5 Tips to Help You Prospect - How to Convert Leads Into Buying Customers Part 2: Prospecting Stage

by Steven Tulman

ICM Consulting and Media Corp.

Feb. 18, 2014

Last week I shared the 9-Step Sales Process with you that I find to be most effective. Today we will dive into part 2 of the 11 post series and look at the first milestone of 9, the Prospecting Stage. Here is the link to last week's post incase you missed it:

How to Convert Leads Into Buying Customers: The 9 Step Sales Process EVERYONE Should Use

Prospecting is arguably the most important, difficult, stressful, and demotivating stage of the sales process. No one likes to be rejected or ignored, but that’s what ends up happening most of the time when prospecting for new business. This is why it is crucial that you make the best use of your time by going after the right people at the right time, and using the right approach. Here are 5 effective tips that will help you get more results from your prospecting efforts. 

1. Define your target market:

Often times businesses and sales professionals spend their time going after the wrong target markets. These organizations go after markets that are unlikely to buy form them for thee main reasons; they are either too small to afford the services, they are too big and require a more advanced solution, or the problem that the solution addresses is not big enough for them to justify spending money on resolving.

To avoid this pitfall you’ll first need to determine what industries or groups have the biggest and most urgent/painful challenges that your solution can help them resolve. This will define your primary target industries. Those are the industries that you should focus on since they’re your lowest hanging fruit.

Next you’ll need to understand the size of the organizations within your primary targetindustries that are most likely to buy from you based on price, complexity of your solution, and reputation of your company. This will define your target companies.

Finally, when prospecting, and even when dealing with inbound leads, you need to determine what are the right buying centers for your kind of solution, and what roles within those buying centers are directly involved in making the purchasing decisions. These will be your primary target buying centers.

These primary target prospects are going to be the easiest customers to acquire. Don’t confuse that with being EASY customers to acquire… those are much rarer gems to find.

Now that you’ve got your target market, comprised of primary target organizations and buying centers, you’re ready to start prospecting into them.

2. Start at with the Top Decision Maker:

ALWAYS start at the top! Once you determined what industries, companies, and buying centers you need to target, you then need to be prepared to reach out to the top person in those buying centers. It can be scary calling into a CEO, or a top level VP or Director at an organization. But it’s the fastest way to making a sale.

If you can’t get through to them then you can work your way down and find out who you can speak with that works directly with the CEO, VP or Director, and who’s opinions they trust. This person will be your “Champion” or “Key Influencer” going forward in your sales process

In the case of an inbound lead, speak with the person who reached out to you, but keep in mind that just because they reached out to you doesn’t mean they are the decision maker or influencer. Be respectful and address their questions, but find out if they are in fact the real decision maker or a key influencer and if they’re not, then find out who is and try to get a meeting with them.

If you don’t start at the top, and instead start with a lower-level employee, you will most likely have many great and lengthy conversations, but at the end of the day the person you’ve spent your time speaking with has absolutely no say in the decisions being made at the organization. You will most likely take this person through the entire sales cycle, spending days, weeks, or even months of your valuable time pitching to them. Then when it comes down to getting a decision from them you will probably spend days or weeks chasing them on the phone, sending them countless emails, and either never getting a reply and giving up, or being told that they are not interested in your solution. It’s not because they’re not interested, it’s because they have no input. You’ll have to start all over again at this point, so why not do it right from the beginning?

There are few things more demoralizing to a sales professional or small business owner than wasting months going through a sales cycle and having it fall apart at the end because they haven’t been speaking to the right person.

Here’s a great book that I found to be very helpful when it comes to prospecting. It offers great insight into the thought process of top level executives and provides tools and tips on how to reach that top decision maker:

Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer - by Tony Parinello

3. Choosing the Best Methods to Prospect:

There are many different tools and methods that we as sales professionals and entrepreneurs can use when prospecting for new business. Depending on the nature of your product/service and your target demographic, you will find that some methods work better than others.

These are some of the methods that I find to be most effective in the majority of instances: 

-       Advertising & Lead Generation: Ensure that your marketing and lead generation efforts are targeting the right demographic in the right ways. You need to ensure that your website and landing pages have effective call-to-action functions and are properly optimized for search engines. This helps your chances of appearing in Google search results under the specific terms that will generate the most inbound leads for you. A well-managed Pay Per Click campaign is a quicker and more direct way of generating qualified inbound leads when you want them. Ensuring that you have a solid reputation online with a significant amount of customer reviews will directly increase the number of inbound leads that you generate as more and more people are turning to review sites like Yelp, Google+, and N49 when searching for possible vendors. Encourage your customers to review your services online whenever possible.

-       Handling Inbound Leads: With inbound and warm leads, time is of the essence. The longer you wait to call them back the less likely you are to reach them or make a sale. In fact if you respond to an inbound lead 2 hours after the lead was sent, you are 15% less likely to close that deal. This is because people will usually send requests to multiple vendors and quite often the first vendor that responds gets the deal. This is especially true when you are dealing with a smaller company, although even with larger companies, the sooner you respond to a lead, the more likely you are to close it.

