Salespeople acquire new clients, and to do so, they necessarily open relationships. Prospecting is the art of opening new relationships. The new business opportunities that later turn into sales are initially identified through prospecting, making prospecting the lifeblood of sales.
The first way to improve you’re your prospecting results is to acknowledge its importance to your sales results and treat it accordingly.
Improving your prospecting results begins with setting aside the time and the energy to prospect each and every day. And, yes, I do mean each and every day. You would never suggest that you could only close on Thursday afternoons, and it is ridiculous to suggest that there is only a single time at which you can be effective prospecting. It is equally ridiculous to suggest that your prospects are only open to taking your calls on Mondays and Fridays. Those are generalizations and all generalizations are lies.
Write a weekly plan making time to prospect every day. It is best to set aside the time first thing in the morning to ensure it gets done before the world makes other demands of you.
2. Turn Off the Distractions
Turn off the Internet. Turn off your email. Turn off your Smart Phone. Focus.
Tell your friends you have a new found discipline and that you need their support; promise to catch up with them later.
Hang a sign on your door saying “Do Not Disturb! Prospecting!” If you don’t have a door, use string and hang the sign over your desk.
3. Use Every Method Available
Prospecting is the activity of opening new relationships, but it isn’t really what we are focused on here. We are focused on the outcome that is better described as opening new business relationships to identify potential new business opportunities. There are many ways to do this, and all of them are effective sometimes.
To prospect well, you need to focus your time and energy on what works best for you, but not exclusively. If you are great at cold calling, you should absolutely focus on cold calling. But that doesn’t mean that you should never use email marketing, inbound marketing, networking, trade shows and conferences, direct mail, social networking, or referrals. You should include all of these tools in your arsenal.
Make a list of all of the methods that you can and will use to prospect. Plan the time that you will set aside for each method and how many prospects you will gain from your effort. For example, you might commit to attending one networking event per month with the result that you acquire two new prospects from each networking event. Measure these results and focus on what generates the greatest return on your investment of time, but remember that your prospects may have their own opinion on how they best like to be approached, and you shouldn’t exclude any method.
4. Write Scripts
Two things cause poor prospecting results. The first is not spending enough time prospecting. The other is ineffective prospecting. This mostly comes down to language choices. It comes down to what you are saying when you prospect.
There is no substitute for scripts.
“But wait!” you say. “I am a professional salesperson and I can’t sound like I am using a script!” I hear you loud and clear. And you can’t sound like someone that your prospect isn’t interested in meeting either.
First you have to recognize that you are already using a script. The words that you use when prospecting (and on sales calls, by the way), are choices that are comfortable to you because you have rehearsed them. They are comfortable to you because you have them memorized, not because you are reading them. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best language choices.
Your effectiveness is improved by choosing carefully the word that use, making observations about what is working and what isn’t working. This takes an awareness, focus, and discipline. It also allows you to experiment with language choices to see what is most effective.
Write scripts for each of the prospecting methods you use. Write responses to the common objections you hear. Rehearse them. If you are part of a great sales team, do this together and rehearse them together. Commit the best language to memory and replace the unwritten and ineffective scripts you are already using.
5. Focus on the Outcome
The outcome of prospecting is to open the relationship. This almost always involves obtaining the commitment for an appointment.
Effectiveness in prospecting is improved by simply focusing on the outcome. This means that you don’t allow your prospecting to turn into a needs analysis, a presentation, or a discussion about the merits of your product or service. It means you apply a laser-like focus on scheduling the appointment.
The reason some salespeople struggle focusing on the outcome of an appointment and the reason often they slip into the sales mode is because they feel that they have to prove that they can create value for the prospect during their prospecting activity. But prospecting has a very different goal, namely, the opening of the exploration of the possibility that you might be able to create value and do something together. Selling, at this point, is premature.
There is no list to make, no plan to write here. Just know that a successful outcome here is almost always an appointment. It doesn’t matter how much you liked them or how much they liked you if you didn’t schedule an appointment.
6. Get Good at Cold Calling
There is too much to write here about how to get good at cold calling. But it is important that you have it in your repertoire, and that you build your competency picking up the phone and scheduling an appointment.
Cold calling is still one of the fastest ways to schedule appointments and to open relationships, and the very best salespeople are the very best at cold calling. They are also the very best at all other forms of prospecting, and the only salespeople I have found that are willing to consistently ask for referrals, something else salespeople avoid.
Start cold calling.
7. Nurture Relationships Over Time
Even when you use all of the ideas above, you are still going to hear “no.” You are going to hear it a lot. But relationships, including business relationships, are built over time. Your consistent and unrelenting pursuit of your dream clients is part of a longer-term plan for success and not a quick fix.
Consistency here means that these prospects hear from you more than sporadically. It means they hear from you frequently and with all the predictability of the Sun rising each morning.
Your calls, your thank you cards, your letters, your white papers, your surveys, your studies, your newspaper and web clippings, your constant attempts to find a way to create some value before claiming any all add up over time.
Some of the best relationships and the biggest deals will take the longest time to win, and your consistent nurturing of these relationships will open opportunities for you over time. This approach proves that you are not going to disappear like so many of your peers, that you are truly interested in working with them, that you are a professional who executes well, and that you are determined. These are some of the attributes that people look for in salespeople and partners.
Write a nurturing plan. What will you do to create value for your dream clients even before they decide to set an appointment with you? How often will you call? How often will they receive something from you? What will they receive? What will it say about you? How will it create trust?
Salespeople open relationships. Opening relationships is built upon the ability to prospect. Follow these steps to improve your prospecting results.
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