Your phone is the most important prospecting tool you have. It’s more immediate than social media, more interactive than email, and less intrusive than a visit. The key benefit, however, is that it’s incredibly efficient – it’s a speedy and effective way to fill your pipe. Many salespeople will avoid the prospecting side of things, and if they do pursue it, will think in terms of email and social media campaigns. I invite you to muster your confidence and succeed with these top tips for phone prospecting.
1. Preparation is key.
Good preparation is the foundation of successful prospecting. A well prepared salesperson is more likely to get meetings and close deals, and will increase their likelihood of a good conversation by projecting professionalism. It’s important to strike a balance here, though: too much preparation will leave you too little time to prospect.
The key points to focus on when preparing are:
- Knowledge of your product:
This should be obvious, but I’ve seen it go wrong too often not to mention it here. At a minimum, you should know the capabilities of the product you’re selling as well the ways in which it’s commonly used. Ideally you’ll also want to have a few customer success stories ready (preferably industry-specific).
Bonus points for knowing some non-typical ways the product is used; these will enable you to be more creative when discussing solutions with your prospect.
- Knowledge of your prospect: You should know a bit about the company you’re calling into; at the very least, you should have a fair idea of their business model, how they operate, what they sell, and how they sell it. You should also know about the industry, which will enable you to abstract the business model of the specific company more easily.
You should also know a little about the prospect you’re targeting. Take a quick look at their Linkedin profile; make sure you’re targeting the right person, and see if you can’t find out one or two things about their interests.
- Psych yourself: Prospecting can be tough, so you should be prepared. Gather yourself, and prepare your resilience and confidence. Resilience is there for all the times you won’t reach anyone or they shut you down. Confidence is needed for the times you do reach people; be calm and collected and you’ll be fine.
Be prepared to embrace failure. You will fail, and probably quite often. Make sure you make the most out of each failure, and use them to hone your skills for success.
2. Schedule prospecting time.
Succeeding at prospecting presupposed that prospecting takes place. I often see salespeople scheduling prospecting time, and then using that time to do the preparatory work I mentioned above. When you schedule your prospecting time, makes sure to also schedule separate preparatory time. When you’re in prospecting time, you need to be on the phone. Everything else is secondary.
There are times of day when prospecting will bear more fruit. I encourage you to experiment and find those times. Then, of course, block them out as your golden prospecting time and stick to them!
Prospecting can be hard, demotivating work. Aside from bringing your resilience along for the ride, I strongly encourage you to schedule break times into your prospecting time. You know yourself best – perhaps you can simply power through. I find a quick 5-minute break allows me to come back to prospecting with vigor. Do what works for you, but if you do schedule the break then stick with it! There’s a reason you scheduled it, after all.
3. You’re not an automaton.
Your prospects get hundreds of prospecting calls. And they all sound the same. The same greeting, the same questions (potentially different products, but the questions are really similar), and the same kinds of conversations. Those calls could just as easily be done by machines (and indeed soon will be).
So how do you stand out in this ocean of ineptitude? Simple: you need to demonstrate you’re human. Show your character. Show your passion. Make sure they remember your call, and not in a negative way. Don’t be a robot!
The easiest method of doing this is to inject some passion into your conversation. If you’re selling something you’re passionate about, don’t hesitate to show it (if you’re not, you may want to update your CV). By this, I don’t mean the enforced, saccharine positivity that makes most calls so unbearable. I mean a genuine interest; you’re looking to help them, so show it there.
4. Help, don’t sell.
This brings me to another key point: consultative prospecting (or, indeed, consultative selling). If you follow the advice in the previous point, you’re showing your passion during the call. This means you know your product is amazing, and you want everybody to be using it. The next step is to refine the way you go about doing this.
You can be as passionate as you want, you still won’t be able to force them to buy. Instead, channel some of that passion into something truly useful: help them to be successful. Stand out from the crowd by trying to help them succeed as a company.
Doing this well may take a little time away from your other activities, but it’s time well spent: you’re building a relationship that will bring you significant business down the line. You’re also standing out from the crowd; after all, most prospectors just want to qualify (or, indeed, disqualify) them and get on with it. You will be remembered positively since you presented yourself as a resource, and a passionate one at that.
5. Perfect your conversational skills.
Perhaps the most significant single thing you can do to improve your prospecting is to perfect your conversational skills. This will require a bit of self-analysis and lots of practice. The basis of it, however, is to make sure you’re inspiring the right emotions and instincts when you’re speaking with your prospects. (On a side note, I find this to be an extremely underserved part of sales training. If you’d like to see more articles on this, please let me know!)
