Stimulating interest is one of selling’s most important skills. Yet surprisingly, it’s one of the most underdeveloped and misunderstood. When asked to prospect—develop new business—our natural inclination is to find a likely buyer (preferably someone we know—it lowers the pressure) and begin selling. We sidestep stimulating interest. Selling is our real job, not stimulating interest, at least that’s what too many salespeople think. Stimulating interest is someone else’s job. It’s marketing’s job, or it belongs to telemarketers specialized in making first calls. We have sales quotas to meet.
Few would argue that when it comes to selling, it’s the results—meeting or exceeding quota—that really matters. And if we miss our sales goals, sometimes we blame others.
It’s not acceptable for a salesperson to blame others, saying, “I didn’t make my quota this quarter because marketing didn’t do a good job.” That doesn’t fly. It’s after the fact. Face it, what counts is that you personally meet your quota, and that usually means you have to stimulate interest on your own and get the process underway—one that will fill your pipeline. I’ve included the necessary skills and job aids to perform the task in this chapter.
One of the key selling skills in Solution Selling is prospecting. Prospecting conjures up many negative images for people. I’m sure you have some of your own. I recently received a telemarketing call at my home at dinnertime. The person was attempting to sell encyclopedias. My reaction wasn’t, “Oh, I’m so glad you called. I was just thinking about my need for encyclopedias.” Nor was my reaction friendly. In fact, I was upset because the caller interrupted dinner with my family. You know the feeling. I’m sure the same thing has happened to you.
Solution Selling has a unique approach to prospecting. We define prospecting as the ability to stimulate interest or create demand for your products or services versus finding people already looking to buy something. How many salespeople do you know today who can actually do this?
There’s an important distinction between prospecting and polling. Prospecting stimulates and creates interest where there currently is none. Polling is looking for people who are already looking. Both are important activities but require different approaches and skills, although polling can be done with little or no training.
Though polling helps find opportunities in your active or Looking territory, prospecting helps bring opportunities from the latent or Not Looking segment. Many salespeople think they’re prospecting when they contact a potential customer and ask, “Are you in the market for . . . ?” or “Are you looking to buy . . . ?” In Solution Selling terminology, that’s polling: conducting a survey and not really prospecting. There’s nothing wrong with polling, but why use your best and brightest resources to simply gather data? The skill of prospecting, the ability to stimulate and create interest in what you sell, should be part of every salesperson’s skill set.
Solution Selling uses pain to prospect and stimulate interest. If you’re a salesperson and you’re not making quota and your missing your revenue targets, would you be curious to know how someone else (a peer) has solved this challenge? The same holds true for almost every other person and job function. When you try to create interest, focus on creating curiosity first, not on the immediate action you want the prospect to take. Too many times salespeople create tension by asking the prospect either to learn about their company, to hear about their products, to make an appointment, or to buy something. The salesperson hasn’t earned the right to expect these requests to be granted by the prospect. First the prospect must be curious—almost asking to learn more.
This is one of the most important disciplines in which salespeople can engage. I use the term sacred to stress the point that nothing is or should be more important than this activity. If two salespeople have equal sales skills and equal products or services, which one is going to win more business? The answer is the salesperson that has the most opportunities in his or her pipeline.
I have clients who have made prospecting a sacred activity for their salespeople. Wherever their salespeople work—in an office cubicle, in home-based offices, or in open work areas—time is reserved for prospecting, and it isn’t violated. During that time, meetings are not held and salespeople are not disturbed. One customer’s salespeople who work in cubicles hang flags, curtains; even shower curtains in the entrances to their workplaces. The clear signal is: do not interfere; salesperson prospecting—and no one does.
How much time is recommended for prospecting? The amount of time will vary based on your pipeline, your market, and how new the salesperson is to a territory. If the pipeline is reasonably filled with quality opportunities, then I counsel most salespeople to have at least 10 percent of their time devoted to prospecting, including precall planning and what we covered in the last chapter. On the other hand, if the pipeline isn’t full or if the quality of the pipeline is poor, then more time is required. The 10 percent suggestion simply maintains the pipeline. However, if most salespeople spent 10 percent of their time in real prospecting, as I’m suggesting, their pipelines would be healthier. And the ability to meet quarterly and yearly quotas would be much easier.
I also recommend that salespeople block out large segments of time rather than break up prospecting into small segments. Salespeople who spread out their prospecting activities, such as one hour a day, somehow find ways to disregard their schedules. Something “important” comes up, and prospecting gets shelved. It’s more difficult to disregard a reserved four-to-five-hour period of prospecting time.
I recommend that you target your prospecting activities one or two levels higher in the organization than you’re willing to settle for, in case you get delegated down (in many cases you will). In that case, it also helps to be sponsored by a more senior person.
