The one thing all salespeople have in common is customers. Finding and interesting the customer who can say "yes" to your company's product or service is called prospecting, and it may be the toughest task salespeople love to avoid.
For companies with money to spend, there are list brokers in every big city who will deliver names and phone numbers of pre-qualified potential customers for your salespeople to call. "As a rule of thumb, the more money you spend, the better the quality of information you get," says Paul S. Goldner, president of Sales & Performance Group, LLC, in Katonah, N.Y. But a trip to the library to review Dun & Bradstreet listings, a browse on the World Wide Web, a copy of the local chamber of commerce directory, or even the Yellow Pages in the right hands can serve as a starting point for prospecting.
More important is how your company prospects and who does it, according to Bruce Wedderburn, director of sales training for Dale Carnegie Training in Rockville, Md. "Credibility has to come before selling," Wedderburn says. That means your prospector-whether a sales rep or an in-house staffer dedicated to finding leads for the rep-has to reach the buyer with something that person wants hear. "The main person who qualifies whether a sale is going to take place or not is the customer." The more complex and expensive your product or service, the more skilled and knowledgeable the prospector must be.
That person is usually your sales rep, if for no better reason than the cost of training and supervising a dedicated prospector. Yet the skill sets aren't the same; a prospector needs to be superbly organized. Joel Linchitz, president of Phone For Success, Corp. in New York City, advises clients (including BankBoston and Sharp Electronics) to secure powerful contact management software to track prospects through the sales process. Linchitz suggests training even the most technophobic salespeople from day one to use computers for contact management-that way, the information stays under your control, rather than exiting through the door when the sales rep does. And computers have never been more affordable.
Once the training and the tools are in place, prospecting experts offer these tips for success:
Organize your prospecting like a campaign. Go after one industry or type of prospect at a time. Pre-qualify using public information, the Internet or direct inquiries to minimize wasted effort. Keep meticulous records for follow-up. Dedicate no less than two hours at a time to prospecting calls.
Use a dialogue guide instead of a script. You're selling, not surveying. A guide makes the pitch sound less rehearsed. Your prospectors will perfect their pitches with each call.
Don't isolate your prospectors. Put them together in one room if possible. Each can encourage and discipline the others, reinforce a positive momentum, and share what works and what doesn't.
Set multiple goals. That way, if a sales rep can't set five appointments during the day, perhaps he or she will still meet the goal of making 40 calls, or identifying 10 new prospects, or getting information on eight new companies, and won't be discouraged.
If you send an introductory letter or fax, don't wait more than 48 hours after its receipt to follow up. Write the introduction to maximize the prospect's interest in taking your prospecting call.
"Smile and dial" was a corny old telemarketing trick to train sales reps to maintain a positive, mellifluous, engaging tone of voice. And it works. "You should be making calls when you're feeling good," Linchitz says, "when you can be enthusiastic."