• The Four Characteristics Needed to Excel at Sales Prospecting

    09/04/2014 in Prospecting and Business Development

    What are the secrets to success for prospecting?  How can a salesperson generate a consistent amount of sales growth and win new accounts?   

    If you want to excel at sales prospecting, you need four things.

    1. Knowledge: You need to know as much as possible about the new product/service, such as:
    • Characteristics of the product or service: What is unique about it?  What distinguishes it from our other products?
    • What will it do for the customer?  For example, how will it help the customer to reduce their costs?
    • Who are your competitors? Notably, what distinguishes your product/service from the competitor?
    • Who is the target market?  In addition to selling this new product/service to our existing customer base, does it open up some new markets for us?
    Knowledge is the foundation but you won’t succeed with knowledge by itself. This is why you need some additional factors, beginning with Skills.

    2. Skills:  You need certain skills in conjunction with the knowledge.  Knowledge without skills has limited value.  However, when knowledge and skills are intertwined, great things happen!  Here are some key skills that are essential when prospecting:
    • Relationship-building skills (customers are more likely to buy from you if they like you and trust you)
    • Questioning skills (obviously, so that you can identify the customer’s needs but, just as importantly, so that you can assess if this is a good opportunity for you or not)
    • Selling on value (including the monetization of your value, whenever possible)
    • Overcoming likely objections such as "I’m happy with my current provider”
    • Elevator speeches (to help you get the first appointment and make a favorable first impression)
    • Identifying and gaining access to the right person
    • Varying your selling style 
    3. Effort:  Prospecting is very hard work!  Because it is easier to sell more products/services to existing customers, you should do the following. On every sales call to an existing account ask questions to explore for opportunities to sell more in general, and to explore specifically if a particular new product might be of interest.  

    Also spend a significant amount of time calling on new prospects. For example, stay active in relevant industry associations and networking groups.

    Time = Effort.  When asked, "How much time should you spend on prospecting?” many salespeople say that they spend 20 or 25% of their time on prospecting. Instead, you should try to weave prospecting into 100% of your selling time.  Ask yourself at every sales call "Where can I sell more?” You should be doing this at every appointment, every sales call, and every networking event.

    If given a choice between a skillful and knowledgeable seller vs. a seller who put in maximum effort, most managers would rather have the seller be GOOD at skills and knowledge and OUTSTANDING at effort.  

    One important distinction is that effort has to be focused to ensure that the time is spent on the right new accounts.  If you really want to excel at prospecting, all three factors knowledge, skill, and effort are crucial.

    In total, Knowledge and Skills and Effort will make you much more successful at sales prospecting.  However, there is one final success factor – the Passion to Excel.

    4. Passion to Excel.  This is the final success factor.  It's hard to teach passion.  But, KNOWLEDGE + SKILLS + EFFORT lead to success, and it is easy to become passionate at something when you're also successful at it.

    Passion to excel is an attribute that is intrinsic to each sales professional. If you have it, you know it. And, if you’re a sales manager, strive to hire sales professionals who have this attribute. You can teach your salespeople to become more knowledgeable, develop their competence to become more skillful, and coach them to be more effective at the time management and effort required to prospect, but passion must be self-sustaining.

  • Do you have a Well-Prepared Elevator Speech?

    05/19/2014 in Prospecting and Business Development

    An elevator speech will sharpen your ability to claim and communicate value in initial conversations with customers. There is truth in the saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression. 

    These four guidelines will help make your elevator speech memorable and effective:
    1. Keep it to two minutes or less.  The biggest mistake is to say too much.
    2. Describe the specific solutions you could provide this customer.  
    3. Highlight a differentiator about your company, products, and services.
    4. Describe your personal and company credibility and value
    An elevator speech communicates the value that your company and your products/services provide, as well as your organizational and personal credibility/credentials.  Your elevator speech should concisely communicate what you can do for the other person and why he or she should buy from you.  

    What is your Value Statement?  In your value statement you should express the likely results (such as cost savings, productivity gains, improved performance, better image, etc.) that you can achieve for the customer based on similar work in like industries or situations.  Ideally, cite one or more relevant differentiators. 
    What is your Credibility Statement? In your credibility statement , cite customer testimonials and references. It helps to talk in the customer’s language to show that you understand their business and issues. Include your personal and organizational credentials. For example: "I’ve been in the industry for over 10 years,” or "We’ve worked with other coatings manufacturers that have experienced very similar issues as those expressed by you.”

    Planning Questions to Customize Your Elevator Speech
    Your elevator speech should highlight anything that differentiates your company.  Use these planning questions:
    1. Which strengths would be most relevant for this customer and decision-maker? (value statement)
    2. If you know who the competitor is, highlight a relevant differentiator. In other words, why should this customer select your company instead of one of your competitors? (value statement)
    3. What have your best customers who are similar to this person’s company said about why they appreciated or valued your services? (credibility statement)
    4. What can you say to demonstrate that your company and you personally have expertise in this market segment or product/service? (credibility statement) 
    Visit the Elevator Speeches Sales Meeting Kit page for additional information.

