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How Do You Start Your Prospecting?

by David Brock on October 29th, 2015

I’m coaching a frustrated sales person.  He’s running up against a brick wall on his prospecting.  He’s sending emails, calling, sending emails…….

Most of the time there’s no response, so he sends more.  Sometimes, to shut him down, he get’s a response–perhaps it’s an “Unsubscribe” in the title line, or more politely, “Sorry, it doesn’t make sense to talk, we don’t have budget.”

The experience this sales person was having is the same story I hear from thousands of others.  Fundamentally, he was starting his prospecting in the wrong place.

Let’s back track a little.

I asked him to forward the prospecting email stream for a specific customer.  The first email from him went something like:

“I dropped off some materials regarding [My Company], and would welcome the opportunity to discuss some items that may be of interest to you……”

He went on to describe some specific product lines that might be interesting.

He got a very nice one liner back from the customer:

“Due to budget constraints at this time, I am not interested…….”

To which he responded:

“I fully understand the constraints at [Customer’s company]……  This meeting wasn’t planned as a sales pitch, but rather an introduction….”

He also attached 15 megs of product brochures.

You can guess the outcome—email silence.

Don’t chuckle and shake your head.  This is a good sales person and he’s doing exactly what 10’s of thousands of other sales people are doing.

When the sales person reached out to me, I asked, “What are his company’s priorities, what is his company trying to achieve, how does it impact him?”

The response was, “Well we offer all sorts of solutions with productivity advantages he should be interested in.”  He went on to start describing what the products did and how they improved productivity.

I responded, “What are his company’s priorities, what is his company trying to achieve, how does it impact him?”

The sales person was pretty frustrated with me, saying, “Don’t you understand…….”

After a few back and forth’s I suggested.  “Why don’t you go to their web site, look at their strategy, do some research on the problems the organization is having and how it impacts him?”

A few more back and forth’s, escalating levels of frustration.  Finally, I said, “It took me 5 minutes on their web site to find two huge issues on the company performance that impact this guy, his operation.  What you do can impact those issues, him and make him a hero in the organization.  He can contribute to solving two of the biggest problems the CEO is facing.  So go find those issues, tell me what they are and how you can approach this person about them.  It doesn’t help you for me to tell you what they are–try to find them yourself.”

He grumbled a little, I’m sure he was saying, “Dave, you don’t understand,” but he went off to do his assignment.

As an aside, without knowing it, he had alluded to one of the two issues in one of his prospecting notes.  Since he didn’t know how significant this issue was, he lost the opportunity to leverage it in his prospecting with the customer.

Had he known, his prospecting might have changed, “In my research, I noticed your company is facing [this issue].  In the last two quarters the adverse impact on earnings have been [this].  In working with other companies like yours, we’ve seen how improving [what the prospect is responsible for] can reduce the impact of this issue, contributing as much as [X%] improvement in earnings.”

The data was staring him in the face, if he knew where to look.  His company had the answers to that those questions and he could have calculated the impact on earnings.  He had the opportunity to show his customer how he could be a hero, but missed it.

Everything was there, he didn’t know where to look, how to look, that he should look, or he just failed to take the time, choosing instead to pitch his products.

The reason so much of our prospecting falls on deaf ears is that we aren’t talking to them about what they care about in terms the care about.  In this case, the manager was concerned about productivity.  The sales person had tools that could help improve productivity, but that’s not what the manager was concerned about, that wasn’t what his manager and his manager and his manager were concerned about.

If we want to catch the customer’s attention, we have to start with them and their organizations.  We have to understand what their companies are trying to achieve, what problems they face, and how they impact the people we are trying to reach.

If we don’t know the issues impacting the people we want to reach directly, then we start with their companies.  We have to understand the companies, the strategies and priorities of top management.  We have to understand their businesses, the their business drivers, and their performance relative to others in the industry.  Finally, we have to connect the dots to the people  we are trying to reach.  We have to understand how all this stuff about the business ripples through and impacts those people we want to talk to.

In other words, we have to do our homework.

Some of you might be thinking, “Dave, that’s a whole lot of work, why don’t I just smile and dial.  If I call 100 people, 1 or 2 might be interested.”  I’d tend to counter with, “Well why not just call 20 and get 1 or 2 interested.  Or if you wanted to call 100, you could get 5-10 interested.”

There’s another important aspect of being able to connect the dots from the top of the corporation to the person you want to talk to.  If they are interested, you engage them, at some point they are going to have to connect the dots themselves–back to the top of the corporation.

If they want to change, if they buy what you are selling, in order to buy they are going to have to make a business case and sell the idea to their managers, who in turn may have to go up the food chain.  And everything they do has to be connected to the priorities of the organization.  By knowing this, by knowing how to connect the dots, we can help them solve their problem and get approval from management.

Going back to my frustrated sales person.  In looking at SEC filings, financial press releases, analyst presentations, there were 2 specific problems top management spoke about.  There were initiatives top management had started to solve these problems–which meant they were investing in solutions, both internally generated solutions, and solutions from vendors.  My frustrates sales person had solutions that could directly impact those problems.  Even better, he had reference data from other customers about the business impact created in their solving the problems.

Ultimately, he found the issues.  We developed a strategy to go back to the person he had been wanting to reach.  At the same time, we identified a couple of other people–higher in the organization who would want to hear what he could do to help address those key problems.  He’s off prospecting them as I write this post.  I think I know the outcome of these efforts.

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