The Art of Demand Generation in COVID-19 Era

As we have all noticed, the current economic climate has had an impact on businesses of all types.  One only has to scroll through their LinkedIn inbox to get a sense of the hardship people are experiencing now, trying to effort their way out of their situation with extra attention and offerings of services.  Where I used to get a few messages a week from an acquaintance, a recruiter, or a random person wanting to build their network, I now get tens of messages per week from people offering every service imaginable, often 3, 4, even 5 times without any reply on my behalf.  Consulting services, web development services, social media marketing services – you name it.  If there is a startup owner or freelancer with a services-based business, they are pounding the pavement hard right now, desperately turning over every rock they can find for some much-needed cashflow.  I get it, I feel their pain.  When you work for yourself, your survival literally depends on your effort and ability to find income.

That said, I do have a few tips off the top of my head for those scavenging the internet, looking for signs from above in between bursts of LinkedIn messaging sprees.

Think like a consumer

As a businessperson with an idea, it’s easy to try and find an audience for your offering.  “I made this great thing, and now all I have to do is find the people who want or need it.  It’s a numbers game.  The more effort I put in, the more success I will have.”  Wrong.  Consumers are savvy and will buy what they want.  It’s not your job to convince them.  It’s your job to shine the best light on your creation, but if no one is buying it, don’t lie to yourself – you need to change your offering.

Work smarter, not harder

While scrolling through LinkedIn recently, I came across a post of two men playing ping pong.  The older man was standing in one spot, in the center, returning every ball that came to him.  The younger man was scrambling all over the court, returning these wild shots with sheer athleticism.  The older man was chipping short shots, adding spin, and using the entire table, and the best that the younger man could do was to return the ball to the center of the table, right where the older man wanted it.  In business, you must find your customers when they are near to you and use all the tools in your belt to win the game in front of you.  Don’t chase every opportunity out of desperation.

Reach people the right way at the right time

There are countless studies about reaching people on the right channel at the right time.  Marketing automation tools now embed AI to send emails to leads based on the model’s understanding of when they’re most likely to open.  We’re entering into a new era of overthinking and over-analyzing every interaction with our prospects and customers, and perhaps we should take a step back and ‘re-humanize’ the experience.  “Should I really send that LinkedIn message about my web-development services to a total stranger on a Sunday?”  “Will someone really respond the fifth time that I email them?” Or my recent personal favorite, “should I really ask a business for something (anything) free so that I can review it on my TikTok page?”  The closest I have ever gotten to interacting with a total stranger is when they provide me with something like a job description or a whitepaper, and maybe only 5% of the time is it relevant to my life.  When approaching strangers, instead of thinking “how can I convince them to work with me?” maybe ask the question “what non-intrusive, non-invasive gift could I give this person that would not send them running away?”  Imagine physically walking down the street and crossing paths with someone.  How would you interact with them so that they do not get upset and tell you to leave them alone or ignore you?

Less is more

Businesses often work hard to think of every scenario under the sun that could apply to any prospect in any situation.  It pays to do some design thinking and understand the most important problems to solve prior to developing any solutions.  Over the years I have learned that people often want to see what a product or team is capable of, and then imagine how they could solve their own problem with your tool.  When we try to solve someone’s problem without understanding their pain, we often miss the mark entirely, then we keep adding to the offering to try and solve every problem under the sun.

Cover the basics

In light of the above, approach every prospect with a basic understanding of their problem.  “How will this offering generate income for them?” “How will this idea save them time?” “How will this solution save them money?” Every for-profit business must generate income, spend money wisely, and grow.  That leaves a lot of room to get creative and show them your value.  I like to present three solutions based on my understanding and let them drive the conversation toward their pain so that I can speak to our capabilities.

Give something away

Consumer brands love to host popups in New York City because it’s a high traffic area and a sure-fire way to get attention quickly.  When I lived there, there wasn’t a week that went by where I couldn’t walk around Soho and find a free coffee, granola bar, or another edible sample. If the branding was spot on and the presentation was non-invasive, I would always take it.  If you’re selling web development services, offer prospects some free hours of development.  If you’re selling marketing services, offer prospects 10 leads.  Designer? Offer a new logo.  Instead of rushing to sell face masks because everyone needs to wear them now, rush to give prospects a face mask for free because you care about them.

Create an experience

A financial transaction should not be the turning point in a customer’s experience.  There should be no before and after.  How used do we feel when someone is working hard to win our business, then they disappear after we open our wallets?  Prospects will seek us out when we create a presales experience that they want to be a part of.  Instead of spamming people on LinkedIn, looking for that quick sale, create an experience prior to any money changing hands.  Make it your passion to do webinars about your offering and forget about the sale.  And of course, follow up with customers after they’ve joined your clan and make sure they’re still having fun.

Follow-through

Great things take time.  Start something, put effort and love into it, and give it time to grow.  Even though things seem to be moving faster and faster, technology gets smaller and obsolete more quickly, and younger and younger humans replace each other in the workforce, there are many constants in life.  We cannot increase the speed of the seasons.  We cannot change the tides and the revolution of the Earth around the Sun.  Plants grow at a constant rate.  Venture boldly and allow nature to take its course.  If you’ve made something that gains some traction, it will grow by itself over time.  Be sure to follow through and don’t give up even if it seems like the world is passing you by (it’s not, you’re still stuck on it!).

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