Dear users: It’s not easy, being on the vendor side. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you work for a reputable, non-scammy vendor. Let’s also take it as a given that you have done your homework, so you are not spamming people indiscriminately, but trying to reach people whom you genuinely believe to have a need for your product.

How do you go about reaching those people?

Most people are understandably very reluctant to publish their contact details everywhere, because less principled sales people have already saturated their tolerance for randos showing up in their inbox out of the blue. This means that there is a (justifiably) high barrier to getting their attention.

There is also something of a tragedy of the commons effect, as all the vendors converge on those people who have been less diligent about scrubbing their personal details off the Internet.

Here’s the deal: when I contact someone, it’s because I genuinely believe that they might have a need for what I’m selling. It’s a pretty niche market - which is why it makes sense to hire human sales people to build and maintain a small number of customer relationships in the first place. This means I take the time to do my homework, and my approach is specific as I can make it based on public information.

If I’m working on selling into BigCorp and I get a number for Alice or Bob who work there, my first step is not to pick up the phone. Rather, I go off to research what they do at BigCorp, what they personally care about, and so on. I use all of this to build a pitch that might go something like this:

Hi, sorry to contact you uninvited, but I know you are working on A, B, and C as part of an initiative at BigCorp. I have worked with other companies in your position such as WidgetTicklers, who were able to complete their own similar project under budget and ahead of schedule. They did this thanks to key capabilities enabled by our technology: …

You get the idea: it’s not a form letter I’m blasting out, it’s carefully targeted and as specific as I can make it with information at hand.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that the hit rate on doing this is still terrible. It's not mis-targeting, because often when I do finally manage to make contact by some other means, it turns out that I was right, there really was a need - but that was the wrong channel to connect with the person.

Here’s my question: what is a good way to contact you? Assume I have something you want, but not something that would show up in your normal reading. Maybe it’s launched since the last time you went looking for this sort of thing. I’ve done the prep work of identifying a potential interest you might have for this product; how should I bring it to your attention?

Because seriously, this stuff is great, and everyone needs to know about it - not just because I get paid (that too, of course!), but because I think it can really help a whole bunch of people. That’s the definition of win-win.

Image by Anton Repponen via Unsplash