Sales prospecting is often considered to be a numbers game: Make 100 prospecting calls and, on average, X% will become active prospects. This basic outlook is correct, to a degree. But then why do some salespeople achieve 2X or 3X conversion to active prospects? Much of the answer is avoiding these five common prospecting errors.
Working with companies in diverse industries – business-to-business and consumer – we have found that it is possible to double call conversion by just avoiding these five prospecting errors.
Many of our clients ask for advice about successful prospecting, especially when it’s something that their salespeople are struggling with. Developing new business, prospecting, and cold calling can certainly be the most challenging parts of the sales process. After all, you are interrupting somebody’s day. It’s almost like being on a first date, testing the waters, making sure that there is alignment.
But that’s exactly what’s missing in many situations when salespeople are calling on prospects: making sure that there is a potential fit.
Try to put yourself into your prospect’s shoes. What would you want to hear when you pick up the phone where somebody is interrupting your day? Would you want to hear a sales pitch, or would you want to listen to somebody who is potentially adding value to your life?
Therefore, I’d like to shine a light on five common errors you can avoid when prospecting.
1. Not researching your potential prospect
Just as in trying on a new suit – if it’s not the right fit you wouldn’t buy it, right? The same holds true in sales: if there is no fit, there is no motivating reason to have a sales conversation.
In order for you, the sales person, to determine if this prospect could be a client, you need to do your homework first. Most sales representatives who call me don’t know my business and have never visited my website or my LinkedIn profile. They are just rattling off a sales pitch, in the worst case scenario using a bad script and in some cases they even stutter around trying to get to a point (leaving me to wonder: why they are using a script in the first place?).
So, don’t look for a fit if there is none. No matter how much research you do and how well you prepare for a call, sometimes it’s better to move on. Don’t push it, there is no sense in trying to find alignment if there is none. Reasons can be plentiful.
So, the first common error to avoid is: Calling a potential prospect NOT knowing anything about them, their potential needs or even their name and looking for a fit when there is NONE!
2. Relying too much on the script
There is nothing wrong with using a script as long as it is used a guideline. The script or guideline also needs to include potential answers to questions that the prospect could possibly ask. It’s almost like envisioning a scenario and preparing to respond.
A script should also be a living document rather than a static instrument. It needs to be changed on a regular basis, whenever the environment shifts, which in business happens quite frequently. Your competitors can change, so can regulation and mandates.
The second common error: Rattling off a pitch using a script that might not be suited for the prospect’s current needs.
3. Losing track of the value your solution provides
People will appreciate it when you get to the point fast. And by that I mean that you need to have a value statement. Let me give you an example.
When I call on organizations with a national or global presence to present our sales training, I always focus on the fact that we help companies increase revenue and profitability by helping them establish a common, customer-centric sales and service language across a large sales organization. We do that by offering the use of a blended e-Learning/customized coaching approach, but that’s not something that needs to be mentioned first. The online accessibility is a delivery vehicle, not the value. It’s not something that needs to be mentioned first, especially since there are many other providers who claim to have effective online training. It’s not a differentiator and eLearning might not be something that is attractive to a company at first.
The third common error: Focusing on features and benefits, rather than focusing on the value that your solution provides to your prospect.
4. Not tailoring your message to your audience
When calling on people, try to understand their role within the organization and their responsibilities. When I call on a CEO (which is always my first outreach, as I have found it’s more effective to work your way down, rather than up the ladder), I always focus on the overall business goals, top line value statements. Increased revenue and higher profitability are messages that resonate with CEOs.
Once I get to the sales or training manager, my message shifts. Then it’s more about the nitty-gritty, the details, and the ins and outs of the program. Of course, increased revenue and higher profitability are also important to the sales manager, but they also want to make sure that their people don’t spend too much time away from their desks, so I talk about the fact that their sales people never have to leave their desk and they will still become more successful.
The fourth common error: Not knowing what the purchasing motivations of each individual decision-maker are.
5. Not connecting or listening to your prospect
People buy from people. Be personal. Don’t try to “sell them.” We all know that the goal of a salesperson is to sell, and that is perfectly acceptable. And in contrast to being “sold,” I prefer to buy from people who genuinely understand my business and approach me with a value proposition that will help me make my company more successful.
But, first you need to connect with me, figure out how best to communicate with me. Then you need to know my business and understand my challenges. Once you have established rapport (and there’s a science to that, and as with any communication skill, it can be learned!), it’s much easier to have a conversation and to build trust.
The fifth common error: Moving from one prospect to the next without taking the time to really connect and listen.