Startups are powered by passion, long hours of work and an overarching sense of mission – the sense that your idea has the potential to make a big difference in your market and in the world. But many startup founders struggle with sales, especially early on when they’re trying to find their market and figure out exactly what their value proposition is. Where can startups go to get new B2B sales leads? With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few quick lead generation tips that startup founders and their teams can use right out of the gate to start finding new business opportunities.
Start with your inner circle
One of the best ways to find sales leads is to start by networking within your inner circle of contacts, former colleagues, family and friends. Make a list of 20 people who know you well and who would be happy to help you, then start calling and set up coffee meetings to share your business plan with them and ask them for referrals and contacts. Ideally, every one of your “inner circle” of closest friends and colleagues will be eager to help introduce you to 10 or more other people who might turn out to be serious business leads. Ideally, you should start networking your way into opportunities by starting with the people who know you best and trust you the most – that way, they can give you a foot in the door to start introducing yourself to people who might know the right people to talk to at your target audience companies.
Get smarter about LinkedIn
Once you know which companies you most want to sell to, build on your “inner circle” networking strategy by using LinkedIn. Lots of people are on LinkedIn but don’t really use it actively, They might have updated their resume and reconnected with old co-workers, but they’re not really using it as a daily hub of activity. This is a mistake. LinkedIn is a great resource for B2B lead generation because you can use it for research. Figure out which companies and B2B buyers are the right fit for what you sell, and use the platform to do smarter networking to “warm up” the cold call and email solicitations that you will eventually make when you’re ready to start pitching these people on your company’s solution.
Another underrated LinkedIn marketing strategy is to join LinkedIn groups that affect your industry. Many of your target decision-makers might already be on LinkedIn looking for answers and advice on specific questions and problems. By being more proactive on LinkedIn, you can enter into these conversations and build up a reputation as a smart, helpful resource, making it more natural and easier for you to open up a dialogue to create a business relationship.
Go all-in on content marketing
Startups usually don’t have a big budget for advertising, which is fine, because for startups, the most authentic and often most effective way to get new sales leads is to put your time and effort into content marketing. Content marketing is great because it’s useful on multiple levels: it helps you get new inbound sales leads, it gives you a “calling card” that you can use to send to new prospective customers, and it gives you raw material for educating your customers that you can utilize as part of online demos and presentations.
Why is content marketing so great for startups? Because it’s all about heart. As I wrote in this previous article about content marketing, content marketing demands you to be real and be passionate. You’ll be sharing your insights, your thoughts and your expertise with a wider audience in your industry, and in the new reality of the social media age, this is often the best way to build business relationships: by being generous, putting yourself out there and exercising thought leadership.
What should you write about, blog about, podcast about or make YouTube videos about as part of your content marketing strategy? Not “your product” (because you don’t want to be overly sales-y and self-promotional), but feel free to talk about the problems in your industry that your product helps to solve. Share your big picture thinking about where your industry is heading. Share your sense of mission. Advocate for new ways of doing things and new ways of solving problems. Show your readers and listeners why you’re unique and why you’d be a good person and a good company to work with.
Lead generation conclusions
Startups have a lot of challenges and never-ending to-do lists, but with the right lead generation approach, getting new business leads should be easier than you might expect. It’s all about networking (starting with your inner circle of people who know you best), getting your name out there with the right people in your industry (via LinkedIn), and establishing a reputation for thought leadership and expertise (via smart content marketing).