From the pandemic to supply chain issues to ongoing uncertainty about the state of the economy, it’s been anything but business as usual over the past few years. For many salespeople, priority number one during this turbulent period has been making sure their existing customers are getting what they need. That has been particularly pronounced in industries where inventory levels have fluctuated wildly. Salespeople have been devoting much of their time and energy to keeping current customers happy and “making them whole.” As a result, their growth strategies have focused mostly on selling deeper and wider into these existing customer organizations.
While keeping customers happy and maximizing those accounts is always important, it’s not enough to sustain and grow revenue going forward. You can bet that your competitors are going out there and finding new business. Especially as external issues settle down, your customer acquisition strategies have to shift to a better balance between filling existing orders and developing new accounts. If you’re only maintaining what you have, you’re going to run into major headwinds.
In other words, it’s time for your salespeople to get back into the habit of prospecting. Sales cycles have gotten longer and more complicated, and the longer they wait to go after new business, the further behind they’re going to be.
One challenge many salespeople now face is that they’re out of practice with the basics of prospecting. They simply aren’t accustomed to doing the work involved with drumming up new business. At the same time, prospecting itself has changed as the buying journey has evolved in recent years. The rise of remote work has also made some of the old tactics obsolete. Whereas, in the past, an enterprising salesperson might have knocked on doors, cold called the main number, or sent a clever mailer to get a prospect’s attention, that’s not possible when people aren’t physically in the office anymore. What’s more, many of these practices are no longer aligned with the way today’s buyers want to be engaged.
Meanwhile, as the environment has changed and early-stage buying processes have become more digital, so have the prospecting tools. For example, technology like LinkedIn Sales Navigator has taken on a more prominent role in many B2B customer acquisition strategies.
The upshot of all of this is that your salespeople haven’t flexed their prospecting muscles in a while, and so much of what they knew and had gotten comfortable with isn’t as applicable today. It’s like returning to the gym after a year or two away: You’re rusty, you aren’t sure what to expect, and you’re hesitant to walk through that door.
Getting back into the habit of prospecting – and doing it effectively in today’s sales environment – will require not just new techniques but confidence, skills, and inner motivation. Let’s take a closer look at some of the barriers your salespeople may have to overcome and how they can get into the mindset to make prospecting a successful and welcome part of their job.
Here’s a news flash: Most people don’t like prospecting! They assume it’s a daunting task that’s filled with rejection, so they avoid doing it. But if we look more deeply at the issue, we can see that there are usually some underlying beliefs (along with skill deficits) that could be leading to these assumptions. These beliefs form a person’s mindset about prospecting, and they can be very powerful.
For example, we sometimes hear people say they’re hesitant to cold call on a prospect because it feels like they’re annoying them. However, those salespeople who believe strongly in the value of their product often view cold calling through an entirely different lens. They know what the product has to offer, and that’s their driving force – they want more people to benefit from it.
Other beliefs, such as their view of selling, also influence a person’s perceptions of prospecting. If they think sales involves “pushing product” to meet quota – or manipulating someone into buying something – they likely will face a lot of rejection. No one wants to be on the other end of that conversation.
But salespeople who view selling through a customer-needs-focused lens are going to approach prospects with a totally different mindset. They’re going to do the research and preparation in advance to understand the customer’s business. Instead of running through the marketing bullet points about features and benefits, they’re going to spend more time asking good questions to uncover needs. When they ultimately do talk about the solution, they’ll be doing so within the context of how it will address the needs the prospect just identified.
There’s no question that it’s a lot easier and more comfortable to reach out to a client who already knows you and loves what you have to offer, but sustainable growth requires developing new business, too. Just as important, salespeople have to be able to have more complex, sometimes challenging conversations with existing customers to strengthen and grow those relationships.
Here’s a useful model to help customers or prospects discover their own needs by recognizing the gap between their current and desired situation:
1. Ask questions that get the person talking about their current situation – a problem to be solved or solutions being used:
2. Ask questions that get them talking about their desired situation – goals or outcomes they want to accomplish but aren’t experiencing:
3. Help them identify the risks or concerns they might experience if they stay in the current situation:
4. Help them identify the benefits or rewards they might experience in the desired situation:
Great salespeople bring clarity to people’s thinking and decision-making process. Often customers need – and highly appreciate – an outside expert helping them move through this analysis.
Whether you’re cold calling or cross-selling and upselling within existing accounts, the key to building trust is selling the way customers want to buy. Especially now, with all of the information customers already have available to them, flooding them with product information isn’t contributing anything to the interaction; more often than not, it’s only going to backfire.
As you work to recalibrate your customer acquisition strategy, make sure your salespeople have the mindset and skillset they need to be productive in both realms. Whether it involves prospecting or having the confidence to discuss things like price increases with existing clients, this starts with uncovering and addressing any inner beliefs that might be undermining their success.
Top salespeople follow a customer-focused approach to acquiring new business – with potential new accounts as well as with long-term customers – that includes:
The real value salespeople bring is in having these strategic conversations that get the customer thinking differently about their business and then listening to uncover their needs, problems, and goals. Once that happens, salespeople can focus on creating value that’s relevant and will help the customer move the needle on the issues that matter to them. Those are the kinds of conversations existing customers and prospects alike will welcome.
For over 25 years, Patty Gaddis has helped companies worldwide improve their sales performance and invigorate their organizations through strategy and talent development. Patty has a passion for ensuring clients see measurable, lasting results and helps them identify and hit targets that matter most to them. She goes out of her way to understand the customer – not just their requirements but also their real needs. Then she drives to build relationships based on trust, commitment, and follow-through. Patty is a graduate of Appalachian State University and lives with her husband in Anderson, SC.