Beware new salespeople: Prospecting can break you.
Now that we got the hard truth out of the way, let’s get down to why prospecting won’t break you.
Knowledge is power in sales. The more you know about prospecting, the more likely you will win!
Behold new salespeople (and any veteran who wants to be re-indoctrinated or reinvigorated). Your guide to prospecting includes:
What is prospecting
Prospecting today isn’t too different than when the name originated: The Gold Rush. Prospectors looked for tiny bits of gold in mounds of dirt.
Now, salespeople sift through mounds of leads to find the golden opportunity.
In prospecting, sales professionals try to develop new business by identifying potential customers, connecting with them and moving them through the sales funnel until they buy. The key is finding prospects who need the solution you offer and are right fits for your products or services.
Most organizations have inbound and outbound prospecting. In outbound prospecting, sales development reps or salespeople reach out to leads via call, email or social media. With inbound prospecting, sale pros respond – within an hour, ideally – to requests or contacts that come in through lead generation efforts.
Why you need to master prospecting
New salespeople are often eager to close sales quickly. That’s understandable: Quick sales are proof that you rock the job. But the desire to rush things can make you skip over the fundamentals – especially prospecting – that were the foundation of early success.
“When you’re scared about not getting the business, your prospects can intuitively sense your fear,” says Jill Konrath, author of More Sales, Less Time. “One of the major symptoms is rushing the sales process.”
But prospecting works: 91% of prospects say they’d be willing to engage with a salesperson early in the buying process.
And prospecting works most effectively when you’re diligent about the pre-contact research. Proof:
- More than 85% of buyers accept meetings with salespeople who reach out to them
- Those prospects will give an average of five to 10 minutes for salespeople to prove they have something valuable to offer, and
- Prospects said this gets their attention:
- data that’s relevant specifically to their business
- content that’s customized to them individually
- insight on how the the solution will fix their exact problems, and
- best-practice methods geared toward them specifically.
New salespeople will most likely find success using a variety of prospecting methods. You’ll probably want to mix them up regularly, too, because one will work for some time and then won’t. Or one will work with a certain buyer persona, and not with another. Here are nine to try:
It’s not dead. At all. Cold calling – reaching out to leads you don’t know randomly – is often the least favorite of salespeople, whether they’re new or not. But cold calling works when it’s defined and implemented strategically. It simply can’t be dismissed.
As a newer salesperson, you’ll likely be given a procured list of leads for cold calling. Over time and trial, you’ll learn to develop more of your own cold calling techniques and the other prospecting avenues that follow here.
More ideal than a cold is a warm call – one you make with some context. You want to familiarize prospects with your name and company before you reach out. A couple of ways:
- comment/compliment or otherwise engage with prospects over something they’ve shared on social media
- introduce yourself at a networking event, or
- “like” and comment on something significant such as a job change or accomplishment.
Join relevant groups
Look for and join Facebook groups that your ideal customers relate to or are interested in. Join to participate, not to pitch. Show them something different by posing intriguing questions related to their interests or profession. Answer with insight, tips and points you’ve gathered from research or best practices.
Get your LinkedIn on
Equally – if not more – important is a serious presence on LinkedIn and active membership in industry groups. As a new salesperson, you can learn a lot about your industry and ideal customers just by joining LinkedIn groups.
Once you build some credibility in LinkedIn groups, you can more confidently and appropriately contact group members – via personal message – for prospecting.
You can search for topics you have some knowledge and experience with (based on your new hire training, past work and industry knowledge). Lots of people will read the answers, so you want yours to be the most comprehensive. When appropriate, lead them to follow you on social media to create and build better relationships.
Email with context
Sending email – and hoping for a response – to an unknown lead is a bit more comforting than cold calling. But it has a lower success rate.
Again, as a new salesperson, you’ll most likely get leads to prospect through your organization’s lead generation plan. The key to getting results from prospecting to those leads is research. Even if you use a scripted outbound email, you must find out more about each lead by researching them and their possible pain points (and here are more than 30 sales prospecting email templates good for new salespeople).
Send snail mail
Don’t knock it! A handwritten note or small package delivered in the mail will get more attention than an email.
Ideally, reach out to high-quality leads via snail mail after you’ve made inroads with email or on the phone.
Join networking groups
In these, you have to physically show up at events that can help you meet potential customers and peers.
Most local chambers of commerce have networking groups and events. You can also find others by location, industry or interest at Meetup.com
Don’t show up just to hand out business cards (yes, you’ll want those for the event). Ask questions and listen for new insights into your peers, prospects, industry and area. You can find warm leads, partnerships or just a like-minded peer.
Plan a peer luncheon
You aren’t the only new salesperson out there. So get together with others across industries.
Here’s why informal peer luncheons (coffee break, happy hour, book club, etc.) work: Veteran salespeople have built a client list that lends itself to referrals and cross- or up-sells. Newer salespeople haven’t developed that yet. Connecting with salespeople across different industries in your area opens opportunities to talk shop and potentially find you have solutions that complement each other, which often leads to ways to prospect more effectively.
Best practices for prospecting
Nearly every salesperson will create a prospecting style – and finesse it over time as buyers, needs and the industry shifts.
But there are some practices that will always be solid for effective for prospecting. Those include these seven:
Most sales veterans, leaders and experts agree: Research is the most important element to successful prospecting. If you only reach out to qualified leads – those who fit your ideal customer profile and can truly benefit from your solution – you will spend prospecting time well. You won’t waste time and energy on low-quality leads that go nowhere.
Research starts with a cursory search of websites, social media profiles and online activity. Look for connections you might already have – and access them if they exist. And try to find stated needs through social media activity, professional, business or personal announcements.
Reference a script
A script is a must in the early stages of prospecting. As your skill and confidence grow, you still don’t want to wander too far from it. Keep a basic script for reference while prospecting to curb uncomfortable pauses, be ready for common objections or get conversations gone astray back on track.
You don’t ever have to – or want to – read word-for-word, but keep a script handy as a guide.
Make the time
Prospecting will not get easier by not getting done. If you don’t block off time for prospecting every week – and ideally every day – sales won’t close.
Make prospecting a priority on your calendar. Set up goals and times for each week, plus an extended monthly calendar that includes follow-up work.
Skip the sell
Prospecting is about building relationships, not selling your solution. Don’t rush through this early funnel stage trying to talk solutions when you should be probing and listening to problems.
The goal for prospecting is to make an appointment, not a sale. You want to ask the right questions (and here are 53 of them) and listen for the answers that explain pain points. Confirm you understand those pain points and address them in detail when you get the appointment.
Commit to the long haul
“It takes more attempts than most people think to get through to top prospects,” says John Doerr, President of The RAIN Group. It can often take seven, eight, nine, or more. That number goes up and down – across different industries and when you reach out to different titles. What’s always true though is that it takes more attempts to get through to your targets than you think.”
Use a variety of tactics
We gave you a bunch of choices for reaching out and warming up prospects, and Doerr made it clear a single contact won’t work.
What does work: A variety of touches, numerous times. Even more important is to include something valuable in every contact – information prospects didn’t have, access to something new, a different perspective, etc.
Sales don’t usually wrap up in one call or meeting. Follow up every time you are in a prospecting situation to confirm what was discussed and agreed on, and set the stage for the next contact.
For instance, an email might say: “Jerry – glad we got to chat today. I was intrigued to hear how you handle X. If I understand correctly, you need Y. We agreed that our solutions have helped buyers like you achieve A and B. Let’s go over that later this week. You indicated Thursday afternoon was open. What time would you prefer?”