When trying to figure out how to contact a new customer prospect, you start with two problems:
- How do you make contact at all?
- How do you get to the right person(s)?
You also start with several ways to solve them:
- Published points of contact. While these may not be the right person, they give you a place to start. And if you are careful in your online searches, you might be able to find a point of contact who is a good place to start.
- Networking. Who do you know that might know someone relevant? Can they make an introduction or referral?
- Events. Conferences and other events may provide you with an opportunity to network and meet a relevant point of contact. You don’t want to become a stalker, but a little outreach may be called for.
- Social networks. Can you find a relevant point of contact on LinkedIn or another social network?
- B2B contact lists. You can often purchase access to contact information that will give you a starting point. Database and catalog publishers like Carroll Publishing, Input, FedSources, Hoovers, and InfoUSA are examples.
One you find a place to start, you need to navigate to the right person(s). There are several approaches you can take to get there.
Understanding the Customer’s Organization
It helps when the customer publishes their organization chart. You can often see where your current points of contact are and where you need to get to. But an organization chart doesn’t tell you how an organization really functions. So use your starting point to help you better understand how the customer’s organization really works. When the customer doesn’t publish their organization chart, you should ask them about it when you make contact. With each person you talk to, you can collect more information until you can draw their organization chart.
As you talk to different people within the customer’s organization, you will probably identify multiple points of contact. It can be very helpful to have multiple points of contact because each may have a different role and perspective within the buying process. For example, you may identify one or more procurement specialists at the customer. You should also try to identify the program staff or end users who have the actual requirement. You may need to talk to both the procurement staff and the program staff to get a complete understanding of the organization’s needs and what it will take for them to become a customer.
Identifying the Decision Maker(s)
Often the person who has the need is not the person who has decision authority over whether or what to purchase. Sometimes you make contact with someone who has a need and a lot of interest, only the lead goes nowhere because they can’t affect a purchase. That is why making contact with the actual decision maker(s) can be important. The problem with this is that in some organizations it can be very difficult to identify the decision makers, even for those inside the organization. And when you do identify them, you often have to get past a gatekeeper in order to make contact.
To identify the decision makers, consider:
- The organization’s structure and ranking of staff. Often a person’s rank within an organization determines their level of authority and ability to make procurement decisions.
- The culture at the organization. For example, in a consensus driven environment, there might not be a single decision maker, or the decision maker might require input from multiple parties.
- Influencers. Even in organizations with specific decision makers, there are often key people who have significant influence over or contributions to decision making.
- Functions and roles. Sometimes instead of rank, what matters most is the role a person plays within an organization.
- Policies and procedures. Organizations usually have set policies and procedures when it comes to procurement. Discovering what they are should be a priority. It can also tell you who the decision makers are.
Horizontal and Vertical Strategies
When you are navigating a customer’s organization, you can use horizontal or vertical strategies.
- Horizontal strategies involve working through peers, partners, or even competitors to identify people on the same working level in the organization.
- Vertical strategies involve working up and down the rank structure of the organization. One way to navigate vertically is to move up or down the ladder one rung at a time, by using your point of contact at the current level to identify the point of contact at the next level. Another approach is to go straight to the desired level. People are often unnecessarily intimidated by going straight to a high level in an organization. If what you have to say is relevant and useful to the person you wish to contact, then it’s appropriate to make contact, regardless of the level. You just need to make sure they see it that way.
Which approach to take depends on the organization you are trying to navigate. Most often you will employ both strategies.