Iqbal Gandham acts as a C-level executive or as an advisor to companies, in the web and mobile space. Whether it's understanding the technology to build a product or service, or creating and executing sales and marketing plans, he has extensive experience in both product and customer development.
Over the course of his career, Iqbal has founded, co-founded, advised, and taken companies from one man entities to valuations exceeding $50 millions, and employee counts eclipsing 100+. Most of those companies are still in operation today.
In this article, he shares some advice for how to go about getting that crucial list of early leads for your startup, when you're starting as an industry outsider.
Lead generation is difficult. We are all required to do it during the lifecycle of our startup. We imagine it’s easy, and often it’s the one thing we get wrong.
Traditional lead generation was a little easier than it is today (I know the old-timers will not agree, deal with it!). You selected a vertical, or approximately divided the world's population into groups you thought may like your product or service, purchased a mailing / calling list, and then started cold calling.
Over the call you would attempt to deduce if there was any interest, and spin-sell your product into their requirements. Times have changed. Cold calling, although still used, is being phased out in favour of a more strategic approach.
Today, we are told to ‘guess’ less, and instead ascertain where consumers are talking about the problem your product solves. Instead of just narrowing down to a vertical and then jumping on the phone, drill a little deeper, and see if those people are discussing the problem.
Besides the ‘sale,' lead generation is also needed if you wish to carry out customer discovery. They all require you to reach and interact with people whom you do not employ, and who most likely are outside your immediate networks. You're not likely to bump into them at Geek ‘n Rolla.
So how does one go about breaking into an industry, in the modern age?
Basics: Why are you contacting?
Unless you figure this out, you will end up contacting everyone, and on the day of the ‘pitch’ you will not really know what you want from them. Never go to a meeting unless you know what you want from the meeting.
The best way to do this is to answer two simple questions:
- What do you want from them?
- What can you give them in return?
You may be contacting a person for a ‘sale’, for a ‘review’ or perhaps just some ‘customer discovery’. So, ‘What you want and what you give’ may differ in each scenario.
Once you've got this figured out, the next step is to find those leads.
Who to contact?
Now, we need to build the list. This is akin to buying mailing lists and calling lists. There are several methods you can use to aid you in building a list of potential contacts:
Networking: This is the obvious one, but one which we all get wrong. Why? Simple: we tend to network at events where we feel comfortable. Unfortunately these events are rarely places where our customers are.
Online search: Hit google, see which companies come up, send them an email... and receive no response. Or, see the tools listed lower in this article.
Referrals: Although, strictly speaking, a subset of the aforementioned, it is the optimum method. It's also the most problematic to apply, especially if selling in an industry where we have scant knowledge.
I have found all these methods have their own space, but I find offline networking more appropriate for B2B and online preferable for B2C.
Generating B2B leads
Here are some steps to get started:
Write down a list of companies that you would ideally like to be your customers.
Create another list, this one of companies which have sold something to them (tangential to your offering - not your competitors).
Create a list of events which they (have) attend(ed).
Discover new people who have joined those companies or who have left them recently (use Linkedin to find this out).
2, 3, and 4 all give you one thing: access to the company, without specifically asking for access.
Network with 2, 3 and 4. I find ‘4’ to be the easiest, since people who have just left a company are open to speaking to everyone (especially if unemployed), and those who have just joined will take calls, since they have no idea whose calls to reject.
Use the network you build in 2, 3 and 4 to work your way into the company, with each meeting bringing you closer to the ‘target’. I would never go direct to the individual you need to speak to. Why? The chances are that your idea and pitch are so poor that what you describe will make little sense. Speak to people on the ‘edge’, and learn the language (both of the market and of the company). Use that to refine the pitch.
This takes effort. You can't just type in a few words in Google and magically end up with a list of leads. But where B2B is concerned, this type of systematic personal networking is an effective way to break into the market.
Generating B2C leads
To generate B2C leads, you should use online tools to discover where people are discussing:
- Similar products;
- Problems you solve or gains you provide;
- Generic industry trends.
Here's a selection of tools you can use:
- Google: always a good start, but very poor at deep diving into forums, where the real discussions occur.
- SocialMention.com: allows you to search by keyword, and see whether the sentiment of the discussion is positive or negative. This is good for an overall view, and to collect a few urls.
- Technorati.com: search those blogs to build a blogger list of who to contact.
- SproutSocial: this great little tool allows you to add multiple twitter, facebook and linkedin accounts, and then search for keywords across the web/twittersphere and string keywords together. You can also mark tweets, and reply to them later.
- Twitter: create lists of people which have your keywords in their profile, or are discussing that topic currently. The best method is simply to find pre-generated lists and just follow them. Try Formulists: it will help you create lists, and even filter them based on how many posts have been made in the last 30 days and how many followers they have.
- You can then filter the lists of people further, by using 140ctr.com, which highlights the click-through rates of each person, and choose those which could help you spread your message more quickly... in theory.
- Quora: The 'new kid on the block’; someone somewhere will be discussing your problem, find out who and add them.
- Linkedin Discussion: I personally find linkedin discussions of little use; they all seem to be discussing ‘life improvements’ or ‘funding’ but you may get somewhere in your niche.
Lead generation is difficult to do, especially if you cannot clearly explain what you need from that lead, and what you can offer in return.
Once you can define this, there are several tools which can help in the B2C space. When it comes to B2B, traditional methods based on referrals are still trumps.
I hope this list of tools and methods will be useful to you in your own startups.
This article is part of a series.
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