Sales Prospecting – How to avoid 5 Common Pitfalls
January always means new (or renewed) intentions, goals and looking at the year ahead. In sales that means we need to bring in new business, prospect and nurture. For many of our clients, prospecting is a challenge, so I wanted to share some insights to help everybody get off to a good start.
As a brief introduction, we experienced a really nice surprise this past December when a prospect decided to work with us, after I had been engaging with them for almost two years. It just shows that perseverance and following a process always pays off one way or another. (It can also mean that it’s time to move on to the next prospect. You can read more about that in my post on LinkedIn using the link below.)
Many of my clients ask me for advice about successful prospecting, especially when it’s something that their sales people are struggling with. Developing new business, prospecting, cold calling can certainly be the most challenging part of the sales process. After all, you are interrupting somebody’s day. It’s almost like being on a first date, testing the waters, making sure that there is alignment.
But, that’s exactly what’s missing in many situations when sales people are calling on prospects. I.e.: making sure that there is a potential fit.
Try to put yourself into your prospect’s shoes. What would you want to hear when you pick up the phone where somebody is interrupting your day? Would you want to hear a sales pitch, or would you want to listen to somebody who is potentially adding value to your life?
In this blog, I’d like to shine a light on 5 common pitfalls you can avoid when prospecting.
Getting the Right Fit
Just as in trying on a new suit – if it’s not the right fit you wouldn’t buy it. Right? The same holds true in sales – If there is no fit, there is no motivating reason to have a sales conversation. But in order for you, the sales person, to determine if this prospect could be a client, you need to do your homework first. Most sales representatives who call me don’t know my business, have never visited my website or my LinkedIn profile. They are just rattling off a sales pitch, in the worst case scenario using a bad script and in some cases they even stutter around trying to get to a point (leaving me to wonder: why they are using a script in the first place?).
So, don’t look for a fit if there is none. No matter how much research you do and how well you prepare for a call, sometimes it’s better to move on. Don’t push it, there is no sense in trying to find alignment if there is none. Reasons can be plentiful.
For my own business, I have found that some companies don’t want to commit to a long-term sales process, which means that they are not really committed to a consultative sales approach. I could push them, but it wouldn’t lead to a successful client engagement. Sometimes, it’s best to leave a good impression and to move on.
So, the first common pitfall to avoid is: Calling a potential prospect NOT knowing anything about them, their potential needs or even their name and looking for a fit if there is NONE!
A Script is a Guideline
There is nothing wrong with using a script, as long as it is used a guideline. The script or guideline also needs to include potential answers to questions that the prospect could possibly ask. It’s almost like envisioning a scenario and preparing to respond. A script should also be a living document rather than a static instrument. It needs to be changed on a regular basis, whenever the environment shifts, which in this business environment happens quite frequently. Your competitors can change, so can regulation and mandates.
Second common pitfall: Rattling off a pitch using a script that might not be suited for the prospect’s current needs.
Be Brief, Distinct and add VALUE!
People will appreciate it when you get to the point fast. And by that I mean that you need to have a value statement. Let me give you an example. When I call on organizations with a national or global presence to present our sales training, I always focus on the fact that we help companies increase revenue and profitability by helping them establish a common, customer-centric sales and service language across a large sales organization. That is something of importance and value for organizations with sales people widely spread around the country, or the globe for that matter. But this value statement works most accurately for companies with a large sales force in multiple locations!
If you have been a reader of my newsletter, you’ll know how much we stress NOT to focus on features and benefits solely. Features and benefits can be used to support your value statement at a later point in the conversation.
For example, the fact that our training programs use a blended e-Learning/customized coaching approach is something that supports the fact that we help our clients increase revenue and profitability by establishing a common, customer-centric sales and service language across a diverse, decentralized organization. It’s not something that needs to be mentioned first, especially since there are many other providers who claim to have effective on-line training. It’s not a differentiator and e-Learning might not be something that is attractive to a company at first. How you get to the results that are of value for your client is not something that you necessarily want to lead with.
Third common pitfall: Focusing on features and benefits, rather than focusing on the value that your solution provides to your prospect.
Know Who You Are Talking To
When calling on people, try to understand their role within the organization and their responsibilities. When I call on a CEO (which is always my first outreach, as I have found it’s more effective to work your way down, rather than up the ladder), I always focus on the overall business goals. Top line value statements. Increased revenue and higher profitability are messages that resonate with CEOs.
Once I get to the sales or training manager, my message shifts. Then it’s more about the nitty-gritty, the details, ins and outs of the program. Of course, increased revenue and higher profitability are also important to the sales manager, but they also want to make sure that their people don’t spend too much time away from their desks, so I talk about the fact that their sales people never have to leave their desk and they will still become more successful.
Fourth common pitfall: Not knowing what the purchasing motivations of each individual decision maker are.
In closing – people buy from people. Be personal. Don’t try to “sell them”. We all know that the goal of a sales person is to sell, and that is perfectly acceptable – nothing wrong with that. And in contrast to being “sold”, I prefer to buy from people who genuinely understand my business and approach me with a value proposition that will help me make my company more successful.
But, first you need to connect with me, figure out how best to communicate with me. Then you need to know my business and understand my challenges. Once you have established rapport (and there’s a science to that, and as with any communication skill, it can be learned!), it’s much easier to have a conversation and to build trust.
Fifth common pitfall: Moving from one prospect to the next, without taking the time to really connect and listen.
And yes, you can learn how to be a SuperSeller TM and become a top prospector. We invite you to explore our Consultative Sales Certification Program at: http://www.getsalescertified.com/index
And I wish you much success in your prospecting efforts!