sales prospecting

Sales Prospecting – How to Plan It and Do It

Latest posts by Jeff Williams (see all)

The only true test of effective marketing is whether it produced a profit.

For many new business owners, the most trying and nerve-wracking part of producing a profit is convincing the prospective customer to buy what you are offering. This process is made even more challenging by the existence of successful and experienced competitors.

Very few of us enjoy going out without any previous knowledge to knock on doors until someone says yes. This approach usually results in more no’s than most of us can stand.

How do we avoid such mass rejection?

By carefully creating a plan to sell, just as we planned what legal form our business would take or where we would locate.

We must focus first and foremost on the fact that selling is a game of numbers – even the best salespeople rarely exceed one sale for every five sales calls. The constant need to find, approach and persuade new sales prospects can wear you out if you have not developed a plan in advance.

Start off your planning by putting yourself in the shoes of your sales prospect.

Your prospective customer usually has many other things to do beside listen and respond to your sales message. Your challenge is tough: Convince them that they cannot live without your product or service.

Persistence is critical to selling success – surveys show that the average sale occurs only after the fifth sales contact. You obviously can’t wait around for a single sales lead to mature; you must continuously make new contacts to start the selling process. As you will see later in this article, learning how to tell if a lead is a good prospect is essential to successful selling.

Many new entrepreneurs would be very happy if they could just spend each day organizing their business and producing their product or service. But then who would get the order?

Having the courage and determination to stay with a prospect until you “grab the brass ring” is the biggest challenge you have in your new business. Never forget: Nothing happens until someone sells something.

Becoming A Problem Solver

The difference between successful sellers and mediocre sellers is often not a major difference in approach but instead a significant difference in attitude.

The best salespeople see themselves not as hucksters but as problem-solvers. Their challenge on each sales call is to determine the customer’s problem or need and convincingly offer a solution.

You really won’t convince most people to buy anything that doesn’t present a clear benefit to them. Your challenge is to convince the prospect that the value of what you are offering is much greater than its cost.

Your ammunition for achieving this end comes from listening carefully to what the customer says. Listening patiently can be a big problem for many new business owners who are eager to take action – if it is for you, force yourself to sit still and pay attention.

Your goal is to find and keep customers, thereby assuring repeat sales. Just as with friends, you do this by entering into a relationship with your customer – you show you care about their emotional, financial and organizational needs on an ongoing basis, not just when you want an order.

The Successful Selling Formula

Selling, probably more than any other marketing activity, is based on known formulas for success. The path to sales success follows these steps:

  1. Develop a clear and convincing sales message.
  2. Create a way to communicate this message.
  3. Develop sources for leads
  4. Prospect effectively

Let’s look at each of these steps in detail.

Your Sales Message

Even though you may feel pretty confident that you understand your business idea, can you persuasively describe what you intend to do to others?

An effective sales story combines the following: A quick but understandable explanation of what niche your business fits into; what the key features are; what benefits the buyer receives; how it can be bought.

To help you create a written sales message, you may want to use the answers to these questions:

  • What is the one most important customer problem you feel you can solve?
  • How is your company qualified to provide this solution?
  • What are the two or three benefits to your customer from using your product or service?
  • What action do you wish the prospect/customer to take?

Once you have answered these questions, you must practice putting them together from memory. Just as you rehearse for a play, you practice saying your sales message.

Communicating Your Sales Message

There are many ways to tell your sales message – flyers, skywriting, billboards, matchbooks, signs at bus stops and lots more. But our favorite combination is effective and not costly: One or more sales letters and a brochure.

The keys to a successful sales letter are:

  1. Start off strong. Open with an attention-getting sentence, such as ‘You may not realize that you already own one-half of a very powerful billing system” (the phone). Or pose a question, such as, “Is your phone ringing off the hook with calls from new entrepreneurs?”.
  2. Connect the opening to the body. Use each of the next three or four paragraphs to detail one benefit to the user from your product or service.
  3. Wrap up with a “clincher”. State in one sentence how your product or service will clearly help the reader of your letter.
  4. Close with a call to action. End your letter by telling the reader exactly what you would like them to do next. The easier it is to do this, the more likely it will be done.

When the reader wants more information quickly or is ready to make a decision, he or she will want to be able to read more about your company and your products. The selling brochure does a very effective job of doing this in a small amount of space. The key parts of a professional brochure are:

The cover. Leave a lot of white space here to catch the eye and excite interest in knowing more.

