Last Updated Apr 29, 2011 1:33 PM EDT
When my partner Josh Lesser and I started our event production business, Vision Matrix Productions, Inc. in 2007, we took a highly personalized approach to finding new sales leads. This tactic was really effective while we were small but as the business grew, it quickly became unsustainable. We only had so much time to follow-up on our leads -- and it wasn't nearly enough. Relationship management software helped, but we still had to figure out how to serve more clients without sacrificing our style.
How we built it
We are a full-service event production company. When we started out, we only held about 10 events each year. Now, we throw 30 to 40 events a year -- mostly conferences, meetings, business conventions and special events. We have anywhere from four to 150 contracted employees, depending on the event we are throwing, and bring in $1.1 million in annual revenue.
We primarily rely on two methods for finding new clients: referrals from other companies who have used our services, and contacts we meet during one of our events. We follow up with each contact with phone calls, hand-written cards, and emails. Using these methods, many of our leads become new clients.
When we started out, I simply set reminders in my Outlook calendar to follow up on my leads. This approach became increasingly difficult as our business grew. After returning from an event that took us out of the office for eight days, we'd have 50 to 100 new leads to follow up on -- not to mention all of the work for our existing clients.
Time to change
The breaking point came in 2009. We produced a conference in Las Vegas, and came back with 100 new leads. The following month, we traveled to New York and had back-to-back meetings with potential clients, earnestly trying to cultivate business. We got back into the office with even more business cards. But when we finally had the time to follow up on our leads, we discovered that everyone was on vacation.
In our business, if we don't follow up immediately, the lead becomes obsolete. Give it a month and the potential client is no longer jazzed, or doesn't have the budget. We realized that if we didn't get on top of our leads right after an event, all of the time we spent cultivating them was wasted. We had to find a more efficient and effective way to handle this.
That summer, I started to research contact relationship management systems. After testing a few models, I went with Daylite because it was affordable -- about $3,000 -- compatible with my Mac computer, and highly flexible to our needs.
It is easy to customize the software: I can organize my contacts by categories, keywords, contact lists and tasks. I can categorize contacts as hot, warm or cold leads. I can send out mass emails, or record the details of my conversation with a contact.
I learned the software within a week, and it has made my work far more efficient. I don't feel so overwhelmed now by keeping track of new leads, and I am able to do more in less time.
Balancing personal touch and quantity
We still struggle to provide personalized service as we expand. I continue to send some personalized cards, for example, but less frequently. With more clients, I have found more efficient ways to communicate that still feel personal. We created a press package that includes a high quality company brochure, photos of our events, awards, our bios, and testimonials. When we get press coverage, I send a copy of the piece with a nice form letter.
I've learned to delegate a little more work: We have one part-time assistant who handles the tasks that don't require my involvement. But mostly, I make time by being more flexible. Running our own business, we don't stick to the standard hours of nine to five. We work pretty much around the clock. We try to handle calls during standard business hours, but we correspond with our clients whether we are in the office or not, in town or traveling, business or personal.
Eventually, we might get to the point where we are not the point people for all communication. We have thought of hiring someone to help with outreach. But we am not ready to let go of that yet.
Before starting Vision Matrix Productions, Tami Lesser spent time working in customer service, project management and marketing. She never thought that she would end up working side by side with her husband/partner, but is glad they took the chance.
-- As told to Caitlin Elsaesser