February 2, 2010

All Sales Begin with Prospects

By Selling Power Editors

Creative prospecting often determines the difference between an average salesperson and a sales superstar. Here are seven creative ways you can hit the skins to drum up a parade of leads eager to do business with your company.

1. The Prospect Referral Chain

Start by examining your existing base of satisfied customers. Then ask for referrals. Referrals from happy clients make it easier to get your foot in the door with new prospects. The key lies in how you make the request.

Don’t ask current customers, “Do you know anyone else who could use my product?” Clients are rarely eager to judge whether colleagues are prepared to make a purchase. Instead, ask whether your customer knows any other tenants in the building or fellow club or business organization members who might be interested in finding out about your product.

If you sense hesitation from customers to give out referrals it’s probably because they are afraid that their associates may not want to be pestered. Say, “Let me tell you what I’m going to do with any names you give me. I will make one phone call to each party, indicate that you were nice enough to give me their names and give them a brief outline of what we do.

“If they express an interest, we will get together and I will give them the same professional service I’ve given you. If, on the other hand, they express no interest, I will thank

them for their time and never

call again.” This approach will put your customers at ease and move solid, new prospects onto your lead list.

2. Orphans

A salesperson who moves into a new position or changes jobs leaves behind a wealth of client and prospect lists that you can turn into a lead-generating goldmine. In addition, if you’ve been selling for a while you’ve surely built up a backlog of inactive accounts. Weed out the names who for whatever reason will never buy. The rest are solid prospects.

Call them again and find out why they’re not buying from you anymore. What would it take to change that? They may have stopped ordering your type of product altogether, or they may have gone with a competitor because of a special one-time offer, or there may have been a management change and therefore a change in buying patterns. You have to determine why the customer stopped buying from you. After you do that, reestablishing contact and turning that prospect into a customer again is SSP (standard sales procedure).

3. Get Published

Although you may have to give your services as a writer away for free, the residual benefits will make your efforts well worth the time. Submit articles about your field or industry to journals, trade magazines and newspapers. Your submissions don’t have to be glossy and expensive; just fill them with information that people can genuinely use, then make sure you have no spelling or grammatical mistakes. Instead of getting paid, ask the publication to include your address and telephone number at the end of the article and to write a little blurb about your expertise.

By convincing an editor that you’re an expert in your field, you become one. Once prospects think of you as an expert you’ll be the first one they contact when they’re ready to buy. In addition, prospects who call you for advice can come to depend on you and your product. Thus you attract prospects without having to go out prospecting.

4. Bird Dogs

Like the hunting dogs who flush out game, sales “bird dogs” are people who locate and qualify prospects for you. Bird dogs don’t sell, but for a fee or a commission they can scour a market and monitor publications to locate high potential prospects. Anyone can be a bird dog – your mail carrier, the neighbor’s kid, service personnel, relatives – as long as they understand the clients you’re looking for. And you can use as many bird dogs – in as many locations – as you want, to help build your client list by leaps and hounds.

Try swapping prospecting leads with professionals in your area. Hold meetings for professionals in different fields: lawyers, accountants, dentists, doctors, business consultants, temp bureaus, printers – there are potentially dozens of such occupations, all of which need referrals. By sharing information, you can all benefit.

5. Sales Lead Clubs

Organize a group of salespeople in related but noncompetitive fields to meet twice a month to share leads and prospecting tips. To get started, first write a formal mission statement, charge dues to ensure commitment and grant membership to only one salesperson from each specific field. Next, set up administrative procedures and duties to keep the club on track and committed to its stated mission.

Finally, establish guidelines for what constitutes a good lead and track prospect information and effectiveness. Group leads by effectiveness so members can better understand what leads can help the rest. You may even have every member who closes a lead contribute to a kitty. Each month the winner can be the member who provided the most closed leads.

6. Get Lists

Make a list of what your ideal prospect looks like. Ask yourself the following questions:

– Who are my ideal prospects?

– What economic bracket do they usually fall into?

– What kinds of organizations do they belong to?

– What characteristics do most of my existing customers share?

– Are they married, single, widowed or divorced?

– Do they have children?

– Do they have particular political leanings?

– Do they have similar occupations, education, hobbies, illnesses, transportation needs, family concerns?

And the key question:

– Where am I most likely to find the greatest conglomeration of people who fit my prospect’s profile?

List number one – Take the information you have accumulated and apply it. Go to the library and look up the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code number for your ideal prospects’ businesses. Ask a librarian for help if you need it. Every type of business has a specific SIC code. Related industries have similar numbers; scan the directory to locate the numbers that fit the profile. This should provide you with an excellent prospect list. In addition, there are literally hundreds of other business directories that can help you generate lists based on corporate profiles..

List number two – What kinds of publications do your ideal prospects likely read? Find out whether these publications sell lists of subscribers. If the publication’s readership matches your prospect profile well enough this list should be well worth the cost.

List number three – Go to the Standard Rate and Data Service’s directory of firms that sell lists. These companies offer a variety of criteria that you can use to generate a quality prospect list. Dun & Bradstreet is an example of such a company. For your convenience the information may even be available on computer diskette.

7. Trade Shows

Trade shows provide the ideal environment for salespeople to come face-to-face with large numbers of potential customers. Remember, however, that success at trade shows stems from preparation.

– Set up an interesting display to get people’s attention. A popcorn machine, juggler or expensive giveaway are a few good ideas.

– Write down your message so that it fits on the back of a business card.

– Practice communicating two or three key points that get your message across succinctly. Get it down pat but don’t memorize it to make it sound overly canned.

– Make a list of the major buyers at the show you want to pursue for contacts.

– Set up to maximize your display’s visibility based on the flow of traffic.

– Be assertive in approaching passers-by. Instead of the common “hello” or “how are you?” try “Do you use [product or service] in your operations?” or “Have you seen [product or service]? If I can show you how to be more profitable, would you be interested?” Next offer them a sample to handle, but not to keep. Don’t let them take the item and move on without talking to you.

– Use lead cards to write down prospect information for efficient and effective post-show follow-up.

– Be prepared for rejection. Some buyers will ignore you. Don’t take it personally. Be brief but professional. Your time is too valuable to waste on non-prospects.

These are just a few good prospecting ideas; there are probably hundreds more. It doesn’t matter how you choose to prospect, just as long as you do it. Because with a solid prospecting effort you can turn a selling slump into a swelling lump – of sales.