I recently conducted a webinar for a client on sales prospecting. Leading up to the webinar, I asked what questions the client had about prospecting so I could tailor the content to their particular challenges. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when I only got one response. And that’s not because they are masters of prospecting—quite the contrary. It's because they do so little of it and were unsure of what questions to ask.
What Is Sales Prospecting?
Prospecting is the first stage of the sales process. The goal of prospecting is to create interest and then convert that interest into a sales meeting.
Most sellers will tell you that creating conversations with prospects is critical to greater success in sales, but the dynamics of how to do it can be baffling. Unfortunately, when sellers seek to understand it better, they often find conflicting advice.
Part of the issue is that different situations rightly call for different approaches, so not all advice is right for every situation. However, our research on Top Performance in Sales Prospecting clearly shows that the best sales prospectors get results, including 2.7x more meetings, achieving their sales goals, and higher win rates.
If the path to prospecting success remains murky, it helps to start by breaking it down into its fundamental steps.
Basics of Prospecting
First off, let's take a page from direct marketing and its age-old formula referred to as AIDA. AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Think of prospecting as the process of creating attention and interest—enough interest to win a conversation to explore the subject area more deeply. This can be leveraged into a sales meeting.
Note that I didn't say that the goal of prospecting is to find someone currently looking to purchase a particular product or service. For most sellers, this isn’t what you want to do, because it doesn't work.
When prospecting, you'll find people who are already in the Desire Phase (someone interested in solving a particular problem or purchasing a known type of product or service) or the Action Phase (someone already in the process of searching for a solution to the problem). If your approach is only to look for these people, you're in for several rude awakenings:
- Find someone who is already looking to buy, and they likely have a front-runner in mind. This front-runner isn't you.
- If you don't sell a commodity product or service, it's likely that the buyer isn't considering buying what you offer because she doesn't know much (if anything) about it, let alone how it works, and why it's worthwhile.
- Find someone who has the desire to solve a problem and hasn’t yet started looking into how to do it, and you're in luck! But finding these people will be like finding the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack.
If you’re the one who can capture Attention and stimulate Interest and Desire, you can shape the prospect's understanding of the importance of solving a particular problem, and you’ll be able to persuade them into Action. The good news is that sales prospecting training can help you to adopt a proven process to achieve success.
Sales Prospecting Strategies
Prospecting is a time-consuming process, and when it doesn’t go well it can be frustrating—and wastes time that could be better spent developing other opportunities. Not every prospect will lead to a sale, but you can maximize the impact of your outreach by pursuing those most likely to be interested.
If you really want to be a successful prospector, here are 6 ways to get the most out of your outreach.
The foundation that underpins sales prospecting success is the strength of your list and the precision of your targeting. Sellers often call too low in the organization and try to start a groundswell by working their way up. Reach high to the decision makers. Make sure that your list is clean and ready to go before you start.
To find the right contact, you’ll need to do research. Not only are you looking to identify decision makers, but you’re determining whether you can provide value to their organization. This also gives you the chance to prioritize your prospects based on value and likelihood of your professional relationship developing further. If you can establish rapport early, you set a strong precedent for ensuing conversations.
2. Value in Every Touch
Once you’ve identified strong prospects, you need to personalize your outreach efforts to best demonstrate the value you can provide. Take the time to review the prospect’s web presence, as well as their company’s information. With some prework, you can craft a relevant and timely solution to an issue they may be having.
When you sell, no one wants to hear your capability pitch, history, or life story right off the bat. They're looking to find out how their lives can be enriched by working with you.
When you think about providing value, don't only think about them buying from you. Think about the value they'll get just from speaking with you. Eventually you'll sell your company, your offering, and yourself. At first, sell the idea that the prospects' time will be well-spent if they choose to speak with you.
When buyers see you as valuable, you’ll get more initial meetings and convert more into sales wins.
3. The Right Offer
Your ultimate offer might be a particular type of software, technical instrument, medical device, pharmaceutical, building material, financial product, operations or marketing plan, or so on. But the interim offers—the offers you make and they accept before they buy from you—must be crafted with the utmost care.
Personalize your approach to drive value. Think about your initial offer, and how it might generate a conversation for you. Are you offering new ideas, or a return on investment? In fact, there are 6 core offers best poised to share insights and demonstrate value.
4. No Tricks
Buyers are more informed than ever. This rewards a high-integrity approach from sellers. There’s no need to use tricks, bend the truth, or cut corners to generate an initial conversation. All this does is kill trust, and trust is essential for sales success. Leave anything you wouldn’t be comfortable telling your children out of your sales prospecting techniques.
5. Multiple Touches
It takes more attempts than most people think to get through to top prospects. It takes an average of 8 touches just to reach and generate a meeting (or demo, or other conversion) with a new prospect. It frequently takes more and that number goes up and down across different industries and company roles.
When coming up with a strategy for your outreach, plan on dedicating time and effort. This includes an alternating sequence of calls and emails, with periods of downtime between each. These messages should all be unique and customized to your prospect. Avoid clichés, find opportunities to connect on a personal level, and include clear calls to action.
If you schedule multiple outreach attempts and stick to your plan, you’re more likely to see your invested time pay off.
6. Variety of Touches
Cold calling works even better with email. Use a variety of touches to reach out and warm up your prospects—and make sure each touch has value in and of itself (see #2). Even a 5-minute meeting gives you the opportunity to generate interest and address a prospect’s needs.
Each approach comes with its own pros and cons. For example, emails give prospects a visually appealing pitch that can be forwarded to others but can also be forgotten or lost in the inbox. Use a mix of touches to maximize benefits and minimize downsides.
Keep in mind that the sales process includes very little actual selling. You’re not trying to close a sale as fast as possible; you’re building a relationship. Your various touches with prospects give you the chance to listen and build genuine value.
Many sellers choose not to prospect, but this limits their opportunities and chances to build their networks. Regardless of your exact approach, these six strategies give you a strong foundation with which to achieve prospecting success.