The Four Characteristics Needed to Excel at Sales Prospecting

Posted on 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.