A quick tip before we begin: it can be very useful to record yourself when you’re having a conversation with a prospect. You can also have someone listen in and take notes. In any case, you’ll want to create some kind of feedback channel you can use to progressively improve yourself.
When you’re talking with a prospect, you don’t want to sound like an automaton; you want to sound as natural as possible. You want to sound like you’re speaking with a friend while keeping on the professional side of the fine line. Here are some things I think many salespeople can work on:
- The greeting: This is something that often sounds rote and is quickly dispensed with. It’s usually very quick and not very clear. My advice is to mix it up a little and try new things. Simply changing the order of the name and the company will force you to slow down a little. Do your prospect a favor and let them know whom they’re speaking with. They’ll thank you (silently, of course) and you’ll have to repeat yourself less often. This is also the first step to sounding less like a robot.
- Your tone: Tone is not something that’s noticed consciously, but plays a huge role in inspiring trust and confidence in the other party of any conversation. Here, I’ll cover two points that can help you in your conversations. I’ll write more on the topic soon.
- If you’re seeking to inspire trust in your prospect, adopt a gentle, conversational tone (and obviously also vocabulary). Don’t be too bubbly or saccharine; instead, just think of this as a conversation you’d have with a friend. Since your guard is thus down, they’re much more likely to lower theirs.
- If you’re explaining something or making a statement (about the product or business), adopt a more authoritative tone and vocabulary. Be careful of allowing too much of an edge to come into your voice or to sound too gruff; instead, think of a doctor speaking with a patient or a speech by a professor (the non-boring kind).
Tone is interlinked with vocabulary, so this is something you’ll want to practice before attempting it live. Observe yourself when speaking with friends and when explaining something you’re knowledgeable about, and project that nuance into your conversation with your prospects.
- Speech Patterns: Once again, this is something you’re unlikely to notice unless you’re observing yourself, and becomes painfully obvious once you do. By analyzing and working on your speech patterns, you’ll be able to optimize your speech, become less likely to alienate prospects accidentally, and learn more about their business. Here, again, I can write reams, but will limit myself to some important points you can work on immediately:
- If you find yourself repeating particular words or phrases often, you’re likely to use them in inappropriate places. These are usually known as filler words, and are often used when you’re thinking about something or are not wholly focused on the conversation you’re having. Speak more slowly to avoid filler words and to give yourself time to think. You’ll notice you speak more clearly when you do so.
- Use silence to your advantage. Not only will this void the use of filler words, but it’ll also entice the prospect to fill the silence. Don’t overdo it though, since it’s a short path to discomfort. Use it judiciously.
- Keep your speech concise, both during questions and statements. Try not to ramble, and form short, clear sentences. Be careful not to oversimplify your speech; your goal is clarity, so select your words well and use them judiciously.
- Guide, don’t control: Most salespeople have a horrible tendency to control the conversation, taking it where they want it to go by brute force. I would suggest you adopt a more gentle approach and guide it rather than control it. It may take you longer to go where you’d like to, but I promise you that you’ll discover much useful information along the way. The best way to guide a conversation is to allow the prospect to feel they’re leading it, while asking open questions along the way. You’ll remain in the ball-park you want to be in, and the prospect feels they can tell you what they want to.
6. Follow up.
The final point of this already overly-long article is about promises, and needs only two words: keep them. If you said you’d follow up, then do so. If you promised you’d send an email, do so! If you said you’d call, guess what: do so. Losing trust permanently is as simple as failing to send an email by the time you promised it.
Trust is the basis of every relationship, and it’s also the easiest thing to lose. Make sure they have not misplaced their trust, and that your reputation is impeccable. Guard it with your life (okay, that’s overly dramatic, but it also has a grain of truth).
If you didn’t plan a follow up, do it anyhow. Yesterday’s article dealt with better ways of following up than the usual “touching base” or “checking in,” and I encourage you to take a look at it here if you want to learn more. Suffice it to say those two phrases are essentially a waste of time and should be eliminated from your vocabulary.
While writing this I realized how little has been done in terms of sales communication and how important it is. I may be somewhat biased, of course, since I studied communications and I think it’s a fascinating topic. However, I do know that something as simple as the wrong tone at the wrong time can absolutely destroy a relationship (in any circumstance, sales or personal). It’s a topic I’ll write more on soon, so check in if you think it’s interesting.
I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!
Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!