If your prospecting activity isn’t producing results, maybe you’re a “Counterfeit” Prospector.
For many salespeople, prospecting is a lot like going to the health club to exercise. You know it’s good for you, and you know that if you do it consistently, the results will be positive, but you still don’t do it as often as you should.
The search for new customers and increased business from current customers should be a never-ending part of any successful selling career, but prospecting is hard work, it’s sometimes uncomfortable, and not always a whole lot of fun. So it comes as no surprise that many salespeople stop prospecting as soon as they can, which is usually when they reach their financial comfort zone.
A recent study of more than 800 salespeople in 27 industries indicated that prospecting activity diminishes dramatically as soon as salespeople are able to describe their financial situation as “comfortable” or “very comfortable”.
But as distasteful as it may be for many salespeople, prospecting is still a MUST DO, at least in the minds of their sales managers. There are three common prospecting “profiles” among salespeople: a) The Non-prospector, b) The Counterfeit Prospector, and c) The Internally Driven Prospector.
The Non-Prospector is easiest to spot. Because they don’t prospect. Period. They may not TELL you that they’re not prospecting, but they decided at some point, either consciously or unconsciously, that the pain associated with prospecting just wasn’t worth the potential rewards. Much like the person who doesn’t bother even GOING to the health club anymore, because it just isn’t worth the effort.
The Internally Driven Prospector is almost as easy to spot. They don’t need a sales manager or anyone else to motivate them to prospect. Their prospecting “radar” is always at work, scanning for potential business. Even though prospecting may not be their favorite activity, an intense desire to grow the business is their dominant driving force. Like the athlete who exercises daily, without complaints or excuses, because of a strong personal motivation to be fit and healthy.
The Counterfeit Prospector, on the other hand, is often very difficult to recognize. They usually APPEAR to be prospecting regularly – making initial phone calls, asking for referrals, following up on leads, meeting with potential customers, etc. – but their actions are driven externally, by a sales manager, financial pressure or some other external factor pushing them to prospect. They do what they know is expected of them, but their heart isn’t in it.
Counterfeit Prospectors often don’t even recognize themselves, because they ARE generating prospecting activity. Their sales reports look good. Everything seems fine, except for the actual growth rate of their business, and they can point to many other factors dampening growth potential. But because they lack a true internal drive to prospect, they often spend time VISITING with prospective customers, thinking that this counts as a prospecting call. They make phone calls to prospects to “check in” and “touch bases” and “see how you’re doing”. When introducing new products to a current customer they don’t passionately and professionally ADVOCATE the new product. Instead they call on the customer and “run it up the flag pole” to see if it flies.
When Counterfeit Prospectors spend time VISITING with prospect, they tell themselves they’re prospecting, and they believe they are, but in reality, they’re just hanging around, hoping for low-hanging fruit to fall off the tree. And occasionally some does, so they feel good about their efforts.
Like the person who goes to the health club regularly, but spends more time in the sauna than actually exercising, they feel good about what they’re doing – look at all that sweat! – but ultimately the results speak for themselves.
Now, since they often don’t recognize themselves, is it possible that YOU are a Counterfeit Prospector without knowing it? Answer the following questions.
- Is building and maintaining strong personal relationships with customers the key to your selling success?
- Would you describe your current financial status as “comfortable” or “very comfortable”?
- Is your business growing LESS than 15% ANNUALLY?
- Do you have friendly relationships with many prospects you’ve called on numerous times, without generating any business?
- Is maintaining and strengthening your CURRENT business relationships more important than developing NEW business relationships?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of the questions, it’s quite possible that you’re a counterfeit prospector. This doesn’t mean that you’re not prospecting at all or working to generate new business. But whatever your prospecting activity level, you may not have the internal drive necessary to be a truly effective prospector. And learning new prospecting skills isn’t necessarily the answer, because you probably have the skills – what you lack is internal prospecting motivation.
