If you do a lot of things to build business, you’ll build business. They don’t have to be done perfectly to work, although the better you do them, the better they’ll work. But the main point is that you have to do them — a lot.
Sales is a contact sport and prospecting for new business is the name of the game! You will never meet a salesperson who failed because they had too many prospects to talk to. For the majority of salespeople, finding new customers is without a doubt the most difficult and stressful aspect of their profession. Prospecting should be viewed more as a mindset than merely an activity. It is something you need to be constantly aware of because you never know where your next prospect will come from. It really doesn’t matter how competent you are or how well you know your product, if you don’t have a qualified prospect in front of you, you don’t have the opportunity to make a sale. In this byte we aim to give you 8 practical tools for use when prospecting for new business.
- The basics
Prospecting for new business is similar to committing to a regular exercise programme. You know it is good for you and that it will produce positive results if you do it routinely – but it’s painful! Professional salespeople prospect daily. It is important to block-off specific time in your diary for prospecting activities such as making telephone calls, sending literature and e-mailing. Treat your prospecting time with the same (if not more) respect as you would any other important appointment, otherwise, because you would prefer to be doing something else, it is likely that it will slip through the net. Don’t spend your prospecting time checking emails, catching up on business reading, attending to personal matters or passing time with your colleagues. Stay focused and take your prospecting activity very seriously. Keep a very simple record of calls made – a tally sheet enabling you to record the following information will help you to understand your conversion ratios and thus feed your prospecting machine adequately with sufficient qualified suspects:
Correct number – didn’t speak with suspect or PA
Correct number – spoke with PA
Correct number – spoke with suspect
Correct number – agreed action
Correct number – booked appointment
- Get organised
Set the tone by closing your office door and divert your incoming calls unless it is a prospect returning your call. Be prepared, get organised with enough qualified suspects (organisations which meet your selection criteria) to keep you going for the prospecting time you’ve reserved. You should know how many suspects you need according to historical conversion ratios as mentioned above. Ensure you know to whom you wish to speak – never just ask for the managing director – you must know his/her name and preferably, the name of their personal assistant too. Take good notes and, if possible, use a computerised contact system to record remarks and future contacts or appointments. If possible, send an e-mail, hard copy letter/literature in advance of your conversation, preferably with the PA’s co-operation. If the letter or e-mail is well constructed, it can engage interest, help you get past the gatekeeper and may save you time trying to convince your suspect to meet with you. Some years ago, we used the following letter with a pound coin attached which worked very well:
Here’s something significant for your bottom line! A pound coin for each approach that you get from a ‘sales training company’ would probably add more to your bottom line than the effect of the training itself! We believe that the implementation of profitable change within a selling operation is a complex task. Rather like a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle or the infamous ‘Rubik Cube’ a number of issues have to be tackled in the correct order such as: marketing policy, support systems, information flow and management capability. Addressing training needs alone simply does not make good business sense. The purpose of this letter is to request an exploratory discussion to understand exactly what you are planning to achieve within your selling operation and to show you how Salespunch’s integrated and commercially-driven approach to sales development could help you to achieve your business aims. I will telephone you shortly for an exploratory discussion.
It not only dispelled a common myth about our business (that we’re a sales training company) but it was different enough to stay in people’s minds and raise a smile. One suspect who subsequently became a long-standing client remarked when called “I remember the letter. I bought a bacon roll with the pound”.
