- “Hi there, slugger! We can help you hit home runs.”
- “If you aren’t shooting on net, you can’t score goals.”
- “Milk and cookies. Peanut butter and jelly. Some things just go well together, just like [INSERT CUSTOMER’S COMPANY HERE] and us working together!”
With communications like this, it’s no wonder that prospecting is consistently ranked by sales managers as one of their biggest challenges. While marketing and sales automation systems, sales enablement tools, auto dialer systems, and other technologies have significantly improved efficiency and access to relevant market and personal information, sales professionals are continuing to struggle with prospecting activities. I invite you to take a look at five sales prospecting tips that can make your team successful. I call them the five Ps of prospecting: purpose, preparation, personalization, perseverance, and practice.
PurposeThis may seem like a no-brainer, but most of the prospecting I have seen has no purpose or relevancy to the targeted buyer. Many sales and marketing teams are deploying a “dialing for dollars” strategy, where the assumption is buy a list, call or email as many people as possible, and hope that you can convert 1 percent to a meeting. By starting out with a clearly defined purpose, you can identify the right target, create messaging that matters, and effectively position the value of the solution in context of the prospect’s business goals and objectives.
PreparationThe following is a real conversation I recently had with a cold caller from a pretty large customer-relationship management (CRM) company. It illustrates the issues of not being prepared. In my opinion, there is absolutely no justification for any sales professional to not be prepared when they are prospecting. This sales person, for some reason, was not expecting to get me on the phone and had no idea what to do when I actually answered.
Caller: Is . . . is . . . um, Jim Braddo there?
Caller: Umm . . . ummm . . . yeah. How ya doing. My name is Brad and I am calling from XXXX CRM. Are you in charge of CRM?
Me: Great. Yes. [silence]
Caller: Ummm . . . So, do you use a CRM?
Caller: Ohhh. OK . . . How’s it going?
Caller: Alright . . . cool . . . Thanks.
And then he hung up.
In this case, the caller was able to get through to a senior person who is responsible for the service he was providing. Unfortunately, he was completely unprepared for the call. He had no questioning strategy. No objection model. No knowledge about who I was or my role. He was just blindly dialing, using hope as a strategy. I assume he had a pretty good message to leave on my voicemail.
When making outbound calls, be prepared. Know the customer. Know how to say the person’s name. Be sure they are the right person to talk to before you make contact. Be ready to have a business dialogue. Provide value or insight. Make a personal connection. If you get an objection, have a model in place to resolve it. Just remember how difficult it is to get someone on the phone. When you do, be ready for it. It’s true that you have only one chance to make a first impression.
PersonalizationDon’t be generic in your overall prospecting approach; make it personal and look for a way to connect with the prospect. The examples of email nurturing that I provided in the opening illustrate a real lack of personalization. I know right away that they use a canned marketing automation workflow. I conducted a review of my email, and 78 percent of the follow-up nurturing emails follow a timed cadence and nonspecific approach. Trust me, those all get deleted.
When initiating contact, nurturing, or following up with a lead, make sure you review information about the contact on LinkedIn. What groups do they belong to? Have they written any articles or given a speech at industry events? Take a look and see if the prospect is tweeting and who they may be following. Use the abundance of information out there to create a personal hinge.
PerseveranceGetting someone to respond to an email or return a call, no matter how well you message or position the solution, is difficult. According to the RAIN Group, it takes an average of eight touches to generate a new conversation with a prospect. In my opinion, you have to find a happy medium of being persistent without being a pest. As I said above, don’t place a prospect on an auto-nurturing workflow. Look to provide a cadence of touching base, but during this process look to build a relationship and provide value. Do research, create Google Alerts on industry or company information, and send prospects valuable pieces of information, with notes like “I thought you would find this article interesting . . .” You don’t always have to try to set up a meeting or sell them something. Be persistent in your approach, but do it by building trust and credibility. If they never respond, then it’s OK to place them on the broad-based marketing campaign list to continue the awareness building.
PracticeThe multi-day sales training program is a thing of the past. We are lucky to get sales reps a day of training anymore. However, sales professionals need to be constantly developing their prospecting skills, tools, and methodology to be successful. In the world of talent management there are so many ways that allow learners to continually learn. My fifth P focuses on helping sales professionals to develop and practice their dialogue and communication skills. Here are a few examples of tools that can help:
- Best Practices Business Simulations—interactive sales scenarios that unfold based on the participant’s input. Every decision in the business simulation is tied to a competency that is critical to a sales professional’s ability to generate and close new business.
- Virtual Role Play—a cloud-based system that enables virtual role play practice. It allows two learners in different geographic locations to conduct a dialogue in real time and to demonstrate skill in a given competency.
- Social Role Play—learners are asked to prepare and then record their response to a scenario via video or audio. They then submit it to the cloud-based system where learners complete a self-assessment of their response and receive feedback from peers, managers, and a coach.
- AI Voice-Enabled Training Bots—machine-based learning tools that analyze and adjust to a learning scenario to engage in intelligent and adaptive learning through a real-time conversation with a bot.
Despite the many new challenges of prospecting in today’s digital business world, having the right process, determination, and skills can significantly improve your chances of success. Don’t use the available digital tools just as a way to scale calls and follow-ups; use them to understand your prospects and provide value to them.