If you take a hard, honest look at yourself and realize it’s possible that you might in fact be a Counterfeit Prospector, does that mean you’re a hopeless case? Of course not. In fact, identifying motivation as your key prospecting challenge is a first huge step toward becoming an extraordinary prospector. Because you CAN develop greater internal prospecting motivation. And when you DO develop a high degree of internal prospecting motivation, backed up by an effective prospecting plan, you’ll find that you’re prospecting calls begin to consistently produce RESULTS, not just activity.
The first step toward developing greater internal prospecting motivation is to identify and replace any limiting beliefs you may have about the growth potential of your business. Have you convinced yourself that robust growth just isn’t possible in your territory? If so, that belief will stop you cold.
How do you decide what the growth potential of your territory is? Counterfeit Prospectors generally just look at what they’ve done in the past, and what others in the same region have done, and to them that represents the territory potential. As long as their growth rate isn’t too far out of line with historical averages, they feel pretty good about their results. But internally motivated prospectors don’t compare their results with past performance. Instead, they compare their results with the true territory potential.
INCREASE YOUR PROSPECTING MOTIVATION
The past does not equal the future and historical growth rate IS NOT a true indicator of territory potential. How much business could you be doing if you had 100% market share, with EVERY prospective customer buying the highest-margin products? Whether or not that goal is achievable, it does represent the true POTENTIAL of your territory. And internally motivated prospectors are determined to achieve as much of that potential as possible.
Take a close look at your beliefs regarding that growth potential of your territory and ask yourself if you’ve been basing your growth assumptions on the past, rather than the true potential of your territory.
The second step toward developing greater internal prospecting motivation is to find YOUR reasons for wanting better prospecting results – not your sales manager’s reasons. Not your company’s reasons. YOUR reasons. If you’re money-motivated, then set a financial goal and decide how you’ll reward yourself when you achieve it. But there may be other factors that are more motivating to you: competitive drive, recognition, pride, etc. You’re the expert on you, so find a compelling REASON for better prospecting results that works for YOU.
The third step toward developing greater internal prospecting motivation is to develop a consistent prospecting plan that you know you can execute throughout the rest of your selling career. Not a one-time shot, but a consistent prospecting approach.
Developing a consistent prospecting plan that you can live with for the rest of your selling career can have an enormous impact on your business. Because in addition to increasing your actual prospecting results, it also helps keep your selling skills finely tuned. The old saying “use it or lose it” applies as much to selling as to anything else, and whether you realize it or not, if you spend most of your time with current customers, you’re likely to lose some key skills: Asking tactical and strategic questions, identifying and confirming needs, handling stalls and objections, etc. Salespeople who are always actively prospecting, on the other hand, have to use these skills every day, which keeps them better prepared to work with prospects AND current customers.
CREATE AN EFFECTIVE PROSPECTING PLAN
So how do you develop a consistent prospecting plan? First, commit to a specific prospecting time each week, and mark in on your planning calendar just like any other important event or meeting. You may set aside 30 minutes every weekday, or a larger block of time one day a week. The amount of time and the specific schedule is up to you, but 2 to 4 hours should be the MINIMUM.
Second, be prepared with a list of names before you start calling. Not being prepared with a list of names will force you to devote much, if not all of your prospecting time to finding the names you need. You’ll have been busy, and feel as though you worked hard, but you will have made few calls.
Third, be organized. Use modern technology to maximize the effectiveness of your prospecting and follow-up. The contact management system you choose should allow you to record a follow-up call three years from today with no more difficulty than it would be to record one for tomorrow.
Fourth, work without interruption. Don’t take incoming calls (except from prospects) and don’t schedule other meetings during your prospecting time. This helps you to take full advantage of the prospecting learning curve. As with any repetitive task, the more often you repeat the task during a contiguous block of time, the better you become. Prospecting is no exception to the rule. Your second call will be better than your first, your third better than you second, and so on. You’ll find that your prospecting technique actually improves over the course of your prospecting period.
