I’ve been buying and selling for close to 20 years. And when it comes to finding ways to get in front of decision makers, I’ve tried them all.

Cold calling. Networking. Events. Speaking. Blogging. Video. Outbound sales.

Been there. Done that.

And guess what: some of these work, some of the time.

No matter what anyone says, you can get results through cold calling. Networking. Trade shows. Attending conferences.

But those results can be few and far between. And they’re almost always hard-won.

In my experience, there are three methods that work all of the time. No matter what industry. What company size you’re targeting. What type of decision makers you’re trying to get in touch with.

And it’s not just my experience either – there’s a ton of data from leading sales research firms (some of which I’ll reference in this post) that supports my thinking.

How I Get In Front Of Decision Makers

I guess you could say I’m blessed with a highly analytical mind. And I hate wasting time. So I track everything in my business religiously.

Number of leads generated. Opportunities uncovered. Conversion rates. Deal size. Win rates.

And the results are sometimes suprising. And humbling. And every once in a while, they’re not what you’d expect.

Take cold calling. Five years ago, this gave me a 20% conversion rate from call to conversation. And a 20% conversion rate from conversation to meeting. Meaning that out of every 100 dials I made, I ended up with 5 meetings scheduled.

So I did that for 6 months, week in, week out. And I actually landed a six-figure sale in three months from starting.

Two years later, I thought I’d do it again. Except that I made 1000 calls this time. The result ? Not a single meeting. Not-a-one.

To me, cold calling is dead. Buried. Not a doubt in my mind.

Things change, and what used to work yesterday may not work tomorrow. Meaning my job is to always stay ahead of the curve, trying new things and tweaking them until I get it just right.

So I’m always tinkering. Always thinking of new stuff to try, new approaches to consider.

And over time, I discovered three methods that stand head and shoulders above everything else when it comes to getting in front of decision makers.

#1. Tap Into The Power Of Referrals

If you’re not already actively soliciting and getting referrals from your existing client base, you really, really should.

Why ?

Because they are the most effective, productive and powerful way for getting in touch with decision makers and potential clients inside organizations.

The simple fact is this: opportunities generated via referrals have higher close rates (often more than 50%), close faster and close with far fewer steps.

If you’re looking to get in front of decision makers, consider this: B2B buyers are 5X more likely to engage when introduced (Linkedin), and 73% of executives prefer to work with sales professionals referred by someone they know (IDC).

When I first started actively pursuing referrals, I was amazed by the results. I went from not having a single referral to getting introductions to almost a dozen people in two weeks. About half of those led to actual meetings.

Conversion rate from-ask-to-meeting in referrals: 50%. Conversion rate from cold calling: 5% (and that was back when it actually worked).

My good friend and colleague Joanne Black puts it this way: “Forget the tired, old sales mantra, “Always Be Closing.” Smart salespeople should “Always Be Asking.” That’s how you get referrals and meet your key prospects every time.”

B2B BUYERS 2

#2. Close 74% Of Deals With Research

In our research on “What Sales Winners Do Differently”, we interviewed 700 B2B buyers and asked them about why they chose to buy from one firm versus another. The result ?

The #1 reasons why buyers choose to buy from one vendor versus another is “because the seller educated them with new ideas and perspectives”.

What’s even more interesting is this: according to Forrester Research, you have a 74% chance of closing a deal if you’re the first vendor to create a viable vision for the future.

Here’s my own result – when we started pulling together our panel for our latest research, I approached a few hundred potential panel members. I simply sent two emails, inviting them to be a part of the panel and listing the benefits. Result ? 44% accepted to be on the panel.

After the research came out, I reached out to these panel members, offering a 60-minute research briefing call. Result ? A 90% acceptance rate.

Over the first two weeks of doing this, I got over a dozen senior executives, most of whom I’d never met or spoken with to spend an hour with me on the phone.

Conversion rate for research: 40% (90% of 44%). Conversion rate for cold calls: 5%.

#3. Don’t Focus On Finding Decision Makers. Make Them Find You.

Sometimes, people ask me why I spend so much time building my brand online. Why not spend that same amount of time simply prospecting, or taking a more direct approach to generating conversations ?

Fair question. It is a lot of work.

Here’s why: I am convinced that, today and in the future, buyers will (continue to) use the Internet as the #1 channel for finding, vetting and connecting with potential vendors and partners. If you’re trying to get in front of decision makers, you may want to take that more literally than you initially imagined.

Already, 67% of the buying cycle now happens before the seller enters the conversation (Sirius Decisions).

BUYING CYCLE

And more than 50% of buyers consult third-party sources before consulting a company’s salesforce, including third-party sites, feedback from a business partner, social channels and conversations with peers who already have experience with the product or service (Avande)

By comparison, it now takes an average of 18 dials to connect with a potential decision maker, call back rates are less than 1% and less than 24% of sales emails are opened (TOPO).

By now, you should have gotten a pretty good idea of why I relentlessly focus on three core methods to get in front of decision makers: referrals, research and Google.

As for you, you’ve now got two choices:

1. You can read this, and continue on with your life (which is what the vast majority of people reading this will do)
2. You can take action, and find a way to incorporate one of these three methods into your sales process. Pronto.

As always, the choice is up to you. And I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d take a 74% closing rate any day of the week.