Recently, I published a rant on LinkedIn, “Patient 0 Of Stupid Prospecting.” This rant targeted a self appointed Sales Guru and Sales Trainer who had helped “thousands of sales people” over 15 years.
A couple of people commented, “What does perfect prospecting look like?”
I can’t tell you what perfect prospecting looks like, but I can tell you how to do it.
Simply put perfect prospecting means “doing the work.” actually, “doing the right work.”
Let me explain.
Sloppy prospecting is too easy. Get an email list of a few thousand people, spend 15 minutes writing an email, push send.
Do that day after day. Even stupid approaches hit every once in a while, maybe you get a few people responding, you rejoice that your prospecting program has struck “gold.”
Based on that wild success, you do it again and again, papering the world with 1000’s of meaningless emails, most of which end up in a spam filter, hoping you might get a handful of responses.
Proudly, you tell your manager you are prospecting like crazy.
There’s another version of that, get a list and some phone numbers. Get some autodialing technology, dial and pitch, dial and pitch, dial and pitch.
Like the email program, after a few hundred calls, someone may be interested.
Rinse, repeat, proclaim prospecting victory to your managers.
I suppose that’s “prospecting,” it’s hardly effective prospecting, at least to my mind. Yields are far too low.
Effective prospecting is about doing the work (doing most anything effectively is really about doing the work).
It starts with focusing on your sweet spot, those companies and individuals that are most likely to have the problems you solve. In my rant on LinkedIn, this prospecting “expert” had repeatedly included me in his email programs. My company and I are about as far outside his sweet spot as possible. Think about your own prospecting, do you consider your competitor a prospect? Why would you waste a moment on prospecting them.
That’s an extreme example, but you’ll get the highest response rates by being viciously focused on prospecting within your sweet spot. Again, it’s a combination of the right industries and markets, the right companies within those industries, and the right people in the companies.
Second, know what you want to talk to them about. Here’s where people make their biggest prospecting mistakes. They want to talk about their latest greatest products, the promotion they have going on. They want to talk about themselves, their products and their companies.
Customers don’t care!
When I pick up the phone and it’s someone from that big CRM vendor saying, “I’d like to talk to you about your interest in our products,” my response is simple and direct, “I’m not interested in your products, so why should we spend the time on the phone?”
What do you talk to them about then? Clearly, an issue that’s important to them now!
This is where you need to do your homework. Is there something happening in their markets that could impact a large number of your potential customers? Perhaps a new regulation, new technologies their customers are leveraging, shifts in market dynamics and structure, a major new competitor? What is happening that they are likely to be concerned about or interested in? What is happening that they may not be aware of? It doesn’t have to be big or earthshaking, but it has to be something they are likely to be interested in.
Perhaps you and your company have a certain point of view about things that are happening in the industry, perhaps some interesting trends or data that is relevant to their success—we call that Insight.
Naturally, these issues have to be something that you can do something about. If you sell financial management systems, it’s useless to talk to your customers about shifts in manufacturing technologies that are impacting them. You can’t do anything about these–and probably you’ll have no credibility talking to them about it.
Now you are focusing on prospects within your sweet spot, you have something that should be interesting and relevant to them–not your products and services, you are halfway to being able to send that email or pick up the phone.
You have to sift through the customers in your sweet spot one more time. Which of these customers is likely to be the most concerned and most ready to want to do something with what you are talking about?
Perhaps some of them have been struggling. Their share prices are declining, their revenues or profits are in freefall, their market share is declining. Perhaps they’ve had shipping or quality problems. Maybe some customer sat problems. Maybe there’s been a lot of turnover in the company. Maybe they’ve missed on new product releases or launches, maybe they aren’t launching new products.
Look for the companies that have something happening to them that is relevant to the issues(s) you want to talk about. Search for those “triggers” that are likely to make them very interested.
Now you’ve prioritized your prospecting list, focusing on those organizations and people that are most interested in what you will be talking to them about.
We’re almost there.
Now prepare your campaign. It may be an email campaign, a outbound phone campaign, or a combination (I’m always biased toward the latter). Write your message or your script. If is says, “me,” “our company,” “our products,” go back to the drawing board. If it doesn’t talk about them, go back to the drawing board. It needs to be about them.
Don’t compose just one email, compose a series that you can send over a period of weeks. Make sure they are different, build a story through the series of emails. If it’s a call script, do the same thing, don’t just talk about the same thing or leave the same tired voicemail, build a story.
In the emails, make sure there’s a call to action. It may be as simple as downloading a relevant white paper.
Now you are ready to prospect.
Send out your email campaign. Look at who clicks on the white paper, they are highest on your hit parade for prospecting, the second are those that have opened and read the email.
Pick up the phone and call—but before you do, look that person up in LinkedIn or Facebook, look at the company’s website. Spend 3 minutes scanning before you dial the number.
When you reach the customer, they are likely to be interested in talking to you, you know them, you know their company, you are prepared to talk about what they care about.
