How to Prospect with Repeatable Success

I’ve been speaking with several people lately who are thinking of starting (or have started) their own business consultancy. One of the items that comes up consistently is how to prospect for new customers. In my experience, underestimating the time and effort to succeed in this one area is the greatest reason why new business initiatives fail.

Successful customer acquisition starts with one core activity – follow-up. Following up can be an ego-busting, soul-draining exercise…. OR, it can be a regular and productive part of your business and strategy.

I recently read a post from well known sales guru Mark Hunter – in this article, Mark talks about how many folks fail to achieve success in sales due to a lack of follow up.  Mark suggests that you follow up in six iterations over 1-2 months. I’ll be the first to admit that each individual should do what works best for them – there is no “one size fits all” rule for prospecting. However, I do believe a tighter prospecting regimen (up to 5 “touches” over 2 weeks) will generate better results. The common theme is to follow up – and not just once or twice.  The length of your campaign and number of follow-ups is up to you.

A few tenets of prospecting we should start with:**

(1) You are not important – The person you are trying to reach doesn’t know you. You are not important to them. If you start with this understanding, it will help your ego from getting bruised early on. It’s natural to think that once you decide to help somebody with your services, they will jump at the chance. After all, you are smart, hard working and best-in-class in your field. The truth is, your prospective customer knows NONE of this. You need a way to stand out, which leads us to…

(2) Stand out. Think about some of the brands you know best. How often to you see or hear an advertisement for them? No matter how popular they already are, they know the importance of standing out from the crowd… from hitting you at the EXACT time that you need their product or service. They don’t do just one ad placement on the radio or one print ad – they do an entire campaign, typically over several channels, and over several months.

(3) Feel your prospects pain – We spend a lot of time in our own shoes, but very little in others. Just like no two snowflakes are the same, neither are potential customers. You can’t use the same sales strategy on every customer and expect it to work. Your most important short term goal should be to get to know your prospects and their specific pains, so you know what’s most important to them. Simply talking about what makes you great and not listening to your prospect does not translate to repeatable success.

(4) Your prospect doesn’t have time for you – or, at a minimum, there’s several other people trying to reach that same person to solve the same problem you can solve. So, how do you rise above the noise and the other providers who believe they are just as smart, energetic and hungry as you?

With these in mind, here’s the strategy I propose:

(1) Number of “touches” – I recommend that you plan to touch a prospective customer five times.  Each touch should be 2-3 days apart. You should consider a “multi-channel” approach. When I first started practicing this strategy, my typical touch points were the phone, email and fax. Today, you also have social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, possibly Facebook. Ask for warm introductions from your existing network. You are likely no more than 3 degrees from anybody you need to get to. You can still cold-call, but the warm introduction is much easier now than ever before.

Remember that your prospect is inundated with calls/emails/etc. So, it’s highly likely that they won’t even know that you’re reaching out multiple times. On your third or fourth touch, you might hit them at just the right time, and they likely won’t even remember the earlier touches. Are you worried they are going to think you are a pest? If you only call or email once, and don’t follow up after that, they won’t even know you exist. Which is worse?  Studies have shown that you need 3-4 touches on average to reach a person for the first time. So giving up at 1 touch has significantly lowered your odds of success.

(2) Maximizing your first discussion – a huge mistake many people do is launching right into their sales spiel when they happen to get somebody to pick up the phone.  BIG MISTAKE. These days, most people don’t pick up the phone unless they know who is calling – and if they find out it’s a stranger, their first reaction is going to be to get off the phone as soon as possible. So, your plan if you reach them isn’t to sell them, it’s to schedule a time that he agrees to where you can talk. Once you’ve received permission to have the discussion, your prospect will be much more open and available to have a meaningful call. Same thing with email – if you get a response that says “send me some literature and I’ll take a look”, that’s a code word for “I’m trying to seem nice, but what I’m really doing is blowing you off”. Flip that around and ask for 15-20 minutes to have a quick chat. If someone can’t or won’t give you 15 minutes, you’ll have a hard time getting them to give you more. Maximize your efforts on those people who will give you an initial shot.

(3) Be good at math – Prospecting isn’t personal, but it is a numbers game. You can’t take it personally until the person actually knows you. Once this realization sinks in, you’ll focus on the numbers. Figure out what your numbers are. For example:

    a) Start with 100 prospects
b) 20% of them agree to an initial call (down to 20 opportunities)
c) 50% of these agree to a meeting (down to 10 opportunities)
d) 30% of these agree to engage (closed 3 deals)

So, if you need 6 deals/month on average to keep your business afloat, then you’d need 200 prospects every month. Don’t worry if these numbers seem ridiculous – they are just an example. You need to figure out your own numbers – if after doing prospecting for a few months the math seems daunting, that may be a sign telling you that you don’t have a product or service that can sustain or scale.

It is important to keep track of your touch points. Be diligent and make sure you get to the number of total touches, and that you’re touching a prospect every 2-3 days. If you don’t reach a prospect after this “campaign”, drop them for a while. You can come back in a few months. Once you get this process started, you’ll start to be able to measure your success rate. This process will have a measurable impact on your repeatable sales strategy. Don’t stop at 2 or even 3 touches.  You won’t see an impact until you go to 5.

So, what do you think?  Too scary?  Make sense?  This is so exceptionally important to your success, so let me know how it’s working if you’re already doing something like this, or let me know if you want to discuss how to start if you’re not.

** A lot of my ideas and thinking on this topic comes from training and discussion with the team at Frontline Selling.  I also touched upon this issue in series of blog posts that starts with this post about creating repeatability while prospecting.