It's a pretty broad question Phil... it so much depends on the type of business you have. If tyour business is about selling a business to business service, nothing is more effective than word of mouth... people do business with people they know like and trust ... that's the old saying and that is true for most businesses... it starts with people and it has to end with trust. Even when I buy milk from the corner shop, I have to have a certain level of trust in the show owner... I need to trust that they've looked after the milk properly, serviced their fridges regularly, not left the milk out in the sun, etc etc.... and if i want to buy the services from a financial adviser I need to have an entirely different level of trust, before i will buy from a particular adviser.
One of the best ways to build referral, word of mouth businesses is through existing clients, as Jef mentions, and another great approach is joining a business referral net work, such as BNI there are chapters in every city and every state).
But if you are selling a widget through the internet... different story altogether... Facebook advertising... google adwords... SEO... you name it
I usually start with the following
- friends and family
- current / previous coworkers
- targeted social media (hashtags / promoted)
- blog writing / forum commenting (quality comments not just plugs)
- word of mouth from previous clients
I don't like doing cold calling. I think it is also important that first you re-frame the sale (really you are selling yourself) people buy from people and businesses (but people make memorable experiences). Also great customer service in this day and age will go a long way to spread your great reputation.
As a fairly new business owner I have been finding that word of mouth is my best resource for new clients. I've received better feedback from people who meet and speak with me and am coming to terms with this being my most viable way to connect with new prospects.
Having said that, I am also finding that connecting with others online through social media is growing and the more invested I am in the group community the more likely I am to receive enquiries. No completed projects through this yet but it's developing.
I really agree with what Roland said too: this answer depends so much on what kind of business we run and both Roland and Jeff bring up the number one issue - if the customer doesn't trust you it does not matter a bit if you've got the best product or service on the planet. Build the trust one to one and trust that your reputation will grow and the queries will come. Well, at least that's my plan for now.
This comes down to your marketing and growth strategy. If you want fast growth you need to start looking at buying leads and sending out mass communications.
Fax campaigns are still very effective. A fax campaign would cost between 15c to 20c per fax if you are paying a company to do it for you. The company will already have the leads, you are just paying them to send a fax to all of them (and a DNCR wash).
Calling companies is also another option, however it is important to train your staff first. We have our own call center and all our telemarketing and inbound calls go through it. The most important thing is training. When it comes to telemarketing you don't want your staff to sound like robots when speaking with potential clients.
Another option for bulk leads is to be active in the media. Attract attention and you will get a lot of free promotion or pay for it.
Word of mouth (WOM) is also a good source and can be up scaled very easily to produce bulk leads. While most WOM strategies tend to be very slow, you can gain a large volume of leads in a very short amount of time with a good WOM strategy.
Measuring the success of your campaigns is also just as important. Look at the number of customers you already have, then look at the current growth trends. This will be your base.
Once you have run your campaign deduct your base from all conversions and you will see the results.
Champion/Challenger is a good strategy and can help you measure success when trying multiple campaigns. Use this strategy to identify if your products needs incentives to increase conversion rates or if the product alone is enough to convert leads.
Leads are easy to get, you just need to decide if you want to spend money on leads or not. Buying leads is the most common way new companies enter an industry. Buying leads isn't very expensive and the ROI can generally be within a couple of days depending on your product and strategy.