The success of any Independent Sales Organization (ISOs) depends on their network of business prospects that they can convert into actual customers. An ISO shop's business model is typically built around connecting potential businesses in need of funding with funders, and options for financing. Growing and retaining a solid network of prospects is essential for any ISO's success.
Growth and retention primarily start with organizing your prospect and client base of potential borrowers into a funnel format. Visualizing a funnel allows you to focus on specific audiences and where they are with using your service. Continually expanding and replenishing that funnel can mean the difference between survival and thriving for ISO shops.
Tip #1: Identify your organization's communication strengths.
The first step towards jumpstarting an ISO's network development efforts begins with identifying your organization's essence communication strengths and utilizing those strengths in developing and maintaining the organization's prospecting efforts.
Different companies excel at various communication efforts. Your organization likely excels or has the potential to excel in specific communication mediums that may be weaknesses or trouble spots for competitors.
Identifying then emphasizing those areas where you have a natural competitive advantage vis-à-vis other ISO's can help your organization find communication channels that will contribute to the bottom line for years to come.
It could be communicating to a particular geographical market, industry, or a type of borrower that you have had experience with. Tapping into these types of core competencies and structuring them into your communication efforts will help ISO shops establish long-term relationships with their borrowers.
Some business experts recommend that companies prioritize improving their weaknesses using their time, energy, and resources to improve the areas where the organization's communication struggles. However, if your organization can communicate to a market segment, very few other ISOs can. Then your network development and communications efforts ought to focus on reaching and serving the needs of that particular niche in the market. You are likely to find loyal potential borrowers within your specific niche and have an easier time bringing them on board.
Tip #2: Utilize the lost art of canvassing
Canvassing is a method by which your organization or one of its members personally meet with a target company and their key employees. Meeting business owners and stakeholders in person allows for a more personal approach to meet and educate on the forms of business funding you help provide.
Seeing your prospect in person creates more trust in the relationship from the beginning as you're willing to go beyond what other ISOs will do. At the same time, you're gaining a deeper understanding of the borrower's business, its unique challenges, and its unique financial needs, all of which will put you in a great position to recommend financing. It helps create trust that will make you and your company stand out to the business owner, keeping you first on their mind even if they don't currently need financing.
Knowing and understanding your particular borrower's business, its cash flow, revenue cycles, and other valuable details before that business is even in need of financing will enable you to provide targeted financing terms and solutions when eventually that business does require funding.
A manufacturing company whose sales are steady throughout the year, but has concentrated costs in a particular quarter when they order all of their raw materials for the year will necessarily have specific financing needs. Compare that to a seasonal business that makes the bulk of its revenue (and may order the majority of its products several quarters earlier) around several significant holidays.
Creating and building a personal relationship with the business' decision-makers before they need financing will help both you and that business maximize the effectiveness of future capital funding.
Tip #3: Focus back to the funnel
Properly conceptualized and created online funnels move financing prospects from an online advertisement or post about your organization to an inquiry page where the prospect can learn more specific information about your organization. From there, someone in your organization can obtain that prospect's contact information to follow up with them.
Online funnels can be potent tools for business development because they can generate large amounts of traffic to your organization's website or landing page. However, efforts to create an online funnel have to be carefully calibrated to ensure that they result in the right traffic being generated to your website. Too often, these types of communications result in nothing but large ad spending, missed opportunities, and spikes of website traffic without conversions if the wrong strategies are used to set up the online funnel in the first place.
One of your goals is to show up as one of the first search results when someone types the words "business financing" into Google's search bar, but you end up buried on page 5. Something is wrong with your attempts to create an effective SEO funnel. Whether it's by changing the keywords, you're targeting or some other change to your approach, precise adjustments can improve your conversion rate and allow you to start building effective online funnels.
Many organizations use wasteful strategies by creating too wide a targeting net, resulting in low conversion rates for the respective funnels. Thus, their efforts to reach potential clients can backfire because, no matter how much they invest in creating online funnels, those efforts are in vain if the campaign's efforts are ineffective.
The benefit of casting a wider net online is to reach a greater number of potential borrowers or clients, more so than other marketing or communications methods. This method also proposes easy feedback as to the success of your efforts, allowing for quick changes in strategy and almost instantaneous changes to your marketing and communications efforts to be made. Adjustments can be made to campaigns when certain advertisements or audiences convert more than others.
Tip #4: Get on the phone!
Warm calling or cold calling can be considered a balance of the previous two methods. It still allows for a personal connection to be established, like when visiting a client or potential client in person as a part of the canvassing process, but it's also less time-consuming than a site visit to a client or possible prospect.
Due to the ease of making a telephone call, many more business owners can be reached via telephone and converted into clients compared to in-person, which requires a much larger time commitment & planning.
This method still allows for a real conversation to occur compared to online funnels, as the potential client gets to interact with someone from your organization.
The ultimate benefit of utilizing the phone ultimately comes down to reaching potential borrowers or clients and building a relationship where they can trust you as their source for funding.
Tip #5: Use the internet to propel you reach
Whichever method or methods you feel comfortable with, there's no doubt that the internet now delivers multiple tools that will allow you to expand that reach even further. Maximizing online tools will help you with each of the tips mentioned. Numerous directories, dialers, and screening applications are available to aid in phone and canvassing efforts.
Each social media platform is purposed differently and is typically used by different audiences, so your organization's communications approach for each platform needs to be different.
LinkedIn is the largest professional social network by far, used by millions of users to connect with colleagues or other individuals in the same industry. The platform is primarily used to share business concepts, management approaches, and current business news.
Best Practices for LinkedIn
The first step is for your organization to create its own LinkedIn profile with all the essential information regarding the organization, what it does, who the clients are, and the services, etc. LinkedIn would typically be a place to post professional-type content that would discuss your organization, its services, and the benefits of working with your organization.
