If you are like most enterprising sales professionals, the thought of prospecting for future customers rarely excites you. You want to get face-to-face, explain benefits, demo, close, and collect that commission.
Mark Hunter, CSP, in his book, High-Profit Prospecting, attempts to get salespeople to take a different approach. He believes that you need to adopt a new attitude regarding prospecting, and learn certain tips, tools, and techniques, to assist you in getting to that next step in the process – and move that lead to customer status.
In the next ten minutes or so, you will learn the key concepts of prospecting that will adjust your view of this important aspect of the selling process. Let’s get started.
Basic Truths and Myths
There are many misconceptions about prospecting, not the least of which is that “cold calling is dead”. Some of the common myths are:
- I don’t know who to call – I don’t have time – I’ve never been trained – I’m just plain scared.
- ‘One and done’ or “spray and pray”… if I just send out a lot of emails, I will get a certain percentage of responses.
- I’ll prospect when I’m done taking care of my existing customers.
- It’s hard to have time to prospect.
- Only “born salespeople” can prospect successfully.
As you can see, all of the above have a lot to do with attitude. The author suggests that changing that attitude can make a big difference in getting to your sales goals. Not only do you have to accept the fact that rejection goes with the territory, but also ask questions like “Would you buy from yourself?”
Also, try to view prospecting as a ‘privilege’, in that you are providing your prospect with the opportunity to receive the same level of excellent service and products that you have already provided to other customers. Stay focused, motivated, and understand that it’s not system error, but, rather user error, that leads to failure. If prospecting was easy, your potential to make large commissions would not exist. Throughout the prospecting process, we must remember that prospects don’t want “average”. There are several strategic and tactical concepts to keep in mind throughout the process.
- Does my approach result in the customer having false expectations about what I sell, resulting in me having to spend more time later “reshaping” those expectations?
- Is my prospecting focused more on what I have to offer versus uncovering information about the customer?
- How does the customer see me and how long does it take for a lead or prospect to have confidence in me?
- Where do your leads come from, and what percentage of those do you ultimately close?
- By customer type, list the key reasons each customer tells you why they are not going to buy from you.
- Break down the time it takes to close a sale from the time the lead is first developed, by source (referral, networking, cold calling, etc).
- Is there a time of year when prospects are more inclined to make a decision or avoid making a decision?
- What percentage of your customers is experiencing your product for the first time, and is every new customer for you a lost customer for someone else?
“Cold calling” vs “informed calling”.
Most sales people today think that traditional cold calling is no longer applicable.
“Informed Calling” is a much better approach, and incorporates your knowledge of the prospect’s company, certain issues they may be facing, industry changes that your product or service addresses, and a genuine desire to solve a prospect’s problems. For example, if what you sell is considered a routine purchase vs. a capital expenditure and major expense, the steps and decision makers are completely different.
For a capital expense, there are multiple steps, multiple decision makers, and the possibility that it is in the annual plan. When addressing this, your knowledge about how large expenditures figure into the capital plan will set you apart from the competition. Understanding that your prospect has other opportunities will also help in setting up your strategy.
Given that most times, you may be dealing with voicemail, it is important to develop a brief message that says who you are, how your product or service solves a problem for the prospect, and how they can get back in touch with you (by leaving your phone number TWICE at the end of the message). Above all, your brief message must say something about VALUE and have a call to action.
Another technique for getting in contact with decision makers, is to make your informed call before 8 AM and after 5 PM. Administrators and “gate keepers” work standard hours – decision makers are normally in early and stay late. In terms of prospecting calls, you may want to consider an “8 before 8” or “5 after 5” approach. And with each of these calls, be prepared for the fact that the prospect may, indeed, actually answer the phone. So whether you use this with some of the techniques we’ve described, or with the use of concise “scripts”, be prepared for live interaction. With regard to voicemail, your enthusiasm should come through loud and clear, and your brevity will be appreciated.
If you are able to get a legitimate email address, the strategy should be nearly the same: who you are; how your product or service has helped a reference company or addressed a known industry concern; and how you can be contacted.
