Prospecting for new business is an essential part of selling, but it is an aspect of sales that many salespeople try to avoid like the plague. That avoidance is a source of annoyance for many sales leaders. I do believe that sometimes there is too much emphasis on bringing in new business versus nurturing current customer relationships and mining for new opportunities within those accounts. Still, for many sales organizations, especially those who may be selling only one main product, sourcing for new sales opportunities is a must. To bring in new business you have to prospect, which means going outbound, as well as engaging in activities that bring opportunities inbound.
Here are my thoughts related to the questions that were posed during the webinar.
Why do you think many people don’t like Prospecting?
It is uncomfortable. Prospecting means you are reaching out to people who don’t know you. And that can lead to lots of rejection or lack of response because it is so easy for buyers to block our calls and emails. It can be frustrating not to be able to reach people, especially if your sales manager is breathing down your neck to demonstrate better results with your prospecting efforts. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be making phone calls and sending emails, but you’ll likely need to balance your strategy with other approaches like securing referrals, speaking at events or using social media to engage.
How has Prospecting changed in the past 5 or so years?
Prospecting itself hasn’t changed in the sense that the goal is to identify and qualify potential buyers for your product or service. What has changed is that buyers easily block emails and phone calls or ignore your LinkedIn InMail’s. Basically, it is tough to reach them. Buyers are also self-educating about options before engaging with salespeople, but that shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Instead, I view it as an opportunity, especially using social networks like LinkedIn, to be visible, demonstrate your credibility and capability, knowing that buyers are exploring options. Unless what you sell is simply a transactional purchase, buyers will need to talk to someone in sales at some point. At that point, you need to be ready to demonstrate clearly how you can solve a buyer’s business problem and means being able to communicate real value to them. Hint: value isn’t a regurgitation of your product’s features and it isn’t doing a demo.
What has stayed the same?
“Seventy-nine percent of business buyers say it is absolutely critical or very important to interact with a salesperson who is a trusted advisor — not just a sales rep — who adds value to their business.” – Salesforce State of Sales Report
The goal is still the same – to identify and qualify potential buyers for your product or service. This is followed up by demonstrating value to buyers. If you cannot clearly communicate WHY someone should give up their time to you, they won’t.
Though there are continued arguments about whether cold calling is dead or alive, I think it is pointless. What hasn’t changed is that many salespeople are measured on activities like calls made and emails sent, so instead of arguing about whether you make the calls or not, perhaps the better focus is in helping reps get their message fine tuned, which gives them a shot at converting their initial outreach into sales conversations.
I prefer to first seek out referrals because your odds of getting a yes to a meeting are substantially higher, and at some point, I must make the calls too. For those of you drinking the social selling Kool-Aid, remember that if you are waiting around for sales opportunities to all come inbound through social media, you may find yourself staring at a pipeline that has flatlined.
What are some of the most under-utilized prospecting techniques?
Speaking at events – local business associations, conferences – these folks are always looking for speakers or panelists. Participating in webinars as a guest expert. I’ve put peer to peer lunches together with prospects and then facilitated the topic of conversation. I’ve made introductions for people.
On social media, it could be keeping tabs on who has viewed your profile. Sharing the content of others and using @mention on LinkedIn. One reason I love Twitter (and granted not everyone’s target buyer will be there) is because there is no barrier to entry. I can simply follow an executive, pay attention to what they tweet about, RT their stuff, comment, etc. I’ve started many a conversation there that led to getting connected on LinkedIn.
What are some common prospecting techniques that don’t work that well?
Boilerplate emails and calls that are focused on what the buyer wants to sell. And, don’t even get me started on the stupid subject lines or salespeople using tricks and sometimes outright lies to try to get someone’s attention. Even LinkedIn InMail’s aren’t going to work if you go in pitching. It is the quality of the message that you send that makes the difference between yes and ignore. And that message must be written from the buyer’s point of view. You need to focus on an issue or challenge they face and speak to how you feel you can help them. Again, not a feature pitch for your product.
How can a sales manager assess the prospecting efforts of his salespeople?
I’d love to see sales managers stop focusing on the quantity and look more carefully at the quality of the sales activities. In other words, if a rep is making 100 calls a day but generating very few sales conversations, then there is something wrong with the approach. That’s why throwing phone dialers into the mix – just making more calls – isn’t the answer. Even if reps can make more calls, it is what they say when they get someone on the line that makes the difference. Maybe they are calling and emailing the wrong people just to hit a number. Messaging is likely off. Certainly, managers should be seeing time blocks for prospecting on calendars. Activities to engage prospects can be tracked in CRM, which also includes activities in social media.
What is one thing you suggest a salesperson can start today to turbo-charge their prospecting?
Change their attitude about prospecting and adapt their approach. This includes managers too. We are selling in a completely different environment than 5, 10, 15 years ago, so what worked back in the day isn’t as effective today. Managers need to allow their folks to go with a multi-pronged prospecting strategy that incorporates the phone, email, social media, speaking, writing and more.
Next, in the immortal words of Nike… just do it! Unless you have a BDR team to do it for you, it is part of the job of selling.
To hear the webinar on prospecting, click here.