Basics in strategic prospecting for successful sales | Daily News

Basics in strategic prospecting for successful sales

Canvassing for new sales is like starting something from the scratch. It is like crafting a design for a plain plank which has no shape or it is like drawing on a blank piece of paper.

So the salesman has to be really artistic, creative and modern thinking to be successful or be a different type of salesperson compared with the others.

Many of my students who are from various industries like insurance, finance, pharmaceuticals, and FMCG used to share the experiences they had with their clients and customers even though clients say they have referred the salesperson only to very few inquiries which have been received from the same customer base.

How many times have we heard 'I referred a friend to you', but the friend never actually contacted you?

The important point to remember when asking your clients to refer is how they position you with their clients and friends. This is where having a prospecting plan comes into play and becomes absolutely vital.

It is the salesperson's responsibility to be positioned in the minds of their clients as an effective, efficient and disciplined salesperson. You have to be one of them whom your client thinks is a nice person to do business with.

This will help the salesman to stand out from the others and as a result be referred most of the time to most of the prospective clients. When I question participants on training about their prospecting sales plan or if in fact, they have one, the usual response is silence or 'What's that?' or 'It's the company's job to provide me with prospective leads, that's what marketing is for'.

In our next article, we will discuss the responsibility of marketing and how it differs from sales. Marketing only goes so far and therefore the search for new customers or increased business from present customers must be never-ending. There are many sources of prospective customers and salespeople need to be continuously looking for them.

The basic fact is that year-on-year customers move out from us and our brands and if we are to keep that vacuum filled, we need to have a continuous process and it is essential to be gaining new clients on a systematic basis.

That is the effective prospecting process. Effective prospecting means identifying and separating those accounts that are not potential customers (suspects) from those that can be considered legitimate opportunities (prospects).

Prospecting is a never-ending responsibility, not a part-time activity "when things are slow."

Increase salesforce

In this systematic process, if more prospects are uncovered than a salesperson can handle effectively, then we must decide if additional resources are necessary. Resources and work allocation based on workload will be discussed in future.

Each market and industry have sources of prospective customers. We must identify these sources and continuously tap them.The eternal fear of rejection is what deters most salespeople from looking for new clients.This is the reason it becomes so important to build a strong base of clients and colleagues who constantly refer business to you.

For sales professionals to grow, it is essential that they maintain effective sales contact with their existing accounts and also develop new customers. The art and science of getting new customers is called prospecting.

Objectives of Prospecting

Prospecting is the continuous search and identification of individuals or firms who may be in the market for the products and services you offer for sale.

The objectives are the follows:

* To identify potential future customers for your products and services

* To determine what products and services you offer can best satisfy the needs, wants, and requirements of these prospects

* To categorise these prospects as to their purchase potential (rupee value) based on your research

* To organise a referral

* To arrange telephone and personal contacts with these prospects on a scheduled priority basis

* To categorise the prospects with the highest potential first

* To establish if they have a need. Remember that "No Need" = No sale

There is a famous saying which states that 'people buy from people'. The product or service comes with the salesperson. Prospects have the same basic needs, wants, fears, and desires that we all do.

The objective of all salesmanship is to determine what benefits in our products or service will help satisfy these needs and wants. We find most people nice to do business with. They are usually courteous and friendly, and if we illustrate again, the advantages or benefits to them, they will buy. Individually, prospects have different personalities. However, as a group, they all have similar needs, wants, fears and desires. It is our job to help them with the best solutions that we can offer.

There is one significant key in dealing successfully with prospects: you have got to be able to identify what their problems are and how you can help to solve them.

The sure way to do this is by asking questions about their business in order to determine their needs and wants. By asking questions we are giving them an opportunity to make decisions and not forcing anything on them.

When you properly ask a question you illustrate ways that they will benefit from your product or service. Their answers will be your guide.

Importance of prospecting

Prospecting ensures that the bottom level of your sales pipeline is always full. Because prospecting involves continuously contacting new leads for sales and converting them into the three types of prospects mentioned above, the process of prospecting ensures that you are never short of warm or hot prospects to add in the sales pipeline.

The longer you keep prospecting, the longer will the sales pipeline be and hence the better will be the sales revenue. You will notice businesses which have been existing since a decade do not do prospecting anymore or do not invest much in new customers.

This is because they invested quite well in their hay days and that effort pays off in the long run. Once a steady stream of customers starts flowing in, you only need to take care of the referrals and then the cycle continues.

