Prospecting: Tips for Digging to Find Sales Gold

There are very few certainties in selling. And, in these economic times, we all know that no sale is a sure thing.

How we sell differs from salesperson to salesperson. Some salespeople are strong presenters; others are better negotiators or closers.

Each of our styles is as individual as our fingerprints. However, there is one certainty in selling: the lack of qualified, strong leads will be our demise.

Coming up with (and finding the time to devote to) a full sales pipeline is a constant challenge. Our typical sales cycles tend to trend cyclically. We sell the projects and then we do all of the follow up work to facilitate the success of said project. This can create an up and down effect in our sales.

Finding the time to prospect while we’re selling or managing the projects can be tough. But waiting to prospect until you’re not busy is too late; while you are working on projects, you must set aside time to find, develop and cultivate existing or new relationships that will produce future work.

Prospecting Challenge

There are several reasons why we may be reluctant to spend time prospecting:

  • Great salespeople are not always great lead generators. They may be fantastic project managers, or perfect when it comes to closing warm leads, but they may struggle to find new opportunities.
  • Cold calling blues. Nobody likes to receive cold calls themselves, let alone having to make them. The fear of calling someone they don’t know and asking for new business is very real.
  • They waited too long to begin. Prospecting is far more difficult when we wait too long to start and don’t have enough opportunities in the works.

Maybe we don’t have prospecting in our skill set or we’re just not motivated. But these challenges can be overcome with three simple steps: develop your message (concisely), find the right delivery medium and become highly disciplined.

First, know that having the correct message is key. Developing a short, strong message that will instill trust in the party on the other end is crucial. We need to let potential buyers know we can provide them with answers to their problems as well as products and services that will fulfill a need.

Instead of being just another seller, distinguish yourself by finding out exactly why your customers do business with you. What do they admire about you, your business, your products and your services? How have your solutions changed their lives and how could this be a potential solution to your new prospect?

Use that information to create your unique and genuine message. This not only makes you more comfortable with the process of finding and approaching potential clients, it also allows you to start better conversations, ones that are focused on prospects’ needs, and the value you can bring them, rather than your offerings.

Secondly, you will need to determine which means of contact will have the most impact. You want to reach out to prospects in a medium that will guarantee the best results. If you’re reaching out by phone and encounter the “gatekeeper” (the person responsible for screening the calls for the decision makers), find out from that person how best to reach your contact.

Finally, develop a regular schedule. Set aside time daily or weekly to devote solely to generating new leads. You must commit to regularly working to generate new leads. And, don’t stop prospecting when you get new business. Always continue this scheduled lead generation and it will pay off over the long term.

Because this is a key component in your sales strategy, you must also hold yourself accountable to maintain this schedule. Set some personal goals to achieve. Whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly, strive to achieve your prospecting goals. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before your pipeline empties.

Gauging Prospects' Interest

So, what happens when you can’t get a prospect to do business with you? We’ve all been there. After countless calls, meetings and work, you just can’t get the customer to say yes and move forward. It’s hard to give up when you’ve invested so much time. But ultimately, you must determine if the prospect is truly a prospect or nothing more than a lost lead.

One solution is to try to include the potential customer in the buying process. Getting prospects involved can help facilitate moving the sale along. If they refuse to get involved, they’re likely not going to buy from you.

Here’s a good way to test their interest: After a meeting or conversation with them, ask them to do something as a follow up. Perhaps you can ask them to review something for you, either an email or something on a Web site. If they take the time to respond, chances are they are still interested in doing business with you.

I used this with a new builder we were trying to get to use our company. He said he was looking for a new cabinet company to do business with; as long as it met similar price comparisons to his usual supplier, he’d be happy to make the switch.

After much back and forth and weeks of estimating one job over and over, I was starting to think he was using us as a market pricing gauge. So after no real sense of commitment, I reached out to him and drove him to our Web site under the guise of showing him a picture of a similar project’s door style, color selection and design detailing to see if this was what he was looking for with the project we had quoted. He obliged, and we spoke in length about the similarities between the projects. This gave me some hope that he was still interested.

Not only did it solidify our abilities to execute, but it related a finished project with a project he was working on. It turns out he had asked the homeowner to view our Web site and that project in particular. They did eventually go to our Web site, and they, too, shared the vision of the similarities between their project and the one we finished that was close in design. As a result, we eventually got the job.

I know this is not a foolproof way to determine if the client is serious, but it can be very effective.

So, at the end of the day, keep your prospecting at the forefront of your mind, regardless of how busy you feel. Concentrate on ways to help turn those prospects into customers by using your skills to determine which prospects will become clients and which prospects you will move on from. The only sales you’re going to close are going to be with prospects who show interest in what you’re providing and confidence in how you’re providing it.