- Make some new friends
Get the gatekeeper on your side. Don’t ever under-estimate a personal assistant. A far cry from the secretaries of yesteryear who made tea and bought their bosses wives’ birthday presents, today PA’s are often focussed, tenacious, driven individuals who, with a little understanding, can so easily be turned from ferocious gatekeeper to helpful best friend. Try to learn her name before you speak to her and if you can’t, listen very carefully as he/she answers your call as they will often announce their name thus negating the need to ask. Use her name and, where appropriate, a little gentle humour coupled with buckets of empathy for her busy workload. Don’t even think about asking to speak to her boss unless you’ve explained to her what you want to discuss with him – you won’t get away with explaining “…it’s a business matter…”; she will feel insulted (and rightly so!) and be very reluctant to help you. Be prepared for her objections: Too busy send something in the post or talk to Mr X (usually someone lower down the ‘food chain’) and overcome them firmly without patronising her. Treat them as positives in your response – “..the fact that he’s busy is actually very good news…” Phrases like “…I know you’ll understand why…” and “…I’m sure you’ll appreciate…” work well in handling her objections and will encourage her to buy into your problem.
- What time?
Vary the time you call. If you can, find out if your suspect is an early starter or a late finisher and call at the most appropriate time. Bear in mind that, whilst not an especially politically correct thing to note, it is generally true that many PA’s are ladies and therefore often take time off during school holidays. Therefore calling during holidays will increase your chances of getting through to your suspect.
- Use a script – don’t shoot from the hip.
There is only one thing worse than listening to a salesperson read a script and that is listening to a salesperson without a script. Obviously, it is important to not only have a script, but to practice it until it sounds smooth and natural. Set time aside to role-play with a colleague over the phone. By taking turns presenting and critiquing you will gain confidence, polish your script and be more effective. When prospecting, avoid the temptation to sell or ‘feature dump’ over the phone and ensure you motivate your suspect so they understand why you feel it’s important that you meet. Your objective is to gain your suspect’s interest, gather information and make the appointment.
- Strike while the iron is hot!
After making initial contact with a new prospect, it is important to follow-up with that contact quickly. Prospects are perishable. No matter how interested a prospect may appear, don’t wait for them to call you. You are only one of many competing interests for your prospect’s time and attention. The ideal result of a prospecting call is to get a qualified appointment. If that’s not possible on the first call, the next best bet is to agree on some kind of positive action. It might be to get them to listen to a teleconference message, view your company’s website, agree to a three-way call or receive some information from you. The important thing to remember is to know in advance, several different ways in which you can ‘advance’ your prospect along to the next step after they have identified themselves as a qualified prospect.
- Love thy competitor
Keep the high ground and avoid all temptation to badmouth your competition. While it is fair to make comparisons to highlight the differences between you, you should avoid personal attacks. Remember that attacking your competition makes you appear unprofessional and petty – and you don’t know if it was your prospect who engaged the competitors you may be trying to displace! The good news is that if your suspect is currently using a competitor at least you know they have an acknowledged need. Providing you have done your research, you should be able to emphasise the benefits of meeting with you by:
- Highlighting your experience in their sector
- Offering a second opinion – nothing more
- Highlighting the differences between you (if you know who the competition is)
- Indicating mutual contacts – “I know Wendy Burrows who suggested it would be mutually beneficial to swap notes some time”
- Recognising the issues that are likely to be worrying your suspect – “We know that you/your competitors are experiencing problems with XYZ which we have helped other organisations in your market/similar markets with”
- Making it easy to say yes – “I would just like to learn a little more about your business at this stage, maybe over a coffee – nothing more.”
Don’t forget – you’re just trying to secure an appointment at this stage so stress you simply want 45 minutes with your suspect to talk about his business – what has that to do with your competition?
Rejection is a natural aspect of the sales process so don’t take it personally – and don’t be afraid to celebrate your successes!! Some sales organisations have a specific mechanism for this – a bell that is rung with every appointment booked, or ‘group hugs’ – sharing your success and receiving encouragement from colleagues is often enough to keep you going. Learn from rejection, use it as a feedback mechanism and look for ways to improve your approach. Salespeople who take rejection personally lack perseverance and seldom make the sale. Sales is largely a numbers game – pure and simple and research indicates that when selling, on average, you can expect your prospect to say no five times before they say yes. With this in mind, realise that with every sales rejection you receive, you are one step closer to a win!