Two very brief paragraphs and to the point. Keep in mind that most prospects these days will be picking up your email on their smart phones, so limit the size of any attachments, PDFs or downloads. Hunter suggests that emails should be tight, short, and beneficial to the person receiving it, and the subject line should use words such as strategic, value, profit, trust, leverage, advantage, and competitive. Don’t use “bait and switch” tactics – be specific and direct.
“If I send it will they see it?” Perhaps. But don’t think that “peppering” your prospect with multiple emails is the answer. Many times, multiple emails will be relegated to the spam folder forever. Also, consider sending your email at 6 A.M. or after 5:30 P.M. High level contacts may be more prone to open those than in the middle of a busy day.
With regard to social media, the author asks this question: “Would you build a house on land that you didn’t own?” No, of course you wouldn’t. Think about that in terms of the social media environment. As you rush to spend hours and hours updating and reviewing social media sites, it’s entirely possible that the “rules” dictated by the site can change at any minute, affecting the impact of your presence.
You also need to discover which social media sites are more appropriate for your message, product, or service. Facebook may be good for both personal and business, LinkedIn more appropriate for strictly business, and Twitter may not be the best choice, because a high volume of short, instantaneous posts, can really drag you in and waste valuable selling time. With all of these mediums, the most important thing to remember is that your posts can also be used against you. Complaining on Facebook about a city you are travelling in may be humorous to the folks at home, but not funny to a potential customer from that city. Social media prospecting is inevitable. Hunter suggests that you:
- Dialogue directly with contacts to create a lead or prospect.
- Prospect with people who can connect you with prospects you are trying to reach.
- Respond to people inquiring about you.
And, we should never underestimate the search engine capabilities of social media to help uncover new opportunities. A high return activity is doing keyword searches of job titles or company names. Regardless of how you engage, do not take the speed of their response as an indication of interest or no interest. Response times are more an indication of how often they engage with the social media, not how interested or disinterested they are.
Connecting with the C-Suite
Interacting with prospects at the C-Suite level requires slightly different strategies. First, you are more likely to engage a “gate keeper” or administrator whose job it is to screen all incoming calls and contacts and manage the C Level Manager’s time.
Your approach to the “Who are you and what is this regarding?” question should always be answered in a precise and professional manner. State your name and company, and a brief value/benefit statement. Chances are that yours is the most concise answer given that day, and the administrator will appreciate that. Important: always treat the gatekeeper with respect – he/she is a person, and you’d be surprised how smoothly a conversation can go if there is mutual respect.
Accounts receivable or sales
You might want to consider asking for the accounts receivable or sales department – they may be more willing to share a direct line or correct email address than the main operator or gate keeper.
C-Suite Appointment Setting
Many high level managers and directors will absolutely refuse to open any communication from outside the company with an attachment.
Appointment setting at the C-Suite also has its own set of rules. By definition, they are busy. So asking for “a minute or two” of his/her time, or, conversely, trying to ask for a one hour appointment, are both not going to work very well. Ask to block 15 minutes, and if you get that appointment, it will probably turn into 30 minutes anyway. Also, in recognition of the fact that most C-Level people are involved in meetings often during the day, a call at 58 minutes after the hour or 2 minutes into the next hour might work, as those are usually the only times between meetings.
Of course, referrals at the C-Level are often the best way to get introduced: “We’ve reduced expenses by 13% at ABC company, and Joe Smith suggested I give you a call”.
In summary, if you can put just a a few new ideas from this summary of Mark Hunter’s thoughts on High-Profit Prospecting, it will be worth the effort. Don’t forget that a change in your attitude about prospecting will pay great dividends in your sales career. View it as a privilege to share your product’s proven benefits to other customers. We wish you good prospecting!
You may also like to read:
- Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross
- Customer Loyalty Loop by Noah Fleming
- Permission Marketing by Seth Godin
- Start Monetizing Your Social Media
- When Buyers Say No by Tom Hopkins & Ben Katt
- From Impossible To Inevitable by Aaron Ross & Jason Lemkin
- 8 Profit Activators by Dean Jackson & Joe Polish
- Predictable Prospecting by Marylou Tyler Jeremey Donovan
- The Winner’s Brain by Mark Fenske
- The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge