Sales reps in all sales teams want to sell. Selling is fun. But before you can sell, you have to prospect.
Generating initial interest with potential buyers sets up your sales process, creates the sales pipeline, and leads to establishing qualified leads that then become paying customers. But first you have to identify those potential customers—this is done through sales prospecting.
Sales Prospecting Definition
So what do we mean by sales prospecting? Well, prospecting in its more familiar definition describes the search for minerals, especially gold. Sales prospecting is not much different. Sales reps sift through potential buyers in the hope of creating golden sales opportunities. It is an important part of the sales process as it is usually the initial step in the sales funnel.
Sales Prospecting Process
Many sales reps believe the goal of sales prospecting is to get an order or an appointment right away. But this puts quite a lot of pressure on them and their sales team. Rather, think of the goal of sales prospecting as follows:
- Introduce yourself: Here’s who I am and who my company is.
- Introduce your product/service: Here’s what we do and how it could benefit what you do.
- Introduce the next stage of the relationship: Should we continue on through a buy/sell process?
If both the sales prospecting process ends in a positive step 3, then the general sales process continues (and gets to the fun part): turning potential customers into existing customers.
Remember that sales prospecting does not immediately result in future customers. A potential customer may be tentative; they might have some interest but they don’t want a sales pitch. They do not want to change what they are doing, the way they are currently thinking, or the ideas they currently hold dear.
So you need to adjust your style and nurture leads through change without adjusting the overall goals.
Sales Prospecting Tips
The actual work involved in sales prospecting is never easy, nor is it a tremendous amount of fun. These sales prospecting tips will not make the process a great deal easier but will make your sales prospecting more effective.
- If you want new prospects (and warm prospects to boot), you are going to have to hunt for them yourself, period.
- Activities to gather key names and opportunities can be done by anyone. Inbound sales qualification can be done by inside sales reps. The actual contact to the customer, however, especially at the senior level, should come from the salesperson.
- Marketing campaigns to get leads are worthwhile. The key is they have to be expressed in the right language and have a call to action. More marketing dollars should be allocated to getting new leads to the sales team than to support sales funnel activity.
- Prospecting must be a comfortable unconsciously competent process. If you want to be good at it, you have to do it a lot.
- Prospecting must be a part of a sales team’s culture. Rewards must be set for good prospecting efforts, not just for final revenue results.
- Trade shows can be a good source of new leads. Most companies do a poor job at working a trade show and talking to attendees at the show with the sole purpose of generating leads at and beyond the show’s reach.
Sales Prospecting Techniques
In the sales prospecting phase you need to:
- Determine the prospect’s needs
- Interest the prospect in your offerings
- Use best-practice sales techniques to move up the sales pipeline
Here are some techniques that allow you to succeed at each phase.
Do Your Homework
Get familiar with the account and the industry before you start selling into it. The amount and type of homework you accomplish before the sales call is a key to success.
For you, homework is the amount of work needed to get enough information on the account to discuss intelligently the business issues that are important to the customer. It may take five minutes or five hours for any given account. It can be as easy as checking out a website or as involved as engaging in a deep financial investigation,
Make sure you do whatever homework is required or recommended before every sales prospecting call—even if it’s just a matter of looking at the annual report to see if one of the executives have worked for a customer of yours, or conducting a LinkedIn search to know if your prospect has a mutual connection. It’s always better to start a prospecting conversation off on some common ground, rather than, “So, what do you know about my company?”
Adopt the Right Attitude
Prospecting is mostly a mental attitude, a belief. There are tactics that can be used to be good at it, but salespeople who are good at prospecting believe they are good at it. In reality, they may be mediocre, but if they really believe they are good and constantly work at being good, that enthusiasm comes across to the prospect. Prospecting is easy if you have the right attitude and goals in mind.
Pretend They’re Watching
When you finally make your sales prospecting call, keep in mind that nonverbal communication comes across the phone in volumes. Sit up when you are prospecting at your desk, and smile; the prospect will actually hear that smile in your voice.
The Best Prospects Are Referrals
People will take phone calls from someone they trust. That’s why referrals from any source are so valuable: customer referrals, friend referrals, past customer referrals, web referrals.
A sales rep may feel squeamish asking for a referral, but when you ask a senior-level person for a referral, they like it. As a matter of fact, they look for opportunities to give out referrals because it means they can collect a chit.
A chit is a short official note, memorandum, or voucher, typically recording a sum owed. Senior executives collect chits, or favors. They barter and swap them all the time, so when they need something, they can call in a chit.
So when they get the opportunity to pass along a referral of something that worked well for them—your product or service—they love the opportunity, since if you can help out their customer relationship management by providing them a good referral, their contact is going to call them back and say, “Thanks, I owe you one.” There’s a chit.
The Prospect’s Perspective—The Number One Rule
If you are doing your homework, maintaining the right attitude, and following all the other steps above, you still might find it difficult to get potential clients to agree to spend time with you. Why is this?
It’s because you are asking your target audience to do something they hate to do: most salespeople and potential prospects alike hate to change.
By trying to arrange a conversation with your prospect, you’re asking them to change what they are currently doing, currently evaluating, and currently in process with—and potentially, you’re asking them to take a risk.
So the number one rule for sales prospecting is to recognize that prospects fear change—it carries risk. Your goal is to work around this fear, make your prospects feel comfortable, and start your sales effort from the prospect’s perspective, not yours.
About the author
Skip Miller is President of M3 Learning, a ProActive Sales Management and Sales Training Company based in the heart of Silicon Valley.