How to generate sales leads at a higher level

Sept. 18, 2023
Due to existing market conditions, this is a great time for operators to take their sales leads to a higher level. These proven strategies can help make it happen.

Is there such a thing as sales lead utopia? I personally experienced this state of perfection for one full year – the year 2000. The internet was relatively new. Pay-per-click advertising was so new I was able to buy the number-one position on the only search engine,, for 5 cents per click. The dot-com boom was underway, the prime buyers were excited to use the new search engine, and our phones rang off the hook as high-flying tech firms were desperate to burn venture capital money. It was the birth of pantry service. It was fun while it lasted.

Awakening from this sales lead dreamland was no easy task, but it launched me onto a path of discovery, always seeking the next edge that would take my sales leads to a higher level. Isn’t that what every business development pro is looking for? We explored this topic in an August episode of Automatic Merchandiser’s Vending & OCS Nation podcast. If you missed it, be sure to check it out.

The timing is right

It makes sense to take your sales leads to the next level because there is an unprecedented opportunity for operators right now due to the tremendous amount of consolidations, as Mike Kelner of VBB Advisors pointed out in a June episode of Vending & OCS Nation. When big companies buy strong local independents, a certain percentage of the locations will simply say, "I don't want to deal with a big national operator."

Three specific strategies

I have three specific strategies for operators to consider as they search for that elusive state of sales lead utopia. Number one, make sure your website stresses that you are offering free food and coffee tasting, so prospects can experience your micro market food selections and coffee. When you do the sampling, focus on presentation, and it will immediately set your offerings apart.

I know this firsthand because at one point in time, I had the TMZ account in Hollywood. TMZ was complaining about the quality of the food in their micro market. To satisfy them, we put on a nice presentation, providing them with the exact same food they were currently receiving and complaining about in their micro market. We put the food on real plates, used real utensils and we had nice napkins on the table. Guess what they said? "This is the kind of food that we are looking for." Problem solved. What this tells us is that food presented the right way simply tastes better. Use food and coffee sampling to motivate prospects.

Strategy number two, and some of you may feel that I am beating a dead horse here because everyone who has ever used my consulting service has heard this story again and again. My company spent $10,000 a month on pay-per-click advertising year after year and we enjoyed an incredible return on pay-per-click advertising. We added over a million dollars a year in recurring sales from the leads that came from pay-per-click. Remember, pay-per-click advertising means you are paying a certain amount of money, maybe $5, $7 or $10 per click, to be in the number-one position on the search engine. If you are in Cleveland, Ohio, and a decision-maker searches for “coffee service,” the first thing they're going to see on a search engine is your company.

There is no other source that can possibly deliver warmer, more relevant leads and a higher percentage of closed deals – with the exception of strategy number three, an idea generated by some dedicated LinkedIn gurus: people like Donna Serdula and Brynne Tillman, both recent podcast guests, as well as Sally Jo LaMont, part of Tillman's team.

LaMont explained this strategy in simple terms: Look through your client's connections and pick 10 connections you would like to meet. Then ask the client, after a nice lunch, "Do you mind if we have a conversation about possible introductions to some of your connections?"

Your clients will help you out for two reasons. Number one, what you are asking for is very focused, very clear, and very easy for them to do. Number two, people always want to help. These people like you. In many cases, they may be your friends. Ultimately, you might end up cutting the list down to three introductions, but that is far more powerful than any cold calling you can possibly do. The next step, ask them to make the introduction however they are comfortable – in a call, email or through LinkedIn. I always ask, "Please just copy me on the introduction, and I will take it from there."

A twist on the referral strategy

In an upcoming September episode of Vending & OCS Nation, Brynne Tillman of Social Sales Link, a leading LinkedIn engagement specialist, added one other twist to this referral strategy. “We have moved slightly toward permission to namedrop,” said Tillman. “We want volume, and it is hard to ask a client for a volume of referrals. If we go through a client’s list and they have 30 or 40 people we want to meet, we say, ‘I’m going to be reaching out to these folks in a couple of weeks, but before I do, can I run them by you really quickly and ask you who you think I should talk to?’

Tillman said the 30 to 40 names will become 8 or 10. Of the 8 or 10, she then asks the client which of the 10 they would be willing to introduce directly, which could reduce the list to two or three. “Then, of the other eight, when I reach out, is it OK if I mention that you are my happy client?” she said. Tillman’s strategy makes sense because it opens the door to opportunity before the initial contact with the prospect is made. Additionally, name-dropping greatly improves the chances of a face-to-face meeting.

For a deeper dive…

The August episode of Vending & OCS Nation with guest Donna Serdula takes a deeper dive into the referral strategy, offering operators a proven way to truly supercharge a referral program. Check it out, it works.

While these strategies will take your sales leads to the next level, it may not be sales lead utopia that I experienced in 2000. When that next state of perfection comes along, and it will occur eventually, I will be sure to let you know. For some reason, I think AI will have something to do with it.



Bob Tullio is a content specialist, speaker, sales trainer, consultant and contributing editor of Automatic Merchandiser/ He advises entrepreneurs on how to build a successful business from the ground up and specializes in helping suppliers connect with operators in the convenience services industry – coffee service, vending, micro markets and pantry service specifically. 

Subscribe to Automatic Merchandiser's podcast, Vending & OCS Nation, hosted by Tullio and designed to make your business more profitable.

Also check out Tullio’s b2b Perspective Channel, which has developed a loyal YouTube following.

Tullio delivers this promise to any company that hires him for a 30-minute or 1-hour Zoom call: "One short session with me will elevate the performance of your sales team.”


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