These days, sales conversations are becoming even more buyer-focused, which means sales reps have to get creative when it comes to prospecting. Everyone is scrambling to develop their own hacks, techniques, and processes for prospecting in order to move prospects through the sales funnel and turn them into customers. Most sales experts will tell you that starting conversations with prospects is the most crucial part of boosting your success in sales. But the dynamics of how to do so can seem mystifying, even if you’ve been in the game for a while.
In order to be successful at sales, salespeople acquire new clients. To do so, they have to know how to open relationships. Prospecting is the art of starting new relationships. The new business opportunities that later turn into sales are initially identified through prospecting, which is why prospecting is the lifeblood of sales.
The first way to improve your prospecting results is to acknowledge how imperative it is to get sales results and treat them accordingly. Improving your prospecting results begins with setting aside the time and the energy to prospect each and every day. That doesn’t mean once a week or every other day. I mean, each and every day. You would never suggest that your only chance to close was on Thursday afternoons, right? It is ridiculous to suggest that there is only a particular time of the week during which you can be effective at prospecting. It’s also ridiculous to suggest that your prospects are only open to taking your calls every Monday and Friday. I firmly believe that all generalizations tend to be lies, so avoid them at all costs.
Pipelines and funnels are designed to hold a constant stream and salespeople that practice regular dedication to prospecting grow faster than others. The best way to approach prospecting is to write a weekly plan that includes time to prospect each and every day. I think it’s best to set aside time first thing in the morning, while you’re fresh, to make sure it gets done before other parts of your work and life start making demands of you.
Turn off the Internet. Turn off your email. Turn off your Smart Phone. Focus. Tell your friends you have a newfound discipline and that you need their support; promise to catch up with them later. Hang a sign on your door saying “Do Not Disturb! Prospecting!” If you don’t have a door, use a string and hang the sign over your desk. The more seriously you take yourself and your work, the more seriously others will take you. If you have a lazy attitude toward prospecting, it will fall to the wayside. You’ll let other things take priority while your competitors start surpassing you. It happens all the time.
Prospecting is the activity of opening new relationships but don’t forget that it is also part of a larger picture. You should be focused on the outcome of opening new business relationships – which is to identify potential new business opportunities. There is no one method of doing this. In fact, there are dozens, and they can all be equally effective if you’re doing them right.
To prospect successfully, you need to focus your time and energy on the methods that work best for you. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect everything else. If you are great at cold calling, you should absolutely focus on cold calling. But that doesn’t mean that you should never use email marketing, inbound marketing, networking, trade shows and conferences, direct mail, social networking, or referrals. You should include all of these tools in your arsenal.
Make a list of all of the methods you can think of that are used to prospect. Plan how much time you will set aside for each method and set goals for how many prospects you want to gain from your effort. For example, you might commit to attending one networking event per month with the result that you acquire two new prospects from each networking event. Measure these results and focus on the area that generates the greatest return on your investment of time. But also keep in mind that your prospects may have their own opinion on how they prefer to be approached. The goal is always to cater to the needs of your prospect, so you want to constantly analyze and adjust your prospecting methods and the amount of time you are devoting to each one.
Poor prospecting results are usually caused by two things. The first is spending too little time on prospecting. The second is ineffective prospecting. Ineffective prospecting mostly boils down to language choices. What you are saying when your prospect can mean the difference between gaining or losing a lead.
That’s why scripts are of the most importance.
“But wait!” you say. “I am a professional salesperson and I can’t sound like I am using a script!” I hear you loud and clear. No one wants to talk to a robot. But you can’t sound like someone that your prospect isn’t interested in meeting either.
If you are a person who is averse to using scripts for prospecting, it helps to recognize that you are already using a script. The words that you use when prospecting (and on sales calls, by the way) reflect a certain way that you have chosen to speak to people. They are words that are comfortable for you because you have rehearsed them. Because you have rehearsed them, you probably have them memorized. The words you use are comfortable because you know them by heart, not because you are reading them. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best language choices.
You can improve your effectiveness by choosing carefully the words that you use and making observations about what is and what isn’t working. This takes awareness, focus, and discipline. It also allows you to experiment with language choices to see what is most effective. Just think of it as sharpening your pitch. Write scripts for each of the prospecting methods you use. Write responses to the common objections you hear. Rehearse them. If you are part of a great sales team, do this together and rehearse them together.
Commit the best language to memory and use it instead of the unwritten and ineffective scripts you are already using.
The ideal outcome of prospecting is to open the relationship. This almost always involves obtaining a commitment for an appointment.
Effectiveness in prospecting is improved by simply focusing on the outcome. This means that you don’t allow your prospecting to turn into a needs analysis, a presentation, or a discussion about the merits of your product or service. It means you maintain a laser-like focus on scheduling the appointment.
Some salespeople struggle with focusing on the outcome of an appointment and often slip into the sales mode is because they feel that they have to prove that they can create value for the prospect during their prospecting activity. But this is getting away from the point of prospecting. Always remember that the goal of prospecting is to open a relationship. It is just the introduction of the possibility that you might be able to create value and do something together. Selling, at this point, is premature.
There is no list to make, no plan to write here. Just know that a successful outcome in prospecting is almost always an appointment.
It doesn’t matter how much you liked them or how much they liked you if you don’t schedule an appointment.
There is too much to write here about how to get good at cold calling. But it is important that you have this method in your repertoire, and that you build your competency in picking up the phone and scheduling an appointment.
Cold calling is still one of the fastest ways to open relationships and schedule appointments, and the very best salespeople are the very best at cold calling. Of course, they are also great at other forms of prospecting, but they never let cold calling fall to the wayside. If you do it regularly, you’ll find that it offers the greatest return on investment. And the more you do it, the better you will get at it.
Even when you use all of the above ideas, you are still going to hear “no.” You are going to hear it a lot, there is no sense in kidding yourself. But all relationships, including business relationships, are built over time. Your consistent and unrelenting pursuit of your dream clients is part of a longer-term plan for success, not a race to get the most immediate “yes.”
Consistency here means that these prospects hear from you more than sporadically. It means they hear from you frequently and with the predictability of the sun rising each morning.
Your calls, your thank you cards, your letters, your white papers, your surveys, your studies, your newspaper, and web clipping – all of your constant attempts to find a way to create some value will add up over time.
Some of the best relationships and the biggest deals will take the longest time to win, and your consistent nurturing of these relationships will open opportunities for you over time. This approach proves that you are not going to disappear like so many of your peers; that you are truly interested in and committed to working with them; that you are a professional who executes well, and that you are determined. These are the winning attributes that people look for in salespeople and partners.
Write a nurturing plan. What will you do to create value for your dream clients even before they decide to set an appointment with you? How often will you call? How often will they receive something from you? What will they receive? What will it say about you? How will it create trust? Knowing your plan ahead of time will help give you the confidence you need to achieve results.
Prospecting is not a science. But you can save time and maximize your numbers by investing in the right processes, activities, and skills. Incorporate these tips into your prospecting game and you’ll be more likely to open valuable relationships and turn prospects into leads over time.
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