  • Does Customer Satisfaction Guarantee Referrals?

    07/31/2013 in Prospecting and Business Development

    So, you are confident that you've provided a great product with great service and have built a positive relationship with your customers.  Does this customer satisfaction guarantee that they will refer business to you?  No!  It certainly builds the foundation but you have to ASK for referrals in order to consistently GET referrals. 

    Every sales professional should excel at asking for and getting referrals but this is rarely the case. Often people tend to avoid asking for referrals altogether because it feels awkward or they don’t know who to ask. 
    • Do you know who you should be asking for referrals?
    • When should you ask for a referral?
    • Are you uncomfortable or not sure how to ask for referrals? 

    Who to Ask for Referrals?  
    Some experts say that you should ask every one of your business contacts for a referral.  We disagree.  Because many salespeople are uncomfortable about asking for referrals, we believe you should begin by speaking to your best customers (your   "champions”).  Your champion customer is one who loves you, your product, and your service.   Once you increase your skill and comfort level in getting referrals, you can expand into asking beyond the champion to prior customers, suppliers, and at networking groups. 

    When Should You Ask for Referrals?
    A simple rule of thumb is never ask for a referral until you have a satisfied customer. 

    There are two good times to ask current customers for referrals.  As soon as a customer has experienced the benefits of using your company or product/service, that is a good time to ask. "I’m so glad to see that we exceeded your expectations and avoided the quality and delivery problems you had with your previous provider. Do you know if there are any other division managers here at XYZ who might also benefit from our services? I’d appreciate the referral and we’d be sure to provide them with the same great service that you’ve received.”

    Another good time is when a customer gives you a compliment for a job well done. A great response would be "Thank you! I’m so glad to hear that you are happy with our service and responsiveness. Do you think you could refer me to Dave Smith who is the director of sales at your distributor? We’d provide them with the same great service as you’ve received.”

    How to Ask for Referrals?  
    1. Focus your request by describing some relevant characteristic of the desired referral that will help the other person to narrow down his/her list of names.  For example, cite the type of decision-maker or a desirable geography/location or other demographic.  "Would you mind introducing me to your counterpart, Dave Smith, in the Northeast Division?” or "Would you mind introducing me to the other 3 U.S. Sales Directors within your company so I can present my services to them backed up by your referral?”

    2. Don’t be greedy.  Ask your customer to refer only a couple names to you.  Paradoxically, you get more referrals by asking for fewer! "Are there one or two Sales Directors who attend your quarterly meetings that you’d feel comfortable in helping me out with a referral? Your testimonial to my product and service would help me establish credibility.”  

    3. You should sound matter-of-fact and conversational. Don’t make it sound like this is uncomfortable or awkward for you.  "Since it would help your sales efforts, what if we were able to provide customer service training to the Customer Care and Technical Support staff at your company?  Would you mind introducing me to those managers?”
    So, now it’s time to write a list of your top 10 (or more) Champion Customer contacts by name. Analyze each person and make notes to indicate specifically how he or she could help you out with a few referrals.  The more specific and realistic your referral request is, the more comfortable it will feel.  Success will be more likely. 

    Please visit our website for more information on our Sales Prospecting and Business Development Workshop.  

  • Prospecting & The Power of One: The High Performing Salesperson

    06/20/2013 in Prospecting and Business Development

    In today’s business environment, most organizations now have to deal with factors such as market maturity, customer consolidation and increasing global competition.   These industry challenges make prospecting for new business even more difficult then ever, and all the more necessary for growth.  Most sales managers claim that their sales people spend too much of their time in their comfort zone and not enough time prospecting.

    Just take a moment to think about the power and the results of one great inventor or one successful businessperson, one charismatic leader, or even the power of one amazing idea.  People like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, Martin Luther King, and Bill Gates come to mind.

    The Power of One Great Sales Person 

    The results generated by one single high performing sales person can be remarkable.  Managers report that their top performing salespeople are not only highly skilled at their jobs, but they generate a disproportionate amount of sales results, such as profit growth and number of new accounts. Don’t underestimate the power of one great salesperson!  Now how can you get your entire sales team to do this?   

    The Power of One Great Coach 

    When surveyed, most sales managers cite that it is outside the comfort zone of their sales people to prospect for new business. As such, a sales manager must coach and develop the prospecting capabilities of each sales person.  Just because a sales person does a great job at account management, does not necessarily mean that this same person is comfortable and competent at business development.

    Research demonstrates that frequent coaching by a manager correlates to a significant increase in the skill and strategy level applied by a sales person.  Managers need to coach their salespeople in two ways.  First, they need to help the salesperson develop a strategy and plan which includes clear business goals and targets.  Second, they need to ensure that their salespeople have the necessary capabilities and skills needed for success.