Fifth, consider prospecting during off-peak hours when conventional prospecting times don’t work. Conventional cold calling hours are between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM, but when those hours are not working for you, consider switching or supplementing your prospecting time by prospecting during off-peak hours. Some of your best work will be done between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM, between 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM, and between 5:00 PM and 6:30 PM. And vary your call times. We are all creatures of habit, and so are your prospects. In all likelihood, they are attending the same meeting each Monday at 10:00 AM. If you cannot get through at this time, learn from your lack of success and call this particular prospect at other times during the day or, on other days.
And one final suggestion: Make your prospecting calls brief. The objective of the prospecting call (either on the telephone or in person) is to get the appointment to have a more in-depth discussion. You certainly will need to share some information with the prospect initially, but if you get bogged down in a detailed conversation you may very well talk yourself out of the chance to have a more substantive conversation.
So what do you actually say to the prospect? Most actual prospecting activity begins with an initial telephone call, or in some cases, an initial meeting where the salesperson “drops by” without an appointment, hoping to introduce themselves to the prospect.
In either case, the best way to begin is with a brief opening BENEFIT statement, followed by a carefully planned and delivered question that tests for receptivity. Whether prospecting on the telephone or in person, here are a few examples of opening benefits statements and tests for receptivity that can open a call nicely:
“Mr. Molitor, our company is committed to delivering solutions that improve the motivation, morale and performance of employees, but I obviously don’t know specifically how we could best be of service to you. Could I ask a few questions to help us both quickly decide whether or not you and I should talk in more detail?”
Here’s another example:
“Mrs. Watkins, as the industry leader, we are in a unique position to help you enhance the morale, motivation and performance of your employees. And the fact that we have a local office means you’re working with a national, reputable company, and you also have the convenience and personal attention of a local business. Could I could ask you a few questions to help you and I both decide whether or not we should talk in more detail?”
This approach works well because you gain control without being pushy as you complete three critical steps: First, you get the prospect’s attention with a positive benefit statement, then test for receptivity by politely asking permission to ask a few questions. Second, you ask carefully crafted questions to determine need, decision-making ability and financial potential. And third, you advance in small steps, requesting only a modest time commitment from the prospect – making it easy for them to say “yes” to the next step.
Now, most often, with this approach, you’re going to have a prospective customer agree to a few questions.
Occasionally a prospect won’t be willing to answer questions, and we’ll deal with methods for handling that situation in a moment, but for now let’s assume that the customer agrees to a brief conversation with you. So you need to have a few questions prepared.
And, while we know that eventually there are many, many things you need to discover about the prospective customer, initially you want to focus on three areas. Asking questions to determine: Need, Potential and Decision Making Authority.
Determining the degree to which the prospect has a NEED for your product or service is pretty straightforward, but you don’t want to make the common mistake of asking overly direct questions. Because at this point the prospect isn’t usually highly motivated to give you the information you need to sell them, so asking for that information needs to be done subtly and graciously with carefully crafted questions.
You also want to avoid asking overly OBVIOUS questions. Some salespeople call these “duh” questions, because, even if the customer answers them, what their really thinking is “duh, what do you EXPECT me to say?”
“Mr. Jones, this is George Plotter with Dynatran, if I could show you a way to save money and improve your computer systems at the same time, could you be interested?”
“Mrs. Wilson, are you interested in way to have faster processing, with fewer headaches and hassles?”
Asking obvious or overly direct questions can make the prospect feel uncomfortable, and make the salesperson look, well – like a typical salesperson.
The ability to ask intelligent, relevant questions at the right time is THE most important prospecting skill. Carefully crafted questions accomplish the following three important sales objectives:
- Controlling the sales process without appearing aggressive or pushy.
- Getting the prospect’s attention and require them to “engage” with you mentally.
- Building comfort and rapport with the prospect.
Remember, the key to an effective prospecting call is to open with benefits, gain permission to question, then ask carefully crafted questions to determine need, potential and decision-making authority.