These are the elements of a high impact prospecting approach. There are all sorts of variations, there are some tweaks that you can make based on your target customers, the solutions you provide, and the things that are happening to your customers right now!
There’s no way around it, you’ve got to do the work if you want to produce results.
Sounds like a lot of work and time–it is and it isn’t. If you don’t do the work, you won’t produce the results. But once you start doing this consistently and it becomes ingrained, you become remarkably efficient. It takes less and less time to prepare. Additionally, there are tons of great tools that help you do the work much more efficiently.
As a postscript, our company is no different than others. We have to prospect. Each of us has to have a certain number of “conversations” with new customers in our target markets each week. We’ve refine our prospecting to the point that 100% of those calls are scheduled and there is always a customer expecting the call, looking forward to the conversation. But of course, we’ve done the work.
As a young sales person, I must have really frustrated my managers. I was disorganized, undisciplined–in short, all over the place.
In spite of that, I always made my number…..
Well, I’ve got to be honest, I had lots of ups and downs. Some months I’d miss, another month, I’d blow away my number, but I always made my number for the year! Usually on December 31 at 23:45.
It drove my managers crazy. While I always made my number, I couldn’t tell them how I was going to make it. I worked hard, scrambled a lot, and had some great luck. I never did the same thing twice. But there was never any predictability. It never looked pretty, there were a lot of starts and stops, and I never knew until I knew–which led to sleepless nights.
Finally, one of my managers sat me down at a performance review. He gave me what I considered to be a very poor review. I protested, saying, “I always make my numbers, why am I getting such a poor review?”
It was then I learned that how I made my numbers was as important as making the number (in some cases, I’ll get to later, it may be a little more important.).
The lessons she gave me at the time have stuck with me through my career. I learned the importance of the sales process, of a disciplined approach to managing myself, my time. I learned the importance of putting together a plan, whether it was for my account, territory, or for the year.
The disciplined approach to making my numbers actually made it easier for me to make my numbers, because I knew what things produced more business. I knew the things I did today that would enable me to make my numbers tomorrow. I could focus on doing more of those things and not those things that wasted my time. So I stopped having to stay in the office until midnight on New Year’s Eve and could start going to parties. Or rather than scraping through with crossed fingers and a few prayers, I could now aim for overachieving my numbers (that’s where the real money started kicking in.)
As individual sales people, it’s critical that we have a disciplined approach to how we make the number. For example, having a strong pipeline management process enables each of us to look at our business, not only this month, but next and some months down the line. If we see we are off on our numbers, we can identify it, take corrective action, and get ourselves back on target. Rather than leaving things to chance, we can be proactive in managing the territory, creating greater confidence in our ability to meet our goals and making the numbers.
My managers loved the “new and improved Dave,” because now there was much less uncertainty, far fewer heroic efforts, fewer sighs of relief because they had better visibility of what I was doing and the business it would produce. More importantly, for me, they could really help me, they could coach me, help me find systematic ways to improve my performance, ways to be more effective and more efficient.
Being focused how I made my numbers, as well as being driven to make my numbers provided both me and my managers a basis for learning, developing, and improving. Since I now had a systematic and disciplined approach to making my numbers, it was easier to understand what worked and what didn’t Growing my performance became a matter of stopping the things that didn’t work and doing more of the things that did. It allowed me to move from scrambling to make my number to being one of the top performers.
At an organizational level, this is even more important. Making the number is everyone’s primary objective-but from an organizational point of view we have to look beyond making this month’s, this quarter’s, this year’s numbers. We have to have the strategies, capabilities, capacities in place to grow the business year after year. We have to have the capabilities of making the number consistently year after year, to extend share, to grow profitability. This means putting in place the right mix of leadership, strategies, business management, and people.
As stewards of the business, we have to make sure we are leveraging all the resources we have available to us, maximizing performance, productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency. As leaders, we constantly must assess the investments we make in selling and the return we get out of those investments. Absent a disciplined way of assessing performance, productivity and effectiveness, we can’t manage the business of selling to maximize the results each individual achieves and the organization, as a whole achieves.
The rest of the business is dependent on us. Manufacturing builds inventory planning and production schedules base on us. Finance looks at cash needs based on our revenue/profitability projections. The rest of the business needs the ability to plan and execute, based on our ability to drive sales in a predictable manner.
As a consequence, the “how we make our number,” becomes critical to our ability to set a direction, to know who to hire, to know how to train and develop them, to know the right programs to invest in, to know when and how to take corrective action, to have a framework for fixing things when the Sh*t starts hitting the fan.
Finally, we owe it to our people to provide leadership, direction, and coaching to maximize their personal and organizational success. We need to put in processes that enable them to maximize their win rates, reduce cycle time, drive deal profitability. We need to provide systems and tools to help them be as efficient as possible. We need to establish best practices for our own organizations and drive the consistent execution of those practices. We need to coach and develop them, so they can achieve this year and to prepare them to achieve more next year and the following year, and…..
Consistently making the number, doing it effectively and efficiently is not a crapshoot. How you make the number, how you do it consistently, how you continue to learn and grow is critical to making the number.