- Posted by Graham Dockrill
- On April 23, 2018
- 0 Comments
- business, pitching, prospecting, sales, strategy
The singer Meatloaf famously sang, “You’ll never find your gold on a sandy beach, you’ll never drill for oil on a city street…” Although Meatloaf was singing about true love, these lyrics can also be applied to sales prospecting. There’s a simple reason ‘prospecting’ is a term used amongst treasure hunters and sales executives alike. In both professions, the goal of prospecting is to hunt, dig and unearth valuables. For treasure seekers, those spoils include precious metals and gemstones. For sales people, it’s viable clients who will hopefully yield lucrative deals.
Whether you’re prospecting for hidden jewels or your next client, the secret to success is having a clearly defined strategy. Before you head out on your hunt, make sure you have a focused, articulate plan in place. When it comes to prospecting, the narrower the focus, the more chance you have of success. In many other instances of business planning, failing to broaden your view and see the big picture is a bad thing. However, when it comes to prospecting and sales, having a narrow focus is extremely beneficial. I refer to this as ‘sniper sales’, and myself as a ‘sniper salesman’ giving my customers clarity on exactly what I offer and what I do.
LinkedIn is a great sales tool for a salesperson to research and qualify potential prospects. It can also be a little overwhelming if you don’t have a plan – there are 467,000,000 members on LinkedIn. To help you hunt and be as successful as possible, you need to have targets that are as focused as possible.
Your first step is to create an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). Your second step is to focus on a specific segment of your ICP. For example, if you’ve chosen to go after medical professionals, then one segment should focus exclusively on dermatologists, another on podiatrists, and so on.. That will allow you to develop laser-focused lists of potential clients and make it easier for you to hone your specific pitch for that specific segment.
To succeed in sales you consistently need to think outside the box to get your customers in the box. Add to that the wealth of information you’re expected to communicate on calls and it can be tough for even the most seasoned salesperson to sound and look natural and engaging whilst avoiding cheesy used car salesman talk.
It sounds obvious but when meeting or talking to a prospective client for the first time, don’t rush the conversation. Listen and understand the need and the pain point you can solve. When talking to business owners I always open with a warm, friendly prelude. “So tell me, how’s business… are you doing alright?” This may seem trite and cheesy – it’s not. I’m genuinely interested and you can always learn so much from another business owner. Often the client’s response is, “Well, to tell you the truth, I’m swamped and I’ve got this problem…” It gives the person I’m talking to the chance to respond as well as giving me something from which to build a genuine conversation. It’s a very simple ice breaker that always yields a bond and further opportunity to add value.
“So tell me, how’s business… are you doing alright?”
Sometimes it’s okay to be a little quirky. If it suits your personality, adopt phrases and colloquialisms that match your selling style. While authenticity is paramount in sales, there is always a little bit of showmanship required to stand out from your competitors. Our brains tend to be lazy; when we hear the same words, and phrases we’ve heard a million times before, they tend to go into autopilot and react accordingly. Thus, if every time you’ve answered a sales call you’ve heard, “Hello, Miss Robinson? I’m ‘So and So’ from ‘Such and Such’…” it doesn’t take long for your brain to wire itself to tune out and hang up whenever it hears that phrase. That’s why meeting someone for the first time, starting with something unexpected like, “So, tell me, how’s business…you doing alright?” can be so effective. Just ensure its sincere and you are genuinely interested.
Rather than giving the potential customer’s brain permission to tune out, this approach wakes it up and virtually guarantees an engaging conversation. Don’t forget, it is a conversation, you should be doing most of the listening. It’s a common trap for salespeople to talk too much. Listen and learn. Studies have shown that the most successful sales people don’t monopolise conversations. Instead, they let their clients do most the talking. If you want to get really technical, studies suggest this should be at a ratio of 43:57. Accomplishing this goal means asking open-ended questions that allow the customer to talk and you to listen, gleaning insight you can use to close the sale. That means getting the client to share their problems with you and then offering them a solution via your product or service. Underlying all these conversations is trust.
Sales is a tough business and rejection can grind anybody down. That’s why finding every opportunity for humour and creating an atmosphere filled with levity and optimism is crucial to a successful sales environment. I personally use humour to push through the constant rejections you get in every day sales. Secondly, always remember to celebrate the success. It’s just as important to recognise how far you have come as well as how far you must go. One of my favourite sayings is “even a flood must start with a single drop of rain”. Celebrate the successes as you build up towards the ultimate goal.
One unique difference with regards to prospecting is you need a very large sales funnel – it’s quantity over quality. While this may sound counter intuitive, even with ‘sniper sales’, you need a large volume of opportunity to succeed. While there’s merit in the approach that the more time spent researching the details of a potential client’s persona via their company website, LinkedIn profile and other channels, the better the chance of landing a deal. The reality is it takes at least eight touches to make a sale, and the time spent finding out what kind of dog he has or what his favourite flavour of ice cream is would be better spent strategising your next seven touches.
A small amount of research is wise, however what will get the sale, is persistence. Again, studies have shown that it takes a minimum of eight touches to close a sale. So, rather than prospecting for the ‘silver bullet’ to nail the deal, focus on prospecting for volume with everything in your armoury.
Finally, the old adage that ‘time is money’ still rings true. The most successful sales people are meticulous when it comes to time blocking. Slow and steady may win some races, but that’s not the case in sales. Instead, it’s several sprints throughout the day, each one broken up by a short break.
I’m a fan of the Pomodoro method., This was devised by a college student named Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The Pomodoro Method, (named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer he used to keep track of his intervals), involves working on tasks in short, focused bursts (25 minutes to be exact) followed by a five-minute break. After four 25-minute ‘pomodoros’ one earns a longer (25–30 minute) break. This keeps the brain focused on the task at hand and helps prevent distractions.
Since sales is all about repetition, the Pomodoro Method is a perfect way for you to structure your day and help prevent burnout. It also allows you to briefly reflect on each burst of work and identify what you can do better.
Prospecting for sales without a well-honed plan is a recipe for disaster. It wastes time and resources, and is a sure fire way to burn out and become disillusioned. By following these practical steps you can help ensure both your professional and business success.
Graham Dockrill is a ‘sniper salesman’ specialising in the alignment of strategy and sales. He draws on over 20 years of selling experience in various global markets to develop strategies that deliver results and achieve success for his clients. A sought-after business strategist, investor and entrepreneur, Graham is Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Entrepreneurship. Graham is also the founder of Citrus Tree Consultants.