As I mentioned in Chapter Two, many salespeople complain they have difficulty contacting high-level executives. Such job levels are outside many salespeople’s comfort zones. This discomfort can be helped through precall planning, use of the job aids that I introduced in Chapter Four, and practice, practice, practice.
Whether going after new accounts or recognizing new opportunities in existing accounts, prospecting C-level executives (CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CSEs, and CIOs) can decrease your sales cycle time and increase your success rate and productivity. Learn to call on top C-level executives.
Eagle salespeople make it a habit to call on these people. Thorough and professional research includes learning about these C-level executives, their responsibilities, and their pains, so when you meet them, you feel more informed. Targeting high and preparing for conversations with these high-level executives is part of the job.
People tend to get into routines and habits of doing things the same way over and over. Think outside your normal prospecting methods; prospecting doesn’t just mean using the phone.
If your approach isn’t working, try a different one. I recently worked with a salesperson who informed me that our prospecting model didn’t work. Upon inquiry, I learned the salesperson had made over one hundred phone calls using only one version of a business development script, and it wasn’t working. Use common sense. It’s like fly-fishing; you usually have to try several flies before you discover which lure the fish are interested in. This applies also to prospecting—try several different prospecting methods: different Business Development Prompters, Business Development Letters, initial Value Propositions, and Reference Stories.
The SW Rule says, “Some will. Some won’t. So what? Someone else is waiting.” Prospecting is a numbers game, and large numbers of people and businesses have pain. If you get rejected, don’t despair; someone else is waiting. Not everyone is going to be interested in what you have to offer, so don’t take it personally. It helps to have a thick skin when prospecting. If you don’t have one, develop one.
I know some of these ideas sound corny, even irksome, but face it— prospecting takes mental toughness. Selling always will be subject to the laws of numbers. Some will become interested. Some won’t. So what? Someone else is waiting.
One of the big hurdles salespeople have to overcome is their negative perception of prospecting and their belief that it’s someone else’s job. I often ask audiences that I speak to, “What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I use the term prospecting?” Inevitably, the first words out of their mouths are “cold calling.” Not all prospecting has to be done over the phone. I happen to think that the phone is a very good way to prospect, but it’s not the only way. I want to share some information and ideas on various methods and venues for prospecting, such as networking, seminars, trade shows, and other marketing-related activities.
Networking is an informal system whereby people with common interests assist each other. It’s a real and very important activity for salespeople. In today’s world of interconnectivity, collaboration, and a real openness to sharing, if salespeople aren’t participating in networking activities, they should be.
Networking opportunities include:
One approach is to invite all like-minded people to a Solution Seminar. These seminars focus on solving business problems rather than selling or pushing products. Take attendees through the following steps:
The objective is to stimulate interest and have your seminar attendees request additional information from you after the seminar.
Consider different booths for different buying audiences. Position one booth toward buying audiences consisting of visionaries (prechasm) and another toward more conservative audiences (postchasm).
With the prechasm audience, choose a technology-oriented trade show where you can display and demonstrate your products. The real focus should be on your technology differentiators, while attempting to tie in the business line value only to those technology enthusiasts whom you feel have a tendency to appreciate the business side of the enterprise.
With the postchasm audience, choose events that are attended by executives in your market. Do something different: Limit product displays, and instead display Reference Stories, Value Propositions, and lists of clients. Have conversations about business issues that focus on specific capabilities you provide to help solve specific business problems and be ready to discuss business-level reference stories. Be prepared to offer proof.
In Chapter Four, I introduced several job aids and sales tools, including the Key Players List, Reference Stories, and Value Propositions, that can be used to help stimulate interest. In Solution Selling, we also use Business Development Prompters as valuable job aids to stimulate interest.
Business Development Prompters are designed to help you create new opportunities in latent pain markets—your Not Looking territory. A Business Development Prompter can be sent by mail, fax, or email, talked about on the telephone, used in face-to-face direct sales meetings, mailed as part of a direct-mail piece, or used at a trade show virtually anywhere. This job aid is designed to create curiosity, not to sell anything. It has been designed to take the pressure off you and your buyer. Its only purpose is to create curiosity about how you’ve been able to help other people in similar job titles with similar critical business issues solve their problems.
A Business Development Prompter can be used in several ways. Here are three main ones: (1) for a new opportunity, (2) for a new opportunity with a menu approach, and (3) for a customer referral approach.
Your Business Development Prompter should describe a common or high-probability problem that can be solved using your product or service. You are simply asking your prospect or buyer if he or she would be interested in hearing more about it. There is no direct pressure to buy; it’s too early for that.
Figure 5.1 is an example of a Business Development Prompter for a new opportunity. Assume the prospect is the VP Sales for TGI, our fictitious manufacturing company. Based on your precall planning, you know that management just missed last quarter’s earnings forecast, and no one at the prospect’s company is happy—the CEO most of all. You make a first call to that sales executive.