-       LinkedIn (and a few other social media sites): This is a great way to find and connect with decision makers in the companies that you’re targeting. You can search by company name, by industry, by geography, by title, and various other search criteria. You can then either invite them to join your network, send them a message requesting a chat, or see if you have any mutual connections that you can request an introduction from. Many people in upper management know others in similar roles at other organizations. You’ll find that it becomes easier to get warm introductions to your prospects as you start building your network on these sites. Keep in mind that you may need an upgraded account, if you don’t already have one, to send messages to people outside of your immediate network, but it’s well worth the investment!

-       Cold Calling: Possibly the most difficult, and most commonly used, ways to prospect is by cold calling. You have to make on average 20 phone calls to get through to one person and three-quarters of the time they hang up on you, blow you off to a later day, or the gatekeeper won’t let through. This kind of prospecting usually requires the most amount of intrinsic self-motivation and mental strength to be able to take the rejections, brush them off, and keep on calling until you get the meeting. Then you start all over again.

Here are a few simple tips to help you cold call more effectively:

o   Have a well thought-out script briefly outlining your value proposition, the impact your solution or similar solutions have had on other organizations in a similar industry, and ask for a meeting. Be prepared to address common objections.

o   Make the script your own and don’t sound like you’re reading form a script.

o   Persistence beats resistance, but don’t be a pest. Dial strategically.

o   The best times to cold call are between 8:00 am to 10:00 am, noon to 1:00 pm, and 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. The execs are at their desks usually at these times and the Executive Assistants usually only arrive at 9:00 am, have lunch noon to 1:00 pm, and then leave the office at 5:00 pm sharp. You’ll be less likely to get a gatekeeper answering the phones and more likely to get through to the decision maker during those times.

-       Tradeshows, conferences, and networking events:One of my personal favorite ways to prospect is by attending targeted events. This is an opportunity to meet face to face with potential customers and other industry professionals who you can work with or stay in contact with and help each other out. You can also introduce each other to other prospects and vendors. Dress according to the dress code of the event, and don’t show up with the hunger of getting new business written all over your face. Be genuine in your approach and try to get to know the people there without going into a hard sales pitch. These events are opportunities to connect with your prospects, not to sell them on the spot. If you’ve added enough value to the connection you’ve made with them, then you will have a much easier time pitching them your solution at a later date.

-       Direct Mail: The power of a letter will astound you! In this day and age, where mail is scarce and email is plenty, a letter personally addressed to your prospect can bear some serious weight. Therefore sending a personalized target letter to your prospect could be a great way to get their attention if the content of that letter is right. Be sure it’s targeted and personalized, rather than a generic piece of marketing. Include some industry insights or trends. To target some of the larger fish, this is sometimes the only way to get through to them, so make it count.

-       Warm Leads and Referrals: There’s nothing like a good referral or a warm lead to call on. These are great because they usually pave the way for a smoother initial interaction. When you are referred to a company, a certain level of credibility is usually pre-established and your prospect will be more open to taking your call or meeting with you. Similarly as with inbound leads, the follow-up should be prompt. The longer you wait, the more likely they are to either lose interest in hearing about your solution, or they may have already found another company to work with.

4. Follow a prospecting schedule:

Having a daily or weekly schedule detailing what prospecting activities you will perform at which times and on which days, will help you stay on track and help keep the top of your funnel full. Because prospecting can be difficult and has its ups and downs, it helps to have set times when you know you have to do it and sticking to those times as much as possible. I suggest prospecting in the first quarter and last quarter of your day and also during lunchtime. The rest of your day should be split between admin, account management, following up on previous conversations, meeting preparation, prospecting preparation, data-mining, and so on.

5. Always secure a next step date and specify what those next steps will be.

This is both the easiest and one of the most forgotten components of an effective prospecting process. It not only applies to prospecting, but it applies to every stage of the sales cycle, at every interaction that you have with your prospects. Here’s how to apply it when prospecting.

When finally getting through to the decision maker or key influencer, ALWAYS be sure to specify a specific next step date, the specific goals that you wish to achieve before or on that date, and what actions both you and your prospect are responsible for prior to that date.

If your next step is to book a meeting, then book that meeting and inform your prospect of what will be discussed at the meeting and what you hope to achieve by the end of that meeting. Also outline anything that you or your prospect needs to do in preparation for the meeting. If your next step is to send them an email and call them back, then don’t tell them that you will call back sometime later in the week. Agree on a specific day and time with your prospect and follow through with your follow-up call on that day and time.

When securing the next step, be specific. It will help you and your prospect stay on track.

Click on the link below to read the next article of the series about the 4 key elements of 2nd milestone of the 9 Step Sales Process, the Qualifying Stage.

5 Things You NEED When Qualifying Leads: N.U.B.I.T. - How to Convert Leads Into Buying Customers Part 3: The Pre-Qualification Stage

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