A guide to more effective sales prospecting

Getting your foot in the door with a sales prospect is often the hardest part. Here, Steve Shergold presents a guide to getting in front of the right people for the sales pitch.

In the many years that I have chaired or been part of sales meetings, one of the most common comments I hear is, ‘Once I get in front of a prospect I know I can win the business, but the problem is how I get in front of them in the first place’.

Unless you are very lucky and you hit the right prospect at the right time, there is no easy answer to this problem, however if you plan and adopt a thorough account entry strategy you will get in front of more prospects that you want to get in front of, more often.

The first step to getting that initial foot in the door is good prospect profiling. This is easy to do, but in my experience many SMEs either don’t do it at all, or don’t do it well enough. Therefore they spend a lot of time trying to set up meetings with prospects that at best are a tough sale or worst will never buy. It sounds obvious, but you need to start with defining which prospects are most likely to buy your product or service.

To achieve this you need to ask yourself four key questions

1. Who do we want to sell to (your ideal prospect list)?

Criteria might include size of company, average sales value, your core competence closely matches their need (eg target the type of customers you already have experience with), who is the most likely prospect to help us make target (revenue or GP?)

2. Why do we want to work with them?

Reason might include strong track record within your target sector, product or service set matches prospect’s needs, they buy on value not price.

3. What do we have that they want?

A proven value proposition that delivers measurable business benefits.

4. Why would this company work with us?

We have a strong track record supported by case studies and reference sites.

Once you have completed this exercise you will have a list of prospects that have a need for your product, can afford it, would want to work with a company of your size and profile and most importantly a list of potential customers to whom you can offer real value.

Create value propositions that your prospects understand

The next step is to create value propositions, not only specific to the prospect and their business, but also to the individual or individuals who you are targeting within that organisation. For example, what the finance director sees as value will be quite different from the technical director. When creating value propositions, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, ‘if I was the finance director of this company what would be the best thing that our product/service could deliver?’ and then write out that proposition, not once, but five times, with a different angle each time.

Preparing the profiled prospect list and accompanying value propositions will give you real confidence when you call, knowing that you will be talking to the right prospect with a genuine win/win proposition. The reason you develop at least five value propositions for each prospect is so you can build value in the prospect’s mind, using email or leaving messages when you call. Research has shown that sales executives that make five or more calls to a prospect and leave value-based messages, as opposed to leaving messages about their company or products achieve 80 per cent more meetings than those who only attempt four or less.

Focus your marketing budgets where it matters

SMEs have a limited marketing budget and all too often this budget is wasted trying to market to too wide an audience. Hence, another reason for doing your homework and spending time on profiling and developing value propositions is that any marketing activity you commission should focus on your target prospects and no one else. This then makes marketing decisions easy. Ask the question, ‘Does the marketing opportunity communicate my value proposition to my most wanted prospects?’ If the answer is no then don’t do it.

To become really successful in developing your sales and long-term sales pipeline you need to apply discipline and rigour to your prospecting and profiling. By building value on the basis of your prospect’s individual needs you will see amazing results, not only in terms of the number of meetings you create but also your closure rate will also improve considerably. Remember it’s quality not quantity. It’s better to focus on attending ten carefully qualified meetings that result in five new customers, rather than attend 50 poorly qualified meetings that result in a couple of lucky sales.

Steve Shergold is founder and managing director of blufeather

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