The Lost Art of Prospecting

Many people in sales roles today have never really had to go out and hunt for new business. Throughout most of the 90’s and until the GFC hit times were pretty good and there was high demand for what most the organisations we work with sell. Especially if you had an established brand, sales people could get away with being passive and reactive and as long as they looked after their existing customers they’d achieve the required results.

Times have changed and now many sales people are struggling to bring in new business, at a time when their organisations need it the most. Whilst we agree that customer retention and doing more business with existing customers is all important, many customers are spending less so it is vital to revive the art of prospecting for new customers.

One of the challenges is that there is a severe shortage of sales managers willing and able to mentor and coach their teams in the basic skills of selling. Most sales managers are stuck behind the desk buried in internal meetings and paperwork, checking the CRM system, fighting customer service fires and doing things other than developing a clear strategy, getting out in the field, working alongside their people, modelling the right behaviours, observing, giving feedback, mentoring and coaching their people.

As the sales and sales management skills have been lost, so too have the sales processes. Although the top performers have their own prospecting process that works for them, often there is no consistent approach across the organisation.  If there is no consistent process it often follows that there are no consistent measures. And when it comes to prospecting, the measures that do exist are not necessarily measuring the right activities and therefore the right behaviours are not being rewarded.

The reality is that there are very few sales people who like prospecting and there are always activities deemed more urgent and important. The key to effective prospecting and sustainable sales success is to get off the start line, religiously block out time each and every week and simply make more contacts with more of the right type of potential customers.

There are three core disciplines of an effective prospecting approach:

1. Target the right prospects – have a clear picture of who you want to do business with. In the first instance do a ‘commonality survey’, find out everything you can about your best customers, why they do business with you and seek out potential customers with similar profiles. Create a target list that you can methodically work through over a specific period. Work hard to earn (and ask for) referrals and use tools like LinkedIn to build your list.

2. Once you have defined who you want as a customer, regularly find ways to connect that work for you and add value for your prospect. Get good at the communication basics like making proactive phone calls, email, social media, voicemail, networking and hone your sales story.  Use tools like case studies, white papers, samples, endorsements and so on and leverage your marketing campaigns effectively.

3. Plan your work and work your plan. Selecting the right targets and arming yourself with the right skills and tools are pointless unless you take action. It takes discipline. Work backwards from your goals, do the math, figure out how much sales activity – number of targets, initial contacts, meetings, qualified prospects, proposals and so on, it takes for you to win a new customer.   Write your plan of attack and as Nike says “Just Do It.”

Sales are not lost at the ‘close’ they’re lost at the start. It’s the failure to start the sales process - to contact potential customers – that is the source of most lost business and poor sales results.

Contact us if your sales team has lost the art of prospecting and you’d like to win more new business.

Tags: business  coaching  sales  

Posted: Friday 23 November 2012

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