Many sales professionals, especially those new to sales, often take it personally when a prospect says "no" and fail to persist with their prospecting efforts, while others turn prospecting into stalking, not knowing how to engage a prospect effectively. Either way, these sales people are failing to favourably and persistently position themselves with prospects, thus limiting their sales opportunities even further.
In sales, there is a fine line between persistence and stalking a prospect. Did you know:
• Over 50% of sales professionals give up at first contact if they get a "no" from the prospect, never to go back to that prospect again.
• At the fifth contact, 7% of sales professional are left to speak with the prospect to see if they can do business together.
• At the eighth contact, there is only one sales professional left to work with the prospect. Hopefully it is you.
So why do these figures persist? What are the successful salespeople doing that the others are not? How do you capture the attention of your prospects and determine whether or not they want to engage with you, and how often should you be making contact?
Assuming you are making contact with prospects, the first thing you have to ask yourself is: If you prospected yourself would you be worth listening to? If you get a "no", you cannot blame your prospects for not being interested either.
The second thing is to assess where your prospect is at on the "ready to buy now" scale and how you are going to maintain contact with them if they are not ready to buy now. After all, not everyone is a viable prospect all the time.
Sales professionals have to come to realize that not every prospect is ready to work with you straightaway. However, this does not mean they will not be viable in the near future. Our job, in this instance, is to work out where our prospect is at and find out when they are likely to see what we do as relevant to their situation. That they are not ready now does not mean they will never be ready.
Our challenge as sales professionals is to know how to stay in contact and be relevant to prospects, while not putting them off or having them take out an AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) on us.
The brutal facts
At best, sales professionals tend to check in on their prospects on a random basis, leaving their prospecting efforts to chance.
They also tell us that they are worried about what to say when they follow up and do not know where to start or how to capture people’s attention. They think prospects will not be interested in speaking with them. They then often shoot themselves in the foot by not calling the prospect at all, or messing up the prospecting call by not engaging with the prospect and finding out if they can talk now or in the future.
Like every aspect of selling, following up on prospects in your pipeline should be part of a planned routine. In our experience, with the exception of prospects already in the sales cycle, that line is usually drawn at about one direct contact every five weeks.
Rather than get caught up worrying whether the prospect will pay attention to you or not, let's look at the many ways you can stay in meaningful touch with prospects and not be considered a stalker. Plan to use a combination of direct contacts (via the phone) with indirect contacts (email, social media, etc.) to stay in touch with prospects.
Tip: Using the phone exclusively is generally not the best way to stay in touch with prospects. Instead, we suggest you mix phone calls with email and social media, which can be both individualised and general interest (to the prospect), rather than generalised corporate brochures.
An effective prospect contact program could include:
• Week one: A follow-up telephone call with action items noted for the next direct contact.
• Week three: Send a company email newsletter, announcement or article. It doesn't matter what you send as long as it is content-rich and not an advertisement for your products or services.
• Week four: Another indirect contact via email or social media such as something specific to the prospect i.e. a news article, something about their industry that is relevant to them, their company, etc. This contact is designed to strengthen your personal relationship and build rapport. But please note: it must be sincere and genuine or your efforts will be seen as sycophantic and grasping.
• Week five: Another follow up telephone call – this must be structured by defining a Valid Business Reason (VBR) for your call to your prospect – a VBR is something of interest or relevance to your prospect, not you.
What about Week two? After your initial dazzling VBR in Week one, give your prospect time to digest where you are coming from. If they are not ready to see you yet, what you say can start planting seeds in their mind, so the next time you contact them you are building a strong case for them to see you down the track.
Important point: When making a follow-up telephone prospecting call, make sure that you are not still thinking about what to say as the phone rings. Even if you are an experienced sales professional, you need to work out our intentions and what you are going to say before dialling the number.
Establishing your VBR by jotting down a few key points about what you want to convey to your prospect and having a fall-back position handy just in case the initial VBR does not work is the sign of a good sales professional. Even practise saying out loud what you want to say in that first 10-15 seconds. If it doesn't sound right to you then it isn't going to sound right to your prospect – you can bet on that. So, "would you listen to you?"
About the Author:
Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (+61) 3 9533 0000.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author. CPSA does not endorse any of the companies, products and services mentioned within this article.
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