Question: Due to the current pandemic my sales have taken a big hit. I have tried to keep in touch with my current clients via email and Zoom, but am unable to attract new customers. Any suggestions?

Answer: You call your customers clients, so I assume yours is a service business? The term client implies an ongoing, long-term relationship. It is good that you have used email and Zoom to stay in touch and you should continue to do so.

In my personal experience as an owner of an independent insurance agency I found no better way of attracting new clients than personal interaction. Now that Covid cases are coming down, and antibodies are on the rise, many people feel more at ease with personal one-on-one contact.

Now is the time for you to resume aggressive marketing, including "cold calling". I am a big proponent of this method of reaching out to new customers. So, what is cold calling?

You start by developing a prospect list of potential customers. You can use tools like the website https://www.dataaxleusa.com. This site allows you to target the particular type of customer or business based on location, size, number of employees, gender, marital status, etc. Other sources include trade association and chamber of commerce members.

Once you have identified and defined your target customer, the next step is to reach out to them by telephone. If a business, you need to determine who is the decision maker. When you call ask the receptionist who is that person and if you can speak with him or her. If the decision maker is not available, ask when is the best time to find that individual in the office.

If you are unable to secure an appointment you should make a "cold call". I have found that the owner or decision maker is often the first one to arrive and the last to leave the office. Hence, the best time to cold call is just before the start of business or soon after closing.

If you are successful in securing an appointment or lucky with a cold call, always be respectful of the potential client's time. State up front you want just 10 minutes of their time and come prepared with your elevator speech, which you have prepared in advance, having taken the time to research his or her business.

It is important to get the prospect involved in the conversation. If you are doing all the talking, you have no way of knowing if your message is being well received. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer.

Undoubtedly the potential customer already has a relationship with someone providing a similar product or service. Never say anything negative about the current relationship. Rather, ask "If there is one thing you could change that would improve dealings with your current provider, what would it be?"

If you have a solution to that answer, you will have established your credibility and may be allowed to offer a competitive bid for their business.

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Gray Poehler is a volunteer with SCORE Naples. Business counseling on this and other business matters is available, without charge, from the Naples Chapter of SCORE. Call (239) 430-0081 or visit https://naples.score.org/mentors .The SCORE business office is located at 900 Goodlette Road North, in the Fifth Third branch bank building.