These can take the form of individual posts, videos, news links, polls, and more. Utilizing the proper format to present your organization's information is crucial to what potential visitors will see and how they'll interact with the information. Company info like customer reviews become easy to display toward hundreds or thousands of people. You'll have the freedom and reach to tell that client's story and share information about your services.
Best Practices for Facebook
Facebook is more informal than LinkedIn, has billions of users worldwide, and typically attracts a different user base/audience than LinkedIn, so the approach you take with Facebook must be different than you would take with LinkedIn.
Owning a Facebook page for your organization is a must-have. It's one more way that potential clients can learn about your organization, the services it provides, and why potential clients should work with your organization. If you're going to use Facebook for its advertising function, then having a page is essential.
The importance of using Facebook as a channel for reach potential clients is understanding that it is generally a more casual place than LinkedIn, and has more active users with a lower cost basis than LinkedIn. Users are not expecting the same level of professionalism or "corporate feel" as with LinkedIn, so posts may need to be re-written or recalibrated with the end-user in mind.
Best Practices for Websites
Building an online brand is impossible without a professional, user-friendly website. If your website is old, clunky, and slow in loading, particularly for mobile users who will be using a different version of web browsers than desktop/laptop visitors to your website, then visitors will quickly close their browser and move on, regardless of how good your organization is or what advantages it may be able to offer its clients.
Aside from fast loading speed, your website should be clear about what your organization does and how you are different from your competitors. In particular, it should focus on why working with your organization is preferable for small businesses rather than another ISO.
A website needs to sell the organization and be an asset rather than simply something your organization has and does not maintain because every company has a website.
Doubling and tripling down on marketing components you're good at is an excellent way to propel yourself and your organization towards success as an ISO. Focusing on improving your weaknesses is much less likely to result in increased business than boosting your organization's investments of time and energy into those areas where you have been successful and already have a competitive edge over your competitors.
Find marketing materials and a communications and marketing strategy that suits both your organization and your clients, whether it's email, direct mail, telephone, or an in-person card or visit.
The key is in recognizing which approach works best for which clients/potential borrowers and then targeting those clients with that approach.
Some clients may be more old school and appreciate the touch that a handwritten card implies or provides. Or they may appreciate even more the commitment that a personal visit by one of your staff members implies towards their business and its success.
Whatever it is that a particular client or potential client prefers, that is what your organization needs to be doing.
The fastest way to alienate a potential client is to ignore the feedback you have received and keep sending emails or phone calls when you were told the client is inundated with emails or phone calls.
Tracking not only your communications and network development efforts, but also client feedback is particularly important.
Even if it's a simple spreadsheet that lists all potential clients or borrowers your organization has reached out to, when it last did so, how they prefer to be reached, and the name of the contact at that client, you need to be able to track not only who your organization has reached out to, the channel you used to contact that borrower and what efforts you have made to contact them.
Tracking the communications efforts made by your organization is also critical to being able to create the optimal communications and/or marketing strategy for your organization.
If a particular channel is not working for you or is working only in a very limited capacity, then you will know that and will be able to put your organization's time and resources towards the communications channels that are bearing the most fruit.
Create a way where you can add more value and less friction in your clients' lives, but make it specific to the feedback you receive from each and every client.
Each and every client or borrower/prospect is different and must be treated as such. Not every single client will respond favorably to the same type of communications or marketing approach. There is no bigger turnoff to a client than an organization that does not listen to feedback.
If your clients tell you that weekly email newsletters are helpful, then use weekly emails to keep that client informed about financing opportunities and services that your organization can assist it with.
On the other hand, if your clients tell you that you are sending too many emails and that they send them all directly to spam or that you are visiting in person too frequently and their staff does not have time to meet with your employees each time, then maybe it's a sign that you need to employ a different method of communicating with that client or potential client.
Each client is different and may require a different approach.
Branching out Online
Even after you've perfected your organization's communications method and strategy and developed a truly robust network development strategy, there's always another way for your organization to ensure that its message reaches its intended audience.
Staying agile and creative when it comes to can help you stand out from your competition.
Take calculated chances on a blog, videos, and even events.
Even if one new channel or communications attempt fails, your organization may find that another new channel may prove successful
As long as you're coming in with a mindset of providing value to the small businesses and business owners that are both your intended audience and your potential client base, there will be people that will stop to listen to the message that you are delivering, no matter what the means of delivering that message is.
The organizational mindset must always be rooted in and focused on the value that you are providing to that potential small business/client that you want to work with you.
Your organization needs to be laser-focused on how it can help potential clients rather than trying to help its own bottom line.
By doing an excellent job for your clients and potential borrowers, you will then also ensure that your organization thrives in the process.
Let's land this plane
As an ISO, your entire business model depends on first building and then continuing to develop the strength of your pipeline of clients and potential business borrowers. However, your efforts to reach out and connect to potential business borrowers can take many different forms and may differ from client to client or potential borrower to borrower. Some clients may prefer occasional communications via email, whereas others prefer the personal touch of occasional in-person visits or period telephone calls. There are numerous different ways to reach potential clients, from canvassing, to the telephone, to multiple different means of reaching potential clients online.
Each different technology and/or online or offline source calls for a different approach. However, the most important step that your organization can take is to prioritize its network development to ensure the continued health of your ISO business. After all, without a healthy pipeline, your ISO business will wither like a tree that receives neither water nor sunlight, both of which are essential for it to thrive in this business.
Resources, whether monetary or in the form of employee time, attention or energy, need to be spent not only building this pipeline but also in replenishing it as time goes on and some prospects turn into actual borrowers. Such investments are rarely wasted resources. After all, without potential borrowers, an ISO's business will quickly dry up and could cause it to cease to exist.