I went on my first true sales call in 2000. It was after the advent of the internet, a year after the launch of SalesForce, but before business networking and prospecting tools like LinkedIn and Data.com existed. Prospecting was hard work. My potential client was in a new product group at Proctor & Gamble. As a byproduct of being a researcher by trade, I spent a LOT of time researching him before I asked for the meeting and even more time digging into everything I could find about new product development at P&G once the meeting was set. I didn’t get an immediate “yes” during my meeting, but I stuck with it. I followed up over and over again and when I finally landed P&G as an account, they were a $1M client within the first six months.
Since then, I’ve had exceptional sales success and I follow many of the same prospecting methods I used to prep for that first P&G meeting to this day (albeit with a much wider array of data and information tools). In many ways, I was fortunate to learn sales prospecting the hard way– really doing the research to understand who my prospective client was and what might motivate them to buy.
That type of prospecting seems to be suffering a long slow demise. Barely a day goes by that I don’t receive some sort of email or LinkedIn message from a sales person that clearly has no idea who I am or what my business is. Worse, the outreach is so poor it’s borderline offensive.
Here are four tips for getting prospecting right:
1. Prospect properly.
And by that I mean, do your background research. Don’t ask your prospective client to do it for you. As Eileen Campbell put it best during her tenure as CMO of IMAX, “emails asking me to do your sales prospecting are beyond the pale." One of my recent favorites,
“Hi Kristin, I’m looking for who handles the training content/courses for your company Decipher [note: my firm Decipher was acquired and I exited post-acquisition in 2014]. A kind reply and CC: with their names would be greatly appreciated.”
Strike 1, you haven’t bothered to research my company or employment status. Strike 2, you’re asking me to do your prospecting for you. Read on for Strike 3.
2. Respect your prospect’s time.
Aside from not asking your intended client to do your research for you, don’t assign them work. For instance,
“In the interest of your time [note: this really means the sales person’s time], I have attached a quick 2-minute video. Please watch this, it’s only 2-minutes, and let me know if we can schedule an additional 5-minutes that works for you.”
That’s Strike 3– now you’re asking me to pre-qualify myself to engage in a conversation with you that I’m not sure I want to have in the first place. Couching your sales and marketing content as “gifts” is no better. Some of my favorites include receiving a “gift” of a video library of 57 brand haikus from a brand strategy firm, and a “gift” of 15 sales videos from a sales consultant that connected with me on LinkedIn (how could he have guessed that I’ve been waiting my entire life for someone to send me over two hours of sales videos to watch?). To be clear, your sales and marketing content is not a gift.
3. Always be helping.
The ABC’s of sales from the infamous sales movie, Glengarry Glen Ross, are “Always Be Closing.” I prefer Priscilla McKinney’s, CEO of Little Bird Marketing, take. She’s pivoted the ABC’s to ABH – Always Be Helping. Assuming you’ve followed tips 1 and 2, you’ve done your research, and you’ve made the right connection, now it’s time to build a relationship. Maybe you’ve made your sales pitch and there’s not an immediate fit. What can you do to make sure you and your business remain top of mind?
Keep your prospective client engaged by showing you care about their business. Send them relevant articles, follow their company news and congratulate them on big wins, and offer to connect them to other firms or people you know that may have a positive impact on their business. Sales rule of thumb is that it generally takes 20 “no’s” to get a “yes”, so play the long game. And that takes us to tip #4..
4. Play the long game.
One of my pet peeves is accepting a new connection on LinkedIn only to receive, literally 30 seconds later, a poorly worded lengthy sales email that clearly was a copy and paste job. Good sales utilize the same techniques you’d use when you’re trying to enter a personal relationship... don’t come in too hot. You wouldn’t walk up to a total stranger on the street, grab them and whisper, “I love you” in their ear (at least I hope you wouldn’t). Unless you’re in a high volume transactional business where you have no competition and high demand, sales is no different. Ease into it.
Too often sales people are looking for the quick and easy win– anything that will boost their monthly or quarterly sales number and help them reach their goal. The issue with that strategy is that it doesn’t consider the lifetime value of a client. I’ve had deals that closed in two weeks and others that closed in two years. Doing the research, really learning your clients business, and delivering a solution that compels them to work with you is a long game strategy and can have a significant impact on the lifetime value of the relationship.
There are no shortcuts– prospecting is work. Smart sales people are availing themselves of technology solutions to help make the research and discovery process less arduous, but make no mistake, it’s still work. Do your research, respect your prospects time, build meaningful relationships and adopt a long game mindset.