Common Prospecting Mistakes
Although we have dealt at length with the art and science of prospecting in prior chapters, let’s take a moment to identify some of the mistakes I commonly see among the sales staff when I consult for companies. These errors do not usually relate to misuse of some high-powered prospecting tool or process. More often they relate to orientation and basics. Remarkable, but true. Here they are:
Underestimating The Importance Of Prospecting
Some call it farming. Some call it mining. Others consider it more like a seeding process. Regardless of what you call it, failure to prospect on a regular basis is a malady among sales professionals which you can forecast and count on contracting. You may catch the bug for a few days or weeks after you land the Moby Dick of accounts or you may get it from fatigue induced by the perception of rejection. One way or another, we all get it now and then.
But if you don’t consistently identify new sources of business, you will ultimately find yourself needing only your fingers and toes when it comes time to count your take home pay.
The overused old saying sums it up: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” For something good to happen tomorrow, you must do some intelligent prospecting today.
Prospecting is 90% of a successful sales campaign. Identifying logical candidates to pursue, educate and relate with is the name of the game. Once you set the dominoes up and space them properly, one little push is all it takes to have them fall into place.
If you insist that prospecting leaves scars (even after reading this book) then repeat this workout Mantra of professional athletes: No Pain . . . No Gain.
Quitting Or Changing A Successful Program
Every once in a while a marketing gambit surfaces and works to perfection — perhaps by sheer accident or the position of the stars. Who cares? When one works it’s time to celebrate. Then, after the celebration a strange thing happens. The “marketing genius” stops doing what he/she just did. He tries something new, something innovative, something creative.
Suppose you administer a successful direct mail campaign. The return requests for information are more than you expected. Orders resulted which surpassed your best case scenario. So . . . at the next marketing meeting, you suggest switching from direct mail to seminar marketing. This is what I am talking about.
Quitting a successful prospecting approach too soon is a common mistake. Realize that you are likely to grow tired of your marketing message/program long before others do. Once you find something that works, I am not suggesting you marry the idea until the end of time. But I am suggesting that you continue to “work it” until the facts indicate that a modification is in order.
Decide for yourself which of the following approaches makes the most sense when you’ve found a program that works:
• • •
“If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” (Old Proverb) “If it isn’t broke, break it.” (The Three Stooges)
“If it isn’t broke, and it worked a moment ago, tweak it ever so gently but be careful you don’ t screw the entire project up.” (Mike Marchev)
Walking An Inch In Your Prospect’s Shoes
If you fail to think like your prospect, you are going to come in second place — and only one person gets the business. What you like doesn’t matter. What you think, doesn’t matter. What your prospect thinks and likes is what matters.
If you don’t know what your prospects (or customers) want from you and your product, it is time you found out. How? Simply ask them.
In every opportunity that presents itself, ask your customers:
“What would you need if . . . ?” “What is listed on your all time dream list?” “What would you eliminate or change if it was up to you?”
I like to compare this customer inquisition to tea with Columbo. You remember Detective Columbo. He was the sleuth whose clothes looked like they came from the Salvation Army grab bag and whose car was powered by cats. He wasn’t flashy, but he always managed to apprehend the culprit in the end.
The secret to Columbo’s success was that he asked questions. One after another. Plodding question after question. He got others to speak while he listened intently and took notes on the corner of a piece of paper torn from an old scratch pad. Playing Columbo is good advice for salespeople who want success.
You’ll be amazed what you learn once you get a prospect to talk. The key is not to predict your prospect’s feelings. The information, at times, may sting a bit. But if it is the truth, it will remain a fact whether you are privy to it or not. You are better off knowing what is going on.
Once you learn what turns your target audience “on,” the exercise becomes academic. Either you can satisfy their needs or you can’t. (By the way, if you can’t provide an appropriate solution but know who can, I want you to point your prospect toward the immediate fix. If you find this to be poor advice, you may not be where you need to be on the professional game board yet.)
Relying On “Name Recognition” Promotions
I’ll assume that most people reading this book are not part of the gigantic marketing machines of IBM, Merck or General Motors. Therefore, you probably don’t have an eight-figure promotional budget. (In the beginning of my startup business, I had a “figure-eight” promo budget — $8. But that was per month!)
You probably need your precious advertising dollars to pay big dividends for you. If so, you better not think about placing large space ads in an attempt to build “name recognition.” You can’t afford this luxury, now or ever.
Your single objective when investing promotional dollars is to identify people who have a genuine interest in learning more about what you do, get them to raise their hand and eventually, send you a check. Your best strategy:
Wave something of value in front of your audience and get them to reach for it.
I believe a two step approach is the best way to do this effectively and economically for most small enterprises. The quality of the leads generated is vastly more important than quantity. The most effective carrot you can dangle in front of would-be customers in this information age is useful, timely and meaningful “intelligence.” This is something your future customers can’t get too much of. I suggest that you send your prospects a letter, email or postcard on a somewhat regular basis (once every six to eight weeks) offering some form of free information on a subject that will ring their bell.
For example, a response from people who want to receive a copy of your latest “How To” booklet on “Mushroom Farming” is a clear indication that: (1) each respondent is interested in fungus (at least the edible kind), and (2) each is willing to give you his name and address for more intelligence. (I’ll refrain from making a crack about I.Q.)
Here is a brief blueprint for building a direct mail campaign: First, mail a professional business letter introducing the How To piece. This letter must be easy to read and jam-packed with reasons why the prospect should ask for a personal copy of the “intelligence.” Include what the pros call a bounce back device. (Postcards and self-addressed envelopes are the most common, but include a blank space for a daytime telephone number.) Once your audience asks for the free information, you must send it at once. (Notice I didn’t say when you get around to it.)
