I recently conducted a webinar for a client on prospecting. Leading up to the webinar, I asked what questions the client had in regards to 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 is 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. Like most sellers (50% according to Dave Kurlan's extensive studies), they were doing little prospecting at all.1
While most sellers will tell you that creating conversations with prospects is critical to greater success in sales, 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. If the path to prospecting success remains murky, it helps to start by breaking it down into its fundamental steps.
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.
The goal of prospecting is to create interest and convert that interest into a conversation.
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 is not what you want to do, because it doesn't work often enough.
When prospecting you will 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), but if your approach is only to look for these people, then you're in for a number of rude awakenings:
- Find someone who is already looking to buy, and they likely have a front-runner in mind. This front-runner is not 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 are the one who can capture Attention and stimulate Interest and Desire, you will be the front-runner, you will shape the prospect's understanding of the importance of solving a particular problem, and you will be in the position to persuade them into Action.
If you really want to be a successful prospector, here are the six keys:
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, or you'll find that your day is lost in fits and starts.
Value in Every Touch
When you sell, no one wants to hear your capability pitch, your history, or your 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 just think about the value you will eventually provide when they buy 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 elect to speak with you.
The Right Offer
Your ultimate offer might be a particular type of software, technical instrument, building materials, financial product, operations plan, or marketing tactic. But the interim offers—the offers you make and they accept before they buy from you—must be crafted with the utmost care.
Plenty of business success awaits you with your high-integrity approach. There is no need to use tricks, bend the truth, or cut corners to generate an initial conversation. Anything that you wouldn't feel comfortable telling your children about when you tuck them in bed at night, leave out of your sales prospecting techniques.
It takes more attempts than most people think to get through to top prospects. It can often take seven, eight, nine, or more touches to get through to someone. That number goes up and down—across different industries and when you reach out to different titles. What's always true though is that it takes more attempts to get through to your targets than you think.
Variety of Touches
Cold calling works well alone, but it works even better with mail (yes, we are talking snail mail here) and e-mail touches. 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).
Adhere to these 6 keys and you'll be well on your way to prospecting success. At the very least, you'll be leaps and bounds ahead of the 50% of sellers who will not prospect at all.
1Dave Kurlan has conducted extensive research into the drivers and inhibitors of sales success. At the time of this writing, Kurlan's company, Objective Management Group, Inc., and its partners (RAIN Group is a partner), have assessed 1,000,000 sellers and sales managers at 11,000 organizations.