Research consistently shows that organized, consistent, disciplined prospecting is the number one key to sales success. You can’t sit and wait for the phone to ring; you must be proactive and that means prospecting.
Most sales professionals dread prospecting because they associate prospecting with cold calling, but prospecting really means contacting any type of lead to find new business, both warm and cold leads, with a goal of setting an appointment. The selling will happen later on the sales call, after you have had time to prepare. It is true that cold calling has the lowest probability of success, but many companies do not provide their sales teams with enough warm leads to keep their pipelines full. So even in today’s era of sophisticated sales automation tools, many sales people still need to cold call as part of their prospecting efforts.
One of the biggest challenges of prospecting is the low success rate associated with cold calling and this is in part a function of the reality that you are catching the prospect by surprise. They didn’t ask you to call them and chances are you are interrupting them. So even if they have an interest in your solution, the prospect may just want to get you off the phone.
In order to increase your success rate then it is absolutely critical that you gain the prospect’s instant, undivided attention within the first 8-10 seconds of the call. You do that by consistently following a clearly defined prospecting process.
Step 1: The Greeting
OK, this step is obvious, but you would be surprised how many sales people have a grumpy phone persona. I once worked with a brilliant sales leader who told me that when it comes to phone based prospecting he liked to hire sales people “with a smile in their voice.” That means high energy, upbeat people who prospects want to engage with.
So here is a simple example “Hi, this is Sarah Smith from Acme Industrial. Can you tell me, who in your company makes decisions about…?”
Step 2: Impact Benefit Statement
After the greeting, you then need to quickly gain the prospect’s attention. You do this by immediately transitioning into what I refer to as an Impact Benefit Statement. This statement explains why the decision maker should care about what you are saying.
To be effective, the Impact Benefit Statement must briefly address a problem that the prospect is facing and explain how you will solve the problem. Prospects will only pay attention to you if they immediately understand how they will benefit from speaking with you. So you must carefully craft your Impact Benefit Statement to provide a major benefit―preferably one tailored to the prospect’s business. Effective Impact Benefit statements also use benefit words such increase, improve, gain, grow, maximize, enhance, and manage. These words help better communicate to the prospect how your solution is going to help them. Finally, Impact Benefit Statements should also include some type of metric to help quantify the benefit.
Let’s go back to our prospecting example. Sarah Smith has now been transferred to the right person, so she starts her Impact Benefit Statement with a brief introduction:
“This is Sarah Smith from ACME Technology. Our packaging system has been able to improve efficiencies by 15% in other shipping departments. I’d like to see if I might be able to help you also.”
What do you notice about Sarah’s Impact Benefit Statement? It is brief. It explains how her solution can specifically help this buyer, and it uses benefit words and has a metric that quantifies the benefit.
Step 3: Company/Capability Overview
The Impact Benefit Statement should have captured the undivided attention of the prospect immediately. Now you must keep and build the prospect’s interest with the Company/Capability Overview.
The Company/Capability Overview is a statement or big picture of how you can provide the benefits you just mentioned. It is meant to enhance your credibility. It answers the question, “Why us?” It is a statement or big picture of how you can provide the benefits you highlighted in the Impact Benefit Statement.
Here is Sarah’s Company/Capability Overview
“At ACME Technology we are an industry leader in shipping automation.”
Again, it is imperative that you keep things brief. Just provide enough information to maintain interest and lead to the next step.
Step 4: Manage Resistance
Now that you have been speaking the prospect for a few moments, you could very likely get resistance. The root cause of most resistance is that the prospect did not expect your call and just wants to get back to his or her business. Do not interpret that as meaning the prospect is not interested. Most resistance falls into a few common categories such as a request for more information, an expression of disinterest, statement that the person is too busy, or a request for pricing information. The key to managing prospecting resistance is to not lose control of the conversation.
Prospect: “Just send me some information.”
Sarah: “I’d really like to understand more about your situation to be sure I’m giving you the information that best fits your needs.”
Step 5: Qualify
There is a big difference between setting an appointment and setting a qualified appointment. An unqualified appointment may be easier to get but may result in a meeting with a company that simply has no need for your product or service. This wastes your time and the prospect’s time. Remember, the meeting should benefit both parties.
For most prospecting situations, an important qualification question to ask is “Can this person have a productive meeting with me?” In some cases, you will generally know by the person’s job title or by checking the company website or LinkedIn. In other cases, the nature of the product or service you are selling will answer that for you. But verifying this is the right person to speak to is the most important qualification goal.
The second thing you will qualify is the person’s general level of interest or fit. Based on a few key questions, you can decide whether your offering is a reasonable solution to the person’s problem.
If key qualification criteria are not met, you should politely end the call, and remember to ask for a referral if it is appropriate.
A key point to remember about qualification is that you never want to interrogate your prospect or make it seem that you are reading from a script (which you shouldn’t be!). You should ask questions in a conversational way. Also, some questions, while important, may be too sensitive to be asked on a prospecting call. These questions include budget-related questions.
Step 6: Set the Appointment
As I mentioned earlier, your goal for the prospecting call is to set the appointment. Many sales professionals get trapped into giving too much information up front and lose the opportunity to meet with the customer.
So ask for the appointment as early as possible, and make it easy for the prospect to say yes. This means you should offer a choice of dates and propose specific times and dates to meet. Don’t offer a date that is too far in the future. Also, ask if he or she wants anyone to join the meeting.
After you have booked the appointment, don’t hang up! Ask a few probing questions to help you gather more information about the prospect to make the sales call more productive.
Here is Sarah booking the appointment:
Sarah: “What would work better for you, Monday at 9:00 a.m. or Tuesday at 2:00 p.m.?”
Prospect: “How about Tuesday?”
Sarah: “Great! Now to make our meeting more productive, let me ask you a few questions.”
Prospecting is a challenging but necessary aspect of selling. Great sales people are also highly skilled prospectors with incredible discipline to persevere through high rejection rates. While prospecting will never be an easy task, following the above prospecting process will help improve your close rates and keep your sales pipeline full.
About David Jacoby