into Customers

In my first business, I was a federal minority subcontractor providing software development servicing to the energy industry. With only one client and one type of revenue source, I didn't do any sales and marketing.

When I started my management consulting business in 2004, I had to learn how to market my business to small and mid-size companies.

Today, as I try to grow my business, my needs for marketing and sales have evolved again. I need more sophisticated processes. So I hired an event specialist to follow up after my speaking engagements, networking and special promotion e-mail campaigns. In so doing, I discovered that my company has multiple prospect lists: There's one in our e-mail marketing online system, one in my e-mail systems, one in our centralized online systems (mostly spreadsheets) and one in our accounting system. I need to consolidate these valuable lists so we can do more business. In other words, I have to conquer the chaos in my business.

For advice on how to do that, I turned to Clate Mask, whom I interviewed as part of my recent Business Value Drivers study. Co-founder and CEO of Infusionsoft, Mask is a small-business growth expert who has worked with thousands of entrepreneurs and co-authored The New York Times bestseller,Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy

"'I wish I could clone myself' is probably the phrase most often uttered by overworked, overstressed and underpaid small-business owners," Mask says. Mask discussed some obvious mistakes he says prevent small businesses from growing.

  1. Lack of consistent new leads follow-up. "Studies show that 80 percent of people buy between sales contact No. 5 and No. 12. Yet most people stop following up after attempt No. 3," Mask says. Can you imagine how much it's costing your company not to continue following up after three attempts?  
  2. Limited post-sales follow-up. "How many times have you purchased something, never to hear from the company again?" Mask asks. Entrepreneurs don't pay attention to repeat customers, yet repeat customers are much cheaper than acquisition of new customers. Have you sold everything you can possibly sell to your customers?  
  3. No time for nurturing relationships. "We all know that people buy when the time is right for them, not when you're anxious to sell," Mask says. Take time to close deals. People buy from those whom they know; use your time effectively to build that relationship.  
  4. Not getting paid on a timely basis. I always tell clients not to finance their clients' purchases. Yet many businesses let their accounts receivable sit there until there is a cash-flow problem. Automatic billing is a great way to track who did not pay. Then get on the phone if they don't pay. Don't be their bank.  
  5. Inconsistent marketing and sales process. The worst thing that could happen in your company is to have each sales and marketing employee says different things when working with clients or prospects. You don't have to use a script, but consistency will help your team close more deals.

To grow your business, here are three things Mask recommends you consider implementing:

  1. Consistently spend the right amount of money and time in marketing. Many entrepreneurs have an on-off relationship with marketing; you want a consistent method for generating leads. You have to dedicate a certain amount of time to marketing and market consistently.  
  2. Stop trying to do everything yourself. Entrepreneurs are proud control freaks. Most don't trust other people to do things the right way. Build an organization or surround yourself with people who can do what you're not good at doing or don't want to do. Hold them accountable to drive results. Your way may not always be the best way.  
  3. Have a systematic follow-up process on a weekly basis. Acquisition of new clients is expensive. It's more expensive if you don't follow up with your leads. Consistently reaching out to new and existing clients is crucial. Communicate effectively and stay in front of clients and prospect with value-added messages. This also shows your work ethic and integrity of doing business.

Although we have paper processing in my company, we're as guilty as many businesses out there of not having a central location for our sales and marketing process. We are now in the process of consolidating my five lists into Infusionsoft. It does take time to consolidate lists and the marketing and sales processes along with our accounting systems integration. The hard work will pay off soon, though. We're already seeing sales steadily increasing, all because we have an improved system.