It’s time to have a candid discussion about prospecting. Too many salespeople view it as a topic to be avoided like politics. Problem is ignoring it doesn’t mean it goes away, which is really what most salespeople wish would happen.
The explosion of social media platforms and the rampant talk about how “cold-calling” is dead has created in the minds of too many salespeople the idea that prospecting simply does not work. Nothing could be further from the truth! Prospecting does work if it’s done right.
First issue is social media. A good phrase to reference is this: “Social media without social community is social stupidity.” The populist theory is if you just do enough on social media, then you’ll have all the prospects you need. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Likes, emojis and connections won’t put food on your table! Yes, social media is important, but we have to put it in context.
Social media does two things for salespeople. First, it creates a personal profile about who you are. Remember, nobody is ever going to take your call, see you, or do anything with you without first checking out your on-line profile.
Second, it is a communication tool, but unfortunately, salespeople don’t view it in the same manner they view other communication tools. Social media is no different than the telephone, email or any other tool, in that it allows you to engage one-to-one with another person.
Remember my comment earlier about social media without social community is social stupidity? I engage with numerous people solely via LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to gain business. It works great when used one-to-one.
Now back to another big reason most prospecting efforts don’t work – there is simply no plan! If you fail to plan, then don’t ever expect to succeed. If you don’t plan, you’ll fall victim to only getting what falls your way. Successful prospecting needs a plan for one very simple reason: Consistency!
The majority of prospecting salespeople do is nothing more than a random bunch of emails that are glaringly pathetic to the recipient, if they even reach the intended person.
Successful prospecting begins with a clear understanding of whom you’re targeting. Warm bodies are not prospects! Too many salespeople make the assumption just because somebody talks to them or fills out an on-line form, then they’re going to turn out to be the dream customer.
The key in successful prospecting is to understand two things. First, the most valuable asset you have is your time. No, it’s not what you sell. It’s not your customers. And it’s not anything else. Your own time is the only asset you have that is finite, and this means you must use it to your advantage every day.
Second – and this one picks up on the first one – your objective is to spend more time with fewer prospects. Yes, you read that correct. More time with fewer prospects.
The game is not to have a massive sales pipeline. Show me a big fat sales pipeline and I’ll show you prospects that aren’t going anywhere. Your objective is to have a thin, fast-moving pipeline that allows you to move a lead through to being a customer quickly.
Having a fast-moving sales pipeline means you need to clearly segment the prospects you’re pursuing. Don’t think what works for one type of prospect is going to work for another. I tell clients the typical sales team will have between 5 and 8 types of prospects for which they are looking.
This means there will be an equal number of prospecting plans. Yes, they will contain many of the same elements, but things like message format, questions being asked, and timing of touches will all be different. The worst mistake you can make is assuming all of your prospects are alike. They’re not, regardless of what you sell.
Now that you’ve segmented your prospecting process to fit the different audiences you’re trying to reach, you need to be just as specific in building a plan to qualify leads fast. Remember, your time is the most valuable asset you have. That means the faster you can determine if the lead has potential, the better off you’ll be. Too many salespeople waste large blocks of their time month after month working with leads that may talk a good story but are simply not capable of buying.
Your objective is to qualify fast those who can buy and get everyone else out of your world. I’m not saying you discard them, but you move them into a different system of low-level touches that can be automated or handled by someone else.
When qualifying a prospect, don’t hold back your line of questioning. Too many salespeople are timid at this point, because they don’t want to turn the lead off by coming on too strong.
I’m not saying to be a bull in a china shop, but I am saying to be upfront by asking questions that will help you qualify. Here are the ones I like:
- What’s your timeline for making a decision?
- How have you made decisions like this in the past?
- Who else have you been speaking with?
- What would be the method of payment?
Are these questions direct? Yes, but remember it’s your time they’re taking up. Prospecting does work when done right and done with a plan.