This does not mean that if your business is good, you stop prospecting. In fact, the crux of a growing business and the secret to keeping it growing is continuous sales prospecting. This saves the business even during dire times such as recession solely because the business has such a huge customer base. Another reason which justifies the importance of sales prospecting is that it increases the productivity of sales executives and managers. An executive who is blank and does not know his prospects is probably shooting in the dark and he will never be able to forecast the right sales figures. As a result, his sales figures will probably be poor and off the mark too.

A manager or executive who spends his time on prospecting knows which of his clients are likely to close and he spends his time only on those clients, thereby using his time much more productively.

This changes the overall performance aspect of sales professionals as well. Hence, many companies invest in the art of sales prospecting to improve the performance of their employees during prospecting

Steps to create a strong sales pipeline

Selling is a continuous process and the timelines are such that you are needed to prospect and close customers again and again. The sales process is never ending. So how do you keep the process under your control?

It is by having a sales pipeline. Basic tools like pen and paper or an excel sheet is enough for you to become a master salesman. The only thing you need to do is to prioritise your prospects. That is the basics of a sales pipeline. You need to know your most prospective customers as well as your cold prospects. So let's start with making a strong sales pipeline.

Build a strong database

If you want a strong sales pipeline, a strong database is a must. And a strong database comes from a mix of clients. In an ideal database, out of ten clients, one or two clients will be large key accounts, three or four clients will be mediocre, and three or four clients will be regular and repeat ones.

The reason for such a division is that large key accounts take a lot of time to close. You need to pitch them many times to actually close the account. But the mediocre and small accounts deals close faster.

The key point here is that this is the most important step of the sales pipeline. Good customers, healthy prospects. And, therefore, a better rate of conversion in your pipeline.

Categorise your customers

Once you have the database, you need to categorise your customers. For example, if your territory is large, then you need to target your customer territorywise so that when you are in the particular area, you can visit all the customers within that area. This will help you save more time and meet more customers, thereby converting them to prospects. Similarly, you can categorise customers based on their demographics, type of industry, or any other way you think your database will be more productive for you.

Plan your calls

Once you have categorised your data you have a strong database. But what is the best and most productive way to call these customers?

Ideally, you should have a plan in hand and should know which customers need to be targetted in which week of the month. Remember, more calls mean more conversion, and more revenue for your company. So planning is very important. Many times, sales executives prefer calling and fixing appointments with their prospects while they are on the run to meet another prospect. You need to understand that call plans vary from person to person and industry to industry. This will help you pace your sales pipeline.

Polish your pitch

A smart sales person will do two things to strengthen his sales pipeline. First is that he will have a strong pitch ready. One which he can change according to the situation.

He will know the product in and out and, accordingly, he will shift the pitch to the customer's requirement. The second is that he will read the signs. A salesperson needs to be empathetic, he needs to be strong at reading people and their positive as well as negative signs. This is what will help the salesperson define his prospects in the sales pipeline.

Hot, cold or warm prospect

This is a critical and probably the final phase of preparing a strong sales pipeline. Categorising customers as hot, warm or cold will help organise your efforts.

So if you have four hot customers, seven warm customers and ten cold customers, you need to go to step 1 and start searching for more prospects and keep the pipeline going. Because the hot customers will close soon, warm customers might get hot, but cold customers are dead meat and they are no use to you. Thus there is now a vacuum which needs to be filled. So immediately move out of your comfort zone and start searching for new customers again. This categorisation will help you keep the sales pipeline moving.

Revisit old customers

Another idea for keeping the sales pipeline strong is to revisit old customers. Supposing you have products which have a predetermined life, then revisiting old customers will always keep your conversion up to date.

This is because old customers will need the product again after a certain time and they will also close the fastest because they have already used your products. Thus, sprinkle your sales pipeline with old customers and you are sure to get a high conversion.

The above steps will help you create a strong sales pipeline. However, there are two main requisites for creating a strong sales pipeline.

CRM - As mentioned above, creating CRM is necessary to have a strong sales pipeline. You may not need a paid CRM system (though it may help if your database is huge). But tools like an excel sheet, a planner or organiser are necessary to plan your sales.

Discipline - The second prerequisite to creating a strong sales pipeline is naturally discipline. The more disciplined you are in regularly adding prospects to the top of the sales funnel, the more customers you will get after filtration. Many salespeople learn with experience that discipline is the best option against rejection. No matter how many prospects reject you, if you keep approaching new prospects, your sales pipeline will always give high conversion rates.

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