  • Inside panels. The most commonly used brochure has six spaces or panels when it is folded. Three of these panels end up inside. Suggested use of these panels might be: Panel #1 – a thorough description of how you product or service works. Panel #2 – list of ways your product can benefit the reader. Panel #3 – a comparison with competition. The opposite side from the inside panels are the overflap, the mailing panel and the response panel.
  • Overflap. The other side of Panel #3 is called the overflap, and it is usually the second area of the brochure the reader sees. It is a good place to put all the good things people have said about your product (testimonials).
  • Response panel. Opposite the overflap when the brochure is folded, this panel is often used for a reply card that the reader can send back to you. You can put selling information on the reply card if you wish.
  • Mailing panel. This panel is used for your return address and the address of the prospect.

Finding Leads

Potential buyers of your services are all around us — friends, co-workers, church members and so on. This is one of the reasons Sales prospecting is such a challenge – there are many more potential buyers than we can pursue at one time. So, how do we start?

There are two broad people who should interest you when you are looking to make sales: Those who can buy from you and those who can refer you to people who want to buy. You should keep both groups in mind as you look for sales leads.

The most effective way to build your sales leads list is to use a database or contact program on your computer (or have an outside service do it for you) to list names, addresses and other pertinent formation for anyone you can think who might give or refer business to you.

Use your personal phone books, Rolodex, company phone directories and so on to find people who are likely to want to know about your products. The computer software will allow you to print labels whenever you wish.

Next, you must learn how to qualify leads.

Qualifying means simply being able to find information or ask questions whose answers will tell you whether the person is likely to buy from you.

There are some common reasons why someone might not be qualified. Perhaps they truly cannot afford what you sell. Perhaps they are someone who doesn’t know how to compare you with competitors. Perhaps they are someone who doesn’t need to make a decision soon, or, perhaps they are someone who doesn’t have the authority to make the buying decision.

Prospecting Effectively

Once you start to develop a list of qualified sales prospects, you need some way to keep track of your progress with them.

Since it typically takes from three to five sales contacts before a prospect buys, you may be following up with them for several stages of motivation: cold prospect -warm prospect-hot prospect! If you stop pursuing them too soon, someone else can come in at the last moment and scoop up the order.

A simple system for keeping track of leads that we have used for 25 years uses 3×5 file cards, some dividers and a file box.

For each qualified prospect, write out everything you can find out about them on the front of the card. Use the back to record every time you contact them, as well as what action you promised to take next.

Use the months and days-of-the-month dividers to file the cards according to the date you promised to take action. At least once per week, review the file cards for the next two weeks and enter important dates in your calendar book. These cards can also be used to keep track of orders once you convert the prospect to a customer.

Discipline is probably more critical to sales success than any other part of marketing. Since successful selling is a numbers game, you must set a schedule to achieve certain sales numbers and stick with it.

If you start to fall seriously behind, you can easily become very discouraged. A practical goal-setting plan is to lay out for each week the following goals:

  • Number of new prospects contacted by phone or mail.
  • Number of past contacts re-contacted.
  • Number of new sales appointments.

Some weeks will go surprisingly well, and you will have achieved your week’s goals by Wednesday. Congratulate yourself. Progress will be slower in other weeks. Keep plugging away.

By the end of your first year in business, you should have a very good idea of which prospects are “talkers”, which are “delayers” and which are “doers”. This awareness will allow you to produce more sales from the same number or fewer prospect calls and visits.

You may even find that sales prospecting has become fun for you!

The Psychology of Selling

Some sales experts use a simple formula:
Education + Consistency leads to Familiarity, which encourages Confidence and produces Sales.

Recognize a simple truth of human nature – most people won’t buy from anyone they don’t consider to be helpful and friendly.

Providing both of these benefits to your customers is critical. Most people look for reasons to delay making decisions. They are really looking to the salesperson to make them feel good about buying. Put yourself in their position. What would make you feel good about buying what you want to sell?

As you are creating your sales message and preparing your selling plan, determine as quickly as you can what information about your product or service most prospects will already know and which new information they need and want.

Become their teacher — educate them about your product in a way that makes them feel that they discovered the information themselves. When you are sitting in front of them, listen carefully and answer their questions. Avoid what we call “fuzzy” understanding”- an unpleasant situation where YOU think they mean one thing and they think you mean something very different.

Don’t be afraid to say to them, “Now if I understand what you are saying, you …”.

You may feel very inadequate about approaching strangers and persuading them to buy from you.

If this happens, just think back over your life. Have you ever had to make new friends? As a kid, did you ever move to a strange new city? You made friends, didn’t you? Selling is very much the same process – find someone who shares a common interest, show them you are interested in them and enjoy being with them.

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