When you send out the How To piece, include a second letter reminding the prospect/suspect how valuable the information is. Also, include an invitation for the prospect/suspect to contact you directly with any questions concerning the material, or to schedule an appointment with you to explore the topic further.
The next step is to follow up with a personal phone call. (That’s why you requested the phone number in the bounce-back piece.) Your objective is to make a connection with the prospect by politely inquiring whether or not he received the information he asked for. During this brief call, make it a point to ask if you can help in any other way.
For those people on your list who did not ask for your How To booklet (the majority of the list), listen carefully to what I am about to tell you. Send these people the same letter a second time (that is, assuming the letter got a decent overall response on the first go around.) Yes, send the exact same letter to those prospects/suspects on your list who did not respond to your first letter. Based on my experience, you will get a good response.
Expect that most of the people you contact on the phone will not be enthusiastic once they figure out who you are and why you are calling. Don’t take this personally. As Bruce Hornsbee sang: “That’s just the way it is.” One or two will hit it off with you, and a budding business relationship will be forthcoming. That’s success . . . and you’ll get a heap more per promotional dollar than you will by throwing bucks at institutional advertising. You may as well toss those presidential pictures on the “barbie.”
Stumped On The Question “Why You?”
Here is a sample of Q & A I typically have with participants in my seminars:
MM: “Why should I do business with you?“
Participant #1: “We provide more service.“
Participant #2: “We are faster.”
Participant #3: “We are better.”
Participant #4: “We care.”
These are all unpolished, store-bought answers — we . . . I . . . first . . . less . . . quicker . . . care . . . service . . . yada, yada, yada! All quite meaningless and irrelevant. The truth is the majority of business people today don’t really know compelling reasons why anyone should do business with them. So when asked, they resort to a knee-jerk response and wing their way with an answer they feel sounds logical and maybe believable.
I want you to be the exception. Do a little work on the speedbag before jumping into the ring. Think about how to favorably position yourself with future customers. Having an answer — a well thought out, meaningful, believable answer — to the very intelligent and fair question: ”Why should I do business with you?” is vital to your future success. (Amazingly, very few salespeople take the time to develop this key response!) Consider framing your answer along the lines of the following example.
Prospect: “Mike, considering all of my options, why should I do business with you?”
MM: “That’s a very intelligent question. (Pause) I’m glad you asked that. The last three meeting planners who chose me to speak at their annual convention chose me because . . .”
This response accomplishes a couple of things. It congratulates the person who asked the question as being knowledgeable. (“That’ s a very intelligent question.”) People like to feel they are smart rather than feeling like they just asked a dumb question.
Second, your response gives instant credibility to your superior competitive position in the marketplace. You are passing along a few documented reasons why other leading companies have chosen you as a trusted business partner. What you think of yourself is not relevant at this point, other than to boost your PEQ (personal ego quotient). But what other people (clients) think of you and your organization is compelling to prospective clients.
Key Point: Although you may be more knowledgeable about the specifics, the views of your customers will always be more believable when selling the benefits of your services to prospects. Use your customer’s words, thoughts and experiences whenever possible. Your prospects will place significant faith in this type of communication.
Don’t be embarrassed at first if you don’t know why your customers choose to do business with you. Just make it a point to find out by asking them the next time an opportunity presents itself. Plus, when you get it straight from your customers (versus surveys) you will sound more believable when relaying the information to others. You may even want to provide the prospect with the opportunity to contact a few selected clients directly. (Just make sure you have permission from your clients before handing out their name and phone number as references.)
Forgetting Former Prospects And Clients
You will typically invest a lot of hours and probably some money trying to identify, qualify and then schedule face time with a prospect. You finally say and do what it takes to establish some degree of rapport. But for any one of a million reasons, the prospect chooses not to do business with you, and you drop them like a hot potato. Not much logic here folks.
I recently received a phone call from a woman who I used to do business with years ago. She was responding to a postcard I sent to her a week earlier. I was just keeping in touch, but my timing was perfect. She called and gave me the name of the person I should be speaking with if I was interested in earning some money. Is this the only time a random postcard has worked some magic for me? Not on your life. I can’t count the occasions where my touching base with former clients and prospects has resulted in a solid lead for new business.
I don’t want to bang my fist on the table too many times in this book, but this deserves a “knuckle numbing,” Don’t give up on past prospects and clients. Contact them. Don’t quit on them and don’t quit on yourself. Persistence works when administered with patience.
Not Using “People Proof”
What you say about yourself and your company is, or will be perceived as, biased. No one is particularly impressed with what you say. The secret to gaining credibility and respect rapidly is to get others to sing from the praise book for you. Think testimonials.
Many sales professionals fail to use this high-caliber weapon. In fact, they fail to even obtain the bullets — which are free for the asking. The next time you blow one of your customers away with high-quality service, position the customer as a spokesperson for your program. Be careful; this can be a tricky deal. You want the customer to show appreciation for working with you but you don’t ever want to place him in a compromising position.
So, always request a testimonial letter from satisfied customers. (You can never have too many.) Then, and this may come as news to some, make it your business to get those letters in the hands of inquisitive prospects. I can’t tell you how many copies of beautiful, well crafted, Mike Marchev- oriented letters I had in my files, doing absolutely no good for me whatsoever — until I uncovered their power
First, get those testimonials written.
Second, get them out.