How to Create Repeatability with Prospecting

An Olivetti rotary dial telephone, c.1940s
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One of the hardest things to do in sales is prospect.  Very few people enjoy doing it, I mean how many people like being hung up on, ignored, and generally treated like a pariah?  After years of bulling through prospecting with varying levels of success, I have arrived at a process and strategy that works extremely well and has made prospecting much less of a grind.  The key question that needed to be answered is how do you get repeatability when prospecting?

That seems like a bit of an oxymoron – how do you create repeatability in an area that is so inherently non-repeatable?  Particularly in enterprise software sales – it’s not like you’re selling a commodity that somebody is going to say “yes” to on the first call.  So you’re already behind the eight ball – they can easily say “no” on the first call, so the best you can do is hope for a meeting, or conference call, or something that keeps this particular suspect alive.

So, the first thing that has to be done is change the rules of the game when it comes to success.  The goal of prospecting is to get access to the people at the company/organization you are trying to win business with.  That may not be the person you are trying to reach on the phone, but you won’t know this without asking.  So, this becomes the detective work that changes the rule of the game – you are not a “salesperson” trying to close a deal, but rather a “prospector” trying to uncover clues to get you to the pot of gold.

A lot of my current ideas on repeatability for prospecting came from my interactions with Frontline Selling.  They do training for enterprise sales forces and have a methodology and style that I think is great.  Commercial aside, herewith are the rules of enterprise software sales prospecting:

(1)    Since we have established that you aren’t going to close a deal on this first call, don’t sell!  You know that people hate being sold to – they want to control the process, decide how (and when) to buy.  Also, keep in mind the pre-built emotion of an incoming cold call.  They want you off the phone AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  So, no matter what you do, avoid asking any questions that can be answered “No”.  Here’s an example:

Encyclopedia Salesman:  Hello Miss, I was curious if you are interested in buying Encyclopedia’s for the upcoming year?

Young Woman: No.

Encyclopedia Salesman: Ok, thank you, bye.

Now, let’s put this in an enterprise software context:

Enterprise Software Salesman: Hello Mr. Programmer, I was curious if you’re looking for development tools to help you speed up your development process by 80%?

Mr. Programmer: No.

Enterprise Software Salesman: Ok, thank you, bye.

Amazing how the results are the same, right?  The fact is, the Software Salesman interrupted the Programmer in the middle of trying to solve a particularly challenging bug, and the minute he picked up the phone he regretted it.  So his goal was to say no as quickly as possible.  Instead, what if the Salesman tried this:

Enterprise Software Salesman:  Hello, Mr. Programmer, I noticed that your company does a lot of work with Ruby and I’ve got a way for you to improve your development process by up to 80% at very low cost.  I’d like to schedule some time over the next few days to introduce this to you when you have time.  What time next Tuesday or Wednesday would work for you?

Mr. Programmer: No.

Enterprise Software Salesman:  Ok, that makes no sense!

Just kidding.  The Programmer more than likely will NOT say no.  They will either say “I have absolutely no budget and couldn’t buy anything even if you made my development effort 500 times faster”, or “I have time right now, tell me what you got”, or most likely “I can give you 20 minutes next Tuesday at 3pm.”  In any case, you’ll get a definitive next step – even the first one is a GOOD THING.  If he tells you outright he’s got no budget and can’t buy, you’ve just saved yourself countless hours calling and chasing this guy and you can focus on somebody else who does have budget.

(2)    Be Prepared.  Yes, I know we like to refer to prospecting as “dialing for dollars”.  But that doesn’t make sense in an enterprise software sale campaign.  As we discussed above, you’re not making a sale today, so you’re “dialing for a next step”, not “dialing for dollars”.  That means that you don’t have to ask for money, you have to ask for something even more valuable – TIME.  In order to do that, you better have something compelling for this person for them to give you their most precious commodity.

Learn something about them, their company, the project they are working on.  People do tend to like to talk about themselves, so if you have something you can bring up that personalizes the call, it will typically disarm and open up the person on the other end of the phone.

So, do a little bit of research – not hours, but 5-10 minutes on each prospect you’re going to call.  Write down one of two things about this prospect you can ask them that is personal.  I can guarantee they have NO INTEREST in you or your product, at least not today.  So make it about them.

(3)    Make the “close” and move on

So, we are salespeople after all – we need to be closing something to make this worthwhile.  Your close is that next step – the 20 minute phone call.  That’s what you’re trying to do today, so once you get the close, thank them, book the meeting and move on to the next call.  Do NOT send them more information, tell them to visit your website or otherwise continue to engage.  If they ask, go ahead and give them what they request, and they may check out your company on their own, if they really do have interest.  But you just made your “close” and you have to move on to the next close, which is garnering specific interest (which is the topic of my next post).  In order to do that, you need to do more than the 5-10 minutes research.  You don’t know enough to make the right impression to continue this process right now.  So STOP.

These steps, if repeated consistently, will yield much better results than the traditional “spray and pray” approach.  And as a professional who deals in numbers and percentages all day long, why not increase your odds of success?  Give these steps a try and tell me how it works (and doesn’t work) for you.  The next set of posts will discuss creating repeatability in the sales process and closing.  Stay tuned!

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