Do you feel uncomfortable trying to market your business to strangers? Most of us do. Making cold calls, knocking on doors, or attending networking mixers where you don’t know a soul can be challenging or even painful. Happily, cold approaches like these are not all there is to marketing. In fact, you may never need to use them at all.

Cold call

Perhaps you already know this, and have been marketing your business in other ways. For example, launching a website, exhibiting at trade shows, running pay-per-click ads, distributing flyers, sending emails and letters to people who don’t know you, or posting promos on social media. But all of those approaches are “cold” as well, and many of them can be expensive.

Whenever you are trying to start a marketing conversation with a stranger — with no introduction, referral, or shared connection to help you — it’s a cold approach, whether you make it on the phone, in a room, by mail, or online. And cold approaches, across the board, are less effective than warm ones.

A prospective client who becomes acquainted with your business by referral or introduction is much more likely to hire you than one who never heard of you before. A prospect who gets to know, like, and trust you over time will decide to do business with you much more easily than one who just ran across you.

Ready to warm up your marketing? Here are six ways to do it.

1. Before you engage in any pipeline-filling activity, stop to ask yourself if there is follow-up you’ve been neglecting.

Filling your marketing pipeline with new prospects is important, but if you don’t follow up with those people, they are unlikely to become clients. It’s tempting to focus all your marketing on reaching out to potential new prospects. Pipeline-filling activities like launching a new website or social media channel, placing an ad, booking a speaking engagement, or writing an article may seem more interesting and less confronting to you than following up with existing prospects.

Try to resist the temptation to start something new until you’ve completed what you already set in motion. Follow-up calls, emails, newsletters, blog posts, or personal notes to people who already know you and your business will typically result in closed sales much more quickly than acquiring new prospects.

2. Warm up your existing prospects to make your follow-up more effective.

You may have people in your marketing pipeline who don’t know you well, or with whom you’ve been out of touch. Before you pick up the phone to call them, consider how you might warm them up a bit more.

Is there someone you know who is a mutual acquaintance? Could you ask your acquaintance for more information about the prospect or use your acquaintance’s name as a reference when you call? Do you and the prospect have other shared connections you could mention? Perhaps a school you both attended, an association you both belong to, or an interest you share? Is there a helpful resource you could send prospects in advance of calling, so they’ll think of you as a trusted advisor, not a pesky salesperson?

3. Expand your view of who is in your pipeline — it may be fuller than you think.

One more avenue to consider before you start reaching out to strangers is to make sure you have considered everyone you already know as a pipeline candidate. In your professional life, think about your former co-workers and bosses, fellow students at the training school you attended, members of your professional association, vendors who sell to you, and people in your social media network.

In your personal life, consider the members of clubs you belong to, social media connections, your neighbors and neighborhood merchants, alumni of the college you went to, or the parents of your children’s classmates or teammates. You may already know dozens, or even hundreds of people you could add to your marketing pipeline.

4. When you do need to fill up your pipeline, consider warm approaches first.

Before resorting to cold approach strategies — advertising, cold calling, direct mail, trade shows, or any online strategy that involves contacting or attracting strangers — think about how you could instead use networking, referrals, or personal introductions to make the acquaintance of more prospective clients.

Contact people who already know and trust you and let them know what type of clients you’re looking for. Don’t forget to include personal friends and family in this outreach — those may be the people in your life who most want you to succeed. Seek out potential referral partners — people who come into contact with your ideal clients every day — and make their acquaintance.

5. In order to make use of warm contacts, remember to capture them in the first place.

An essential part of warm marketing is knowing who you know. Whenever you make contact with a new prospect, record their contact information, where they came from, what you know about them, and what they might be interested in. For prospects who find you via your website, blog, or social media, provide a way for them to join your mailing list, and an incentive for doing so.

Keep track of your prospects in some sort of contact management system. This can be a comprehensive CMS like Salesforce, a simple contact manager like Google Contacts or the app on your phone, an Excel spreadsheet, or even a notebook. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you do it.

6. Don’t discard warm approaches until you’ve really tried them.

It’s common to hear entrepreneurs say about marketing tactics: “I tried that and it didn’t work for me.” But did you really? Did you try networking, for example, by going to a few events, but then never calling anyone you met there or setting up a coffee date? Or did you try referral-building by telling some folks, “I would welcome your referrals,” without ever letting them know who would be a good client for you, or asking what you could do for them in return?

Warm approaches are all about building relationships. You need to have multiple contacts with your prospects and referral sources over time. You must build your contacts’ trust by becoming a helpful resource or returning favors. You have to follow through on what you start.

But as your reward, you may just be able to walk away from uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, expensive, cold approaches forever. And that’s a goal worth striving for.

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