    What Are The Most Common Mistakes Made by Sales Professionals?

    Sales people often make the same common mistakes when prospecting.  First, they don’t spend nearly enough time on prospecting for new business.  And when they do put forth the time and effort, they tend to go after the wrong types of prospects.  Sales people need to know how to identify and gain access to the best prospects.

    Not All Prospects are Created Equally

    A common mistake is to go after the wrong prospect.  Not only will this waste time and money, but if you do succeed in making a sale you will likely regret it.

    • The prospect has a genuine need or interest for your service or product 
    • The potential size of the sale justifies your selling effort and resources 
    • The timing is right (in terms of the "decision process" and deadline for decision) 
    • Your contact(s) have the authority to buy 
    • The money or funding is available in the budget 
    • The prospect values what you provide and is not just interested in price   

    Another mistake is to rely on non-productive and outdated prospecting methods.  Sales people need to understand and become proficient at creative and more productive ways to prospect, rather then relying on conventional methods such as cold calling over the telephone and just stopping in (what some firms call "smokestacking”).

    The best sales professionals use creative methods to prospect, such as:

    1. Stay active at industry associations (join a committee, give a speech, network, etc.
    2. Ask for referrals from current customers and others
    3. Use the Internet to research and identify the best sales opportunities
    4. Send targeted mailings and emails
    5. Conduct informational seminars (not a sales pitch, but an educational event) 

    Preparation for prospecting sales calls also differentiates the best sales professionals.  Average sales people ‘wing it’ whereas the best sales people prepare and practice what they will say, notably their "elevator speech”. Sales people who can describe in two minutes or less the value that their company, products and services can offer a potential customer are more likely to gain access and advance the sale. Conversely, those who have not formulated and practiced their value statements and  "elevator speeches” are not likely to get a second appointment.

    Similarly, since you may only get one chance to speak with a new prospective client, it is essential to prepare and ask the right questions in order to qualify the sales opportunity.  The best sales professionals ask the best questions. It sounds like common sense, but it is not common practice.   

    Please visit our Sales Prospecting and Business Development workshop page for more information.  

  • Not All Prospects Are Created Equal

    06/19/2013 in Prospecting and Business Development

    "...there are two great myths that destroy margins -
    all customers are created equal and
    all customers should be treated the same."
                                                    - STAR client

    The most common prospecting mistake is to go after the wrong prospect.  Not only does it waste time and money, but if you do succeed in making a sales you will likely regret it.

    An effective business development strategy should always be to win more and better quality new business.  The following process will help you to identify, gain access, and win new business with the right accounts.

    Set Clear Goals to Reflect "The Ones Worth Winning"

    How do you know who is worth winning?  You must target your best markets and prospects.  The first step in the prospecting pipeline is to set clear goals.  Average salespeople only set quantitative goals such as:

    • 5 new accounts this quarter
    • New sales revenue of $250,000 this year

    However, they fail to consider the qualitative difference of those accounts.  Are all accounts equally valuable?  Or are these accounts equally profitable?  Business development and sales strategies today utilize smart segmentation.  Focus on your best clients and prospects and deselect the least profitable ones.  A better way to state the above goals would be:

    • 5 new accounts this quarter with a minimum gross margin of X% at each account
    • New sales revenue of $250,000 this year in market segment XYZ (or for product/service ABC)

    A Great Prospect

    What are some key differentiating factors that distinguish a great lead or prospect?

    1. The prospect has a genuine need or interest for your service or product.  You want to avoid being "shopped."
    2. The potential size of the sale justifies your selling effort and resources.  One tip:  you shouldn't always go after the largest accounts.  Quite often, it is more profitable and easier to win mid-tier accounts.
    3. The timing is right (in terms of the "decision process" and deadline for decision).  How urgently does this customer need your product/service?
    4. Your contact(s) have the authority to buy.
    5. The money or funding is available in the budget.
    6. The prospect values what you provide and is not just interested in price.

    Visit our Sales Prospecting and Business Development workshop page for more details.  

  • Asking for Referrals

    06/07/2013 in Prospecting and Business Development

    Asking for a referral works best if you specify the type of person that you hope to be referred to, AND you match your request to fit the person you are asking. Below are three examples: 

    1. If I'm speaking to a Sales Manager at a large company: "Can you think of 2 or 3 other sales managers in your firm that might also benefit from Negotiation Skills training for their sales team?"
    2. If I'm speaking to a higher level sales executive (VP of Sales, for example) and I find out that the VP is responsible for another group that could benefit from a training workshop: "Would you be willing to refer me to a few of your distributors? It would be a win/win if we could teach their salespeople the same skills that your direct salespeople are learning."
    3. If I'm speaking to an HR Manager who is well-networked: "Would you be able to give me the names of a couple other HR managers at other companies who would be interested in the type of training that we provide?"