If there is only one activity that you can take to immediately improve your sales results, it is prospecting.
Some salespeople run into trouble with prospecting because they define the activity too narrowly, and because they devote too little time to taking all of the activities that result in new opportunities. Building a plan for prospecting and adopting it as part of your model week solves both of these problems.
Defining Opportunity-Creating Activities
There are lots of ways that you can identify and open new relationships that open new opportunities. Most salespeople stick to one method, often because it is the most comfortable activity for them to take. A good prospecting plan is made up of more than one approach.
Cold Calling: It’s first in the list for a reason: it works. Once you have identified your dream clients, you have to begin to open relationships within their company. One of the fastest methods possible for doing so (provided you can create value) is calling and scheduling time with the contacts that are most concerned with what you sell.
Some part of an effective, quota-busting prospecting plan includes cold calls.
Referrals: People that don’t like cold calling generally don’t like asking for referrals much better. But if you and your company are producing results for your existing clients, you likely have contacts that could—and would—introduce you to other prospective dream clients. But for them to do so, you are going to have to ask them to.
Everyone prefers warmer methods to colder methods of prospecting. For most of us, it’s difficult to live on referrals alone. But that doesn’t mean it’s right to try to survive without referrals at all.
Vendor Referrals: Your company does business with other companies. The companies that provide goods and services to your team have client relationships of their own. Some of their clients are good prospects for you and your company. Your team has relationships with their salespeople and their management team. You can leverage those relationships to open new relationships with their clients.
Referrals from your vendors are almost as good as referrals from your clients. If you really want to leverage this method effectively, you should be prepared to offer some reciprocity by helping your vendors, too.
Networking Events: Regardless of what you sell, there are likely networking events where your prospective clients gather to exchange ideas. It’s also likely that your competitors participate in these events. The real thought-leaders in your industry may present at these events.
It’s important to know what these events are not, too. Some salespeople think that hanging at events that are only full of other salespeople count as useful networking events. If your prospects aren’t there, it’s not prospecting.
Part of your plan should include networking events where you can meet and engage with the people who buy what it is that you sell.
Conferences and Trade Shows: Industry conferences and trade shows for the industries or segments on which you call are also good prospecting opportunities. To make effective use of these prospecting opportunities, you have to remember that your prospects are going to be in sessions most of the day; it’s not enough to stand at a booth and wait.
To make effective use of conferences and trade shows, you have to work the list ahead of time, calling and scheduling time with the prospects you most want to pursue. Many of your prospects will schedule coffee, breakfast, or lunch with you—if you get to them early enough.
Include conferences in your prospecting plan, but only if you are going to work to be in front of your dream clients while you are there.
Social Media: I know that some of you want this to be higher up on the list. There are some who believe that the only way to sell now is to wait for prospective clients to happen upon our social media presence. They believe that inbound marketing is the answer to all prospecting challenges. They are wrong.
But social media is a good and useful method for prospecting. Using tools like LinkedIn or Focus to answer questions and create value can attract the kind of attention that opens relationships. It has for me. Social media does offer a set of tools that allow you to share and create value for your prospective clients, and creating value before claiming it is key.
This method of prospecting should be given its proper place. It isn’t as effective nor is it a substitute for the methods listed above. But a good plan finds customers where they live, and many of them live here on the web. Again, it’s no substitute, but it isn’t to be ignored either.
Email: Not spam. One way to open a relationship with your prospective dream client is to send them an email. One way to make sure you prove that you really don’t care about the person to whom you are sending an email is to send it to thousands of people at the same time. That’s not effective use of the tool.
Instead, write a warm, thoughtful, personal email to your dream client requesting a conversation. You can open a relationship that way.
Committing To and Taking Actions
There is no plan without commitments to act. Once you have determined which prospecting activities you are going to take, you have to set goals around those activities and take action. You have to define what you are going to do each week, each month, and each quarter as part of your prospecting plan.
If you are going to cold call, how much time are you going to spend making calls and how many opportunities is your effort going to produce?
How many opportunities are you going to obtain through client referrals each month or each quarter? How many clients will you have to ask in order to obtain those opportunities?
How many vendors does your company work with that might have the ability to share relationships with you? How many of those vendors would work to create opportunities for you if they knew your relationship was based on reciprocity? How many opportunities could this generate in the course of a year?
How many true networking events can you commit to each month or each quarter? How many conferences or trade shows? How many face-to-face, sit-down meetings can generate at a conference or event? How many opportunities will that effort produce?
How much time can you devote to social media and produce an outsized result for your effort? Can you answer a single question on LinkedIn or Focus each week? Can you produce a single blog post that share some value creating idea your dream client can put to use? How much time can you devote to social media in order to produce a result equal to the same effort applied to the other methods in your plan?
What can you send in an email that will open the possibility of real communication with your dream client? How many value creating emails can you send each week, without crossing the line from persistent to nuisance? How many opportunities can you open though email?
Identifying the actions that open relationships and open opportunities is the first step in building your quota-busting prospecting plan. The results are only produced, however, when you commit the time and the energy to religiously taking action on all of your commitments.
Subscribe to my weekly podcast In the Arena.