I recently had the opportunity to talk with a VP of Sales for a small company. We were talking about the state of his business, his prospects for growth for the coming year and how his sales reps were performing.
As our discussion continued, the conversation turned towards new customer acquisition and prospecting for new business. He stated that he was concerned about his sales reps prospecting abilities and whether or not they actually had the capacity, desire, and skill sets to do the prospecting required to grow his business.
The more we talked the more I began to realize that he was actually talking about Cold Calling. Like many, he was confusing prospecting with cold calling.
All to often people interchange the word prospecting with cold calling. Its rather unfortunate as prospecting and cold calling are actually quite different sales activities.
Cold calling in it self is an act. It’s the act of calling or visiting someone who is not known and for that matter not expecting you to contact them. Blindly calling (aka “Dialing for Dollars” or “Smiling and Dialing”) or walking into an unsuspecting business asking “any Widgets today?” is nothing more than interrupting someone’s already busy day. While most sales experts today will tell you that Cold calling is highly ineffective, it is still a key element (aka. requirement) in most sales organizations.
Prospecting, on the other hand, is a process and as such their are many steps in the “process”. As with any “process”, the number of steps and the actions taken in each, are as varied as the organizations themselves. For the purpose of this discussion, I have broken the process into five steps.
Step 1: Defining the ideal client. In this step you want to define who is the most likely to purchase your product or service. To me, nothing breeds success like success so start by looking at your organizations existing clients. What vertical markets are they in? How large of a company (revenues, employees, etc) are they? Why did they buy? What problem did your product or service solve? What are the key results and benefits achieved by implementing your solutions? Who are their competitors and what other companies are similar to them? Are there sub-markets that may be similar?
Step 2: List building & Suspect identification. Once you have defined your ideal clients, you want to begin building a comprehensive list of “suspects”. There are a variety of different sources available for building a list of suspects; D&B, Hoovers, your internal customer management systems, etc. One often overlooked resource for suspect identification is your local library and the ever resourceful librarian. Just provide them with the specifics you are looking for and before you know it, they will provide you with a comprehensive list of suspects.
Step 3: Research and Data Gathering. Once you have your list of suspects, the next step in the process is conducting your research and gathering of the data. You want to find out as much information about the organizations as possible; financial status, rate of growth, recent announcements, key personnel, key vendor relationships, etc. Information can be found on their company website or through news articles via key word searches on Google. A couple of my favorite and “key” sources of information come directly from Yahoo Finance and MSN money. Its amazing what information you can discover from these sites. Also, don’t forget the advanced search capabilities of LinkedIn.
Step 4: Strategize and Prioritize. Utilizing the information garnered from your research you want to identify which accounts to prioritize. Obviously what information you discovered during your research will determine which accounts get prioritization. Things like new partnerships, acquisitions, expansions, key executive initiatives, etc., will help to determine which accounts you want to start with first. At this point you may also want to begin to plan your strategy and your approach.
Step 5: Contact. While this step is the final step in this process, it is really the beginning of a whole new process (but more on that in a later post). The messages and methods utilized are as varied as the companies that you are contacting but it is important to recognize that you will need a well orchestrated mix of email, “snail” mail, and direct phone calls. Statistics say that it will take between 3 and 6 touches before someone will agree to see you so it is important to be patient and persistent. Also, just because you can’t get through to a certain level doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try other contacts within the same account. The approach of “high, wide, and deep” has served me well over the years and it is always easier to get someone to meet with you when you can get an internal referral or reference someone from inside the organization.
All to often, cold calling and prospecting are mistakenly used interchangeably. Far too many Sales Professionals lose their jobs or fail to achieve their true potential because they mistakenly confused cold calling with prospecting. It is important to remember Cold calling is not prospecting.
Prospecting is an essential component for any sales organization. The ability to implement a quality “process” that is predictable, repeatable, and quantifiable is a critical for long-term sales success.
What’s your “Process”?
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