Prospecting (and cold calling) can be disheartening, difficult, and dreary. Maybe 1 in 10 calls are worthwhile, emails go unanswered, and the clients you win tend to be small-scale. The work you put in is tremendous, and the output is mediocre at best (leading many to avoid cold calling and prospecting). Like with many things, there’s a better way to do it. Let me show you how to prospect more cleverly and grow your number with less effort. You can spend the time working on growing your current accounts, and everybody’ll be happy.
In traditional prospecting, the core principle is that every client is a good client. Sure, every business is good and every bit of money coming in is a positive thing, but I don’t think the effort put in is commensurate with the result. Usually, you’re given a list or told to look up an industry, and are expected to begin calling and emailing immediately.
This approach is fine if you have a huge prospecting team, or if there is zero business at all (though I’d even dispute the latter). However, the moment you have clients, there are better ways to handle it. Most sales jobs out there are in established companies with huge client bases. If they use this kind of approach in prospecting, I think they’re wasting their time and resources.
Understand your target market.
Rather than plunging blindly into the account pool you’ve been given, take some time to consider and plan. After all, this is about being clever, so use that grey matter! If you’ve received lists, put them aside for a moment. If you haven’t, then that’s ok too.
At this point in time, you’ve probably already received product training, and know what types of clients your product is aimed at. What you don’t know, yet, is what types of clients actually buy your product. There’s always a divide between where marketing is targeting and who buys the product (I think this is down to pragmatism: people must make do, while marketing focuses on ideal cases). It’s time for you to analyze your customer base, and to see who’s buying what.
During the analysis, make sure to check out not only the type of company, but also the role of the buyer and who else was involved in the decision-making process. If your company uses a good CRM this should be fairly easy. If not, you may have to ask your colleagues about individual cases.
Create your target list.
Once you have this information, you’ll know precisely whom you should be targeting. You’ll have a better idea of the industry they’re in, who makes the decisions, and how they’re arrived at. From this, you can begin to create your target list.
I like to go industry-first when considering my prospects. This has the advantage of grouping common needs and concerns, and simplifies the research process. Industries normally have listings of companies you can contact. However, before doing any of that, start by building relationships.
Call up the current customers in your patch and introduce yourself. Make sure they know who you are and what you do. If you can, provide something of value during this call, like some news about your product which can help them, or an industry trend you’ve identified in your research. Make sure you’re leading with value, and they’ll be more receptive to your communication.
Once you’re on the phone with them, find out if they know of similar companies who may be interested in what you’re selling. Referrals from current customers are the best way to cold call: you have a reference whom they know and you’ll likely get a good idea of what they need. Even if you don’t get a referral, you will further improve your understanding of the lay of the land; of the types of companies who are buying and the individuals who are involved in the buying process. You’ll also get a better idea of their needs.
Even if you don’t receive many referrals, you’ll be able to generate a more precise list of target companies thanks to this knowledge. Focus on one industry at a time, and attempt to target a specific role within that industry. This will simplify your campaigns, and will allow you to make your message extremely targeted and precise.
Prospecting calls and emails.
If you have any referrals, begin there. A call will suffice, as long as you know the industry and their interests and needs well. I wouldn’t email unless you have to, since the risk of exploding a relationship is higher.
If you’re working on the list you just created, be sure to keep an eye on all of the companies and individuals on the list. Use Linkedin if you can, and set up Google Alerts for the companies. You’re looking for any changes in leadership, promotions, or positive media mentions. These should form the basis of your communications, and the reason you’re calling. For example, if a new person has just entered the role you’re targeting, make a point of introducing yourself, explaining what you do, and setting yourself up for a good relationship.
Emails can be powerful indeed. I tend to steer clear of mass emails, as they usually don’t provide as much business as ones that are targeted with precision. Mass email is, in my mind, best left to marketers who know how to use it well, and who have different requirements. I prefer short, simple emails with a quick intro, one or two proof points, and a very simple call to action. I’ll discuss emails in a later post, but that should put you on the right track.
Phone calls, likewise, should be simple and clear. Check out the pitching while cold calling post – the principles I discuss there are directly applicable here. Make sure you’re not coming across as an aggressive salesperson. Instead, focus on trying to help, building relationships, and mapping accounts.
Chain your referrals.
The easiest way for you to build up a good pipeline is to chain your referrals. You’re focusing on relationships and on helping your prospects. These relationships will usually be willing to point you in the direction of more companies who can use your help, and you can begin to build up a web of referrals, all chained together. You’ll have a massive prospect pool in no time, and you won’t be dealing with low quality clients. All have been hand-picked by you, and all of them have the potential to be large clients.
I hope these pointers are useful to you, and smooth your path when starting out. Don’t forget the most important part of any clever salesman: it’s usually easier to sell into a company you’re doing business with than to gain new clients. Keep this in mind when dealing with your current clients, and always seek out new opportunities.
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!