Figure 5.1: Business Development Prompter Format, New Opportunity
Good Business Development Prompters are tailored toward specific people and jobs and their particular business difficulties. In other words, if you’re calling doctors, talk about the critical issues of other doctors. If you’re calling a bank president, talk about another bank president’s difficulties and how you helped that president solve those difficulties. You must make intelligent assumptions to create a good prompter. Here are the key elements:
Your Name. State your name, and the way you want to be addressed. Just the facts. Of course, you would adapt to each country’s culture. In North America, just stick to the facts, build credibility.
If this is a first call and you don’t know the buyer, say, “You and I haven’t spoken before . . . ,” so the prospect won’t be distracted wondering whether he or she knows you. This way the prospect won’t miss the rest of your message while he or she mentally flips through the Rolodex trying to recall who you are.
Your Company. Tell who you work for—no product stuff. Stick to building your credibility and demonstrate that you’re a different kind of salesperson.
Specify Your Industry and Your Company’s Expertise. Establish your industry expertise by stating how long your company has been working in that industry.
Job Title of the Prospect. Let them know that you understand the issues of their job and that you’ve worked with other buyers with their same job title and in their industry.
Pain or Pains. Use high-probability critical business issues that are typical in the buyer’s particular industry. Match pains to jobs.
An Invitation to Talk. Invite the buyer to learn more. Ask, “Would you be interested in knowing how?” The buyer response you want is, “Yes, I’m interested. Tell me more.” That’s the purpose of the Business Development Prompter.
Notice it’s a problem-solution scenario, a hurt-and-rescue message. In ending, we don’t say, “Would you like to hear more?” or “Can we set up a meeting to discuss this?” You’ve accomplished your objective—introduced yourself, noted your expertise in working with other people in the same job, and you’ve told the person how you’ve helped solve a critical business issue. Now it’s up to the prospect to answer the question, “Would you like to know how?”
You’ll get different responses. You might get a “yes.” Then you have the option of booking an appointment or continuing on the phone. You could get “Yes, but now is not a good time.” You could be directed to someone else who is affected by the problem in the organization, or you might even have to ask for that information. You could also hear, “No, I’m not interested.”
If the VP Sales has a problem resembling the one described in your Business Development Prompter, there’s a good chance the VP will be interested in learning more. Expert situational knowledge helps when it comes time to build or develop your prompters. As you gain experience in each market, you’ll increase the accuracy of your Business Development Prompters.
With the Business Development Prompter, a salesperson lists multiple high-probability problems rather than just one. I call this a menu of pains approach. Figure 5.2 is an example of what you can say using this approach.
Figure 5.2: Business Development Prompter, Menu Approach
The menu of pains Business Development Prompter also demonstrates situational fluency, and it gives the person receiving the information a broader range of responses. Even if none of the pains is a direct hit, the Business Development Prompter can establish enough credibility that the prospect decides to discuss it further.
Sometimes the prospect has connections with an existing customer. Figure 5.3 is an example of a Business Development Prompter that is particularly useful for creating new opportunities using referrals.
Figure 5.3: Business Development Prompter, Customer Referral
These prompters have helped salespeople realize many successes. Our clients tell us their “interest generation rate” for first contact ranges between 30 and 70 percent compared to 2 to 10 percent before using the Solution Selling Business Development Prompters. Salespeople are far more willing to spend time prospecting and creating new opportunities with these types of success rates.
When the potential buyer says, “Tell me more,” or something similar, that indicates interest. Again, the objective of the initial call is to arouse the prospect’s curiosity and interest, not to close the sale. An initial positive response is an open door to advance the sales process.
Business Development Letters contain the same key components as the Business Development Prompter. Look at the examples in Figures 5.4 and 5.5 addressed to the VP Sales at Titan Games, Inc., our fictitious toy manufacturing company. The salesperson is presenting the prospect with a menu of pains.
Figure 5.4: Business Development Letter—Example
Figure 5.5: Business Development Email—Example
In the Business Development Letter example, the salesperson has established expertise in manufacturing, included references of other customers, listed three critical business issues, and asked the prospect if he or she is interested in knowing more. This is a brief letter that gets to the point quickly and aims to arouse the curiosity of the reader.
The Business Development Email aims to do the same thing—arouse curiosity and interest in your product or service. Note that we provide only a brief company positioning. This is because the real focus is much like the Business Development Prompter menu approach. Share the top three issues you are hearing and then refer to three suitable companies with which you’ve worked. Be economical. The point is to get recipients to respond and make them curious.
These letters are also used for follow-up. They allow you to contact the customer more than once. There is always the chance that reminders may stimulate prospects to take action. They may have been busy during your first contact and couldn’t respond even though they were truly interested.
Let’s make an assumption that you’ve successfully aroused the curiosity of a prospect in your Not Looking territory and now your prospect wants to talk. Now what? What do you do next? Solution Selling has a sales process aligned with how buyers buy. So let’s go to the next chapter and find out what’s recommended.