The Sales Prospecting Dilemma

When you approach a new prospect, what do you have to offer? Whether you’re sending an email or cold calling, you need to grab the attention of your contact and make them want to talk with you. But too often sellers spew on about their product or lead off with a trap question that screams salesperson.

The solution to this prospecting dilemma used to be to start your discussion as a business conversation rather than a traditional semi-scripted cold call. You based it on needs you uncovered in research before ever approaching your prospect.

But even that isn’t enough any more.

Business owners and executives are busy people with too many responsibilities, too little time, and too few staff to pick up the slack. They don’t have time for a conversation unless it will help them do their job more efficiently and effectively.

Too often the prospecting business discussion is one designed to gather a prospect’s needs and covertly qualify if an opportunity exists. While you begin the conversation discussing the business issue you uncovered in your research, it quickly deteriorates into a series of questions that feel much like a sales call.

Your contact ends the conversation without agreeing to a first appointment, and you don’t know why. You never mentioned your product, and you were only talking about them. So what happened? It used to work.

What changed?

If you want to catch your prospects’ attention, you must go beyond even the business discussion. You have to have something important to talk with them about, something that feels almost life changing for them.

Here’s how you get a prospect to talk to you:

  • Know your purpose. In your first call or email, your purpose isn’t to close for an appointment. I know you’re shocked, but it isn’t. Rather, it’s simply to have a conversation to get to know each other, begin building a relationship, and see if you should have a meeting. While you’re feeling the pressure to fill your pipeline this moment, many of the people you’ll speak with won’t be ready to make any immediate changes. But, if you leave a positive impression as a thoughtful, intelligent person who may be able to help their business in the future, they’ll want to stay in touch. That gives you a lead for 3, 6 or 9 months from now.Better still, they’ll probably call you because they’ll remember your discussion.
  • Offer to share your expertise freely. Research is important but it’s how you apply it that truly distinguishes you. Determine the business issue you could assist with, then offer your expertise on what they should be thinking about to address that point. Don’t hold back because you think a prospect should pay for your advice. Few companies you speak with will be able to implement your suggestions without your company’s help. Let go of that concern and open up. Share the great knowledge you have. If you have ideas about how a company could better control their IT costs, tell them. Some will be recommendations that directly connect to your offerings, but others should not. If, for example, during your discussion you believe some basic training would help their office manager to administer better system back-ups, tell them. You can sell them a full-scale business recovery solution later.Guide them with ideas they can implement right now while positioning what you can assist with in the future.
  • Make them think about the possibilities. As you share, discuss what you’ve seen other companies do to address a similar problem. Think about your clients, the challenges they’re facing and what they’re doing about those problems. Show prospects the possibilities of what they could be doing to improve productivity, cut costs, or address that need you uncovered in your research. Share one or two simple-to-implement ideas, as well as one or two more complex suggestions. Base your ideas on how you’ve observed your clients address those matters in their organizations or how they have implemented your solutions to change their businesses.The business owners and executives you’re calling are so busy they haven’t had time to consider other possibilities. They’re surviving with the issues when they may not have to.
  • Help them re-examine their status quo. By not pushing prospects into a change with your first call, you’re freeing them up to rethink their status quo. Your conversation of suggestions and possibilities allows them to take time out and think for a moment about what could be. Suddenly training the office manager may not be enough. They may appreciate your recommendation on how they can protect their business from security threats, educate their staff on phishing emails, move more applications to the cloud, or manage their whole IT infrastructure. They won’t want to wait 3 or 6 months to talk again. They’ll want to pick your brain some more and consider ways to eliminate the issues they’ve been living with now that they know they don’t have to.

I know, you’re thinking this sounds like a deeper conversation than you usually conduct in a cold call. And, you’re concerned that you interrupted the person. They’d never stay on the phone for this type of discussion.

But, it works.

It works because you’ve grabbed your prospect’s attention and made them want to talk with you. After a conversation like this, they either want to schedule time for a deeper conversation, or they want to hear from you again sometime soon.

You can solve your prospecting dilemma by elevating your conversation to one based on your expertise and ideas. Before you know it, not only will your pipeline increase, but your relationship database of potential new prospects will be overflowing too.

