I was trying out a new audio book called ‘How to Get a Meeting with Anyone’ by Stu Heineke. It’s a quick, fun volume, on getting past the gatekeepers (a perennial sales problem) – but the further I got into it, the more I had a feeling akin to déjà vu.

The meat of the book is essentially about contact marketing and running ‘contact marketing campaigns’. It’s about using the creative ways and means including software and social networks at your disposal. That’s not just to understand your customers, but to have a far deeper engagement with them prior to and after a sale. That can yield dividends for decades. As a sales consultant in Vancouver, I can’t help but think that it’s not an entirely new take on sales for Internet-savvy, tech-minded professionals. It’s about getting back to basics.

I don’t know if Heineke would be displeased or amused at the contention, but the big idea of the book is not technically a new idea: it’s about the importance of doing your research, getting a truer understanding of your sales prospects, who you need to talk to and what the potential of the contract might be – before you ever talk to those customers.

I’m sympathetic as to why readers (or listeners) might be under the impression that this is a radically new concept. After all, we just got over several decades worth of bad cold-calling protocols where so many companies would buy ten-thousand name contact lists that were about as finely targeted as your average phone directory. Companies still buy these lists, of course – and countless data mining companies are still making a tidy profit from it, even if the customers they sell the lists to don’t necessarily make a cent off the junk leads.

To this day, I get no less than five emails a day from agencies providing a cold-calling service (I’m sure my colleagues in the industry can relate). On a lark, I picked up the phone. Someone asked me if they could speak “to the business decision-maker, please” – and I had to stifle a bitter laugh. Having an untrained, uninformed, inexperienced sales person calling someone from a phone book just never works.

Today’s successful companies are generating their own lists, thanks to marketing automation tools they can integrate with their online assets (These aren’t necessarily a perfect solution, but they at least have the advantage that a potential client has to get engaged somehow with your website, landing page or ads. It’s a starting point).

How to start contact marketing (or, how to do good old-fashioned sales research)

Like I said near the beginning of this conversation, it’s about getting back to the basics. Let’s say you’re just starting out in your research and prospecting activity, you need to think about the big picture:

  • What do I offer?
  • What entities would use this – and why?
  • What difference will this offering make to them?
  • How can I be creative in engaging them?

Once you’ve got that foundation covered, you delve deeper into your contact marketing toolkit. What does this target company look like? Who is the person I need to talk to, based on the problem I can help them solve? A Google News and LinkedIn search can give you a lot of that kind of surface-level insight. Now, dig deeper: do they have a personal assistant? An email different from their regular business email – and if so, which is better to use? If I had to send them a particular piece of content marketing, would they subscribe? You’re only going to do your outbound sales effort after you’ve put in a significant amount of work.

When you’re ready, the technology is there to help with contact marketing. Social selling tools are increasingly seen as essential for the professionals using them, according to a new LinkedIn study (well, yes, they would say that – but the numbers surveyed seem convincing). For instance, ‘inside sales professionals (62 percent and account managers (59 percent) were most likely to rate email tracking tools as either “critical” or “extremely critical” to their ability to close deals.” Additionally, ‘more than 70 percent of sales professionals use social selling tools, including LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, making them the most widely used sales technology.” No surprises there either, unless you were expecting that number to ring closer to 100 percent (and it surely will get a lot closer in the next 5 years).   Social selling is just another channel to creatively engage.

I still see some skeptics among an older contingent, but there’s no arguing with the numbers when you can support a sales campaign that’s supported by contact marketing and a bit of automation. With one recent campaign I helped run, we used digital marketing to increase conversion rates and adjust the ratio of visits to leads positively by 130 percent. An increase in qualified leads of that size naturally led to increased sales opportunities, by 68 percent. That’s substantial ROI, for any industry.

The technology we have at our disposal is incredible, but it’s only useful if you put in the effort. Research pays off in all kinds of ways.  Plan the work and then work the Plan.