Kendra Lee is president of KLA Group, which works with companies to break in and exceed revenue objectives in the Small and Midmarket Business (SMB) segment. Read more blogs from Kendra here.

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    Ron Taylor:

    Sounds great! BUT whats that first line you use to get that conversation started? “Hello, I was just calling to chat with you for a few minutes” . . . . what get them to engage in that conversation?

    Kendra Lee:

    Ron, great question. You start with a business issue you suspect they’re facing, then expand the conversation from there. It could be security related since there are many concerns about security right now. It might be compliance related if you’re calling a company in a regulated industry. You get the picture. Start with their issue.

    Some ideas: “I’m calling attorneys in the area to…” Or “There’s been another security breech and I’m calling to alert you about …” Or, “There have been some changes in … and I’m calling to …” Or, “Recurring downtime is still an issue…”

    Todd Hussey:

    Two comments,
    1. I think you are describing “cold calling/emails”. eg Sending an unsolicited email or making an unsolicited call to someone that doesn’t know you. Many opinions on what a cold call/email is – that’s mine. When was the last time you accepted a cold call or email? Me – probably a few years ago? Not only is it a numbers game you can’t win but it can very much hurt your brand. When I get cold calls/emails, I look at them and say “Wow this is so 90’s, what is this company thinking?”
    2. I also think you are referencing calling into IT “back up, security, managing infrastructure”. Per Forrester, 65% of all new tech spend is outside IT, it’s with the business managers buying cloud solutions to help them achieve their desired business outcomes. ITSPs need to “market to” the business managers with “persona specific” business outcomes focused cloud solutions.

    We are living in a digital aka inbound marketing and sales world today eg the buyers journey.

    My 2 cents worth……….

    Jim Barnet:

    So I’ve read all the “cold calling is dead” books, and they probably sold well, but practically speaking, they’re all wrong. Saying cold calling is from the 90’s is like saying one of your golf clubs (5 iron) is from the 90s’. Cold calling is just another bus dev tool along with Social Media, Blogging, Pay per Click, Web site visitor DNS resolution etc,. just like a 5 iron is just another golf club, along with driver, putter, etc.,.

    Knowing how to use all of your bus dev tools (golf clubs) yields the best overall sales game plan. I will say that 1990’s style ‘product pitching’ cold calling is dead, like Vanilla Coke and Vanilla Ice (I personally miss one of those, but won’t say which one). As per Kendra’s article, the kind of cold calling and cold e-mailing that is effective, are the ones focused around business outcomes. I personally like focusing on confirming if the person I’m calling has specific pains that our PSA software solution solves, but as per Kendra’s comment, bringing value to any customers pain (referring them to a non-competing solution that you don’t sell for example) still initiates building the long term relationship.

    The premise of this approach to cold calling, is that you as a salesperson already know the top 2-3 pains your solution solves, and you’re just calling to see if that target contact has that pain (unachieved objective or unsolved problem). If you start with the problem (not the solution) and you find someone with that problem, what you’ll quickly find is, that executive spends a good portion of their time looking for solutions to unachieved objectives and unsolved problems, and they’re perfectly happy to spend a couple minutes talking to someone who might be able to help. And for a cold call to be a success, that’s all you want.

    If use all the golf clubs at your disposal, now there’s an opportunity to cross leverage them. In the cold call you’ll offer to send the prospect a relevant blog on best practices on the topic at hand, or refer them to a Social Media site with relevant content, or send them a link to a relevant Aberdeen or Forrester research paper on that topic. Now you’ve added value and started to build a reputation as a subject matter expert on this business outcome topic. As per Kendra’s article, your goal in a cold call is NOT to sell something or book a meeting to sell something (that’s definitely Tamagotchi territory – Millennials feel free to Google the 90’s references), it’s to create credibility in an area the target contact cares about and add some kind of value as the starting point to building a relationship.

    My nickel’s worth.

    Jim Barnet
    Promys PSA
    Director Sales & Marketing
    Tel: 905-847-6539, ext. 2972
    Cell: 647-239-2942
    [email protected]
    t: @PROMYS_PSA

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