Prospecting is the only Silver Bullet to building a successful sales career.
Sales as a profession is a journey that is open to anyone willing to give it time, effort and commitment to go the entire distance. But as they say, any journey begins with taking the first step. In the case of Sales professionals, it starts with PROSPECTING. You must start to fall in love with the whole process of Prospecting to become a successful Sales Professional. Prospecting is not equal to COLD CALLING. It is more evolved than cold calling, and read on as I progress.
Selling is about Learning,
and learning is a full-time continuous journey.
A key aspect if you choose a sales career, be in it for the long term. For sales success, every seller needs to be a continuous Learner. The learning process is an ongoing one, regardless of how many years a "sales professional" may have under his belt. Please note I am talking about a Sales Professional vs a seller. There is a very distinctive difference. If you want to succeed in sales, you have to adopt the practice and constantly be on the journey of becoming a professional vs just being a seller. True sales is a continuous learning journey. "Knowledge is power". The more knowledge you have, and the more you accumulate, the better it will be for you. Knowledge can be of two types, general knowledge and specialised knowledge or what we more know as Domain or Functional knowledge. People generally think that having specialised knowledge is more critical, but in my 30 years of experience in sales, you are likely to make more money in your lifetime from the general knowledge that you acquire.
"Sales is not hocus-pocus; it is all about Focus". Just focus on 3 things: Time, Effort and Commitment (TEC). There are no shortcuts to success and most certainly as a Sales Professional. As I start to dwell on the first step on the success ladder of Sales – Prospecting, one theme resonates with me
"To make all your sales problems go away, all you have to do is go talk to more people. Ignore the negative ones, and stay focused on your goals. Just call more people. The more people you call on, the better your results will be. Just see more people."
Early in my sales career, the best advice I received from some of my managers was to ignore the voices of doom and gloom, focus on your goals and recognise the opportunities swirling around you. Use extra TEC to make a difference in this world. Don't just dream; you have to build on your dreams effort-by-effort, one step at a time. Everyone you meet has something to contribute to your growth. You will never run into anybody from whom you cannot learn something. Thus summarising one hack to becoming a successful sales professional could be summarised to say
Hack #1: "The best way to master the entire sales process, especially prospecting, is to focus on meeting more people every day". So the more you Prospect, the more you leant, and the more you grow."
Before and during your sales career, I would suggest asking yourself, "Why be a sales professional?" Therefore, I am making that we have to daily sell ourselves the Sales career.
Hack #2: "If you have the right answer to the ubiquitous question – WHY, it will not only change your attitude towards the profession but will also change your attitude and others' perception towards you and your job."
PROSPECTING- The Keyword for Sales Performance
Prospect as a noun figuratively describes any person who may actually buy the offered product. Prospecting, as a verb, describes the act and or the activity of looking for potential candidates who may be a Prospect. Many of us are motivated by the feeling that my product when I present to the Prospect, will result in an instant conversion. We at least get into the act of prospecting in the hope of getting instant gratification or instant success. But at best, it is just hope, and hope can never be your strategy in any endeavour, let alone sales.
The truth is that instant success rarely occurs instantly. A lot of hard work and digging gets into getting that "pot of gold". In a way, this is why figuratively, the pot of gold is only available at the one end of the imaginary rainbow. Let's define Prospecting:
"It ideally is a very organised, systematic effort to identify, reach, establish a degree of rapport, and qualify people as possible new customers and clients".
Yes, it's not instant nor easy. But the good part is there is a process to become successful, which means if we stick to the outlined process of Prospecting, we can succeed every time.
TIME as a Resource
In a general sense, time is not really limited. However, in the literal sense, it is limited. Hence we must focus on the 'Enriched Time'. In this context, prospecting effectively and efficiently revolves around using time most productively. Some hacks for that could be:
Knowing what to search for (in terms of the right segment for your offer);
Knowing where to look for; and
Knowing what to do, how to proceed, what to say and how to leave prospects genuinely smiling.
Hack #3: "Use your TIME enrichingly."
Prospecting is a Numbers game
Failure to prospect effectively can mean the rest of all your skills may never be used. In my experience, few salespeople have developed a well-defined prospecting plan. The probability of your success in sales increases with the no of "qualified prospects" in your database and the range of prospecting methods you adopt in your sales practice, e.g. cold calling, webinars and seminars, corporate presentations etc. And hence at a very basic level, "Prospecting is a numbers game". In a sense, to put it simply, the number of qualified leads is directly proportional to the no of successful sales.
Hack #4: “Thus, a sales professional should know his ratio of sales to the number of qualified leads and therefore have a daily plan to how many new qualified people he must meet every day to deliver his plan. It's like a farmer planting seeds.”
A few realisations I have had in my sales experience of 30 years- just treat them as pointers as the last part of this blog.
Prospecting is the most essential of the daily activities for a sales professional. So keep at it. Just see more people every day.
Prospecting activities are NOT cold-calling; cold calling is just a tool to collect data. The only objective can be to build rapport and, at best, seek a second meeting. So it is a key part of prospecting but is not equal to prospecting. In fact, cold-calling is neither the most efficient nor the most effective way to generate leads. Cold calling is labour-intensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining for the sales professional. And hence many individuals in sales really dislike making cold calls and, by extension, dislike prospecting.
Hack #5: As against cold calling, prospecting is a "targeted activity". We must create a profile or a straw man of our "Ideal prospect". This also includes research to identify who fits our profile before we start reaching out to our potential clients.
Prospecting is not Selling. Prospecting does not involve selling. Prospecting is a process of combining research ( at times including cold calls) regarding our "ideal client" with the idea of starting a selling conversation, and hence prospecting is not selling.
Hack #6: Don't feel unhappy or unfulfilled if you don't close the sale in the prospecting stage. As I said, Prospecting is not selling.
Closing a sale every day is a myth. But enjoying meeting people every day is not. So keep enjoying prospecting every day, and sales closures will become more efficient. The numbers won’t bother you if your focus and enjoyment are restricted to meeting more people every day.
Hack #7: If we focus on closing a sale every day, we are more likely to feel disillusioned. Just follow the process of daily prospecting. Stay in the game.
For success in sales, other than Prospecting skills, mastering communication skills is key. And communication skills are not about being a great smooth talker. Instead, it is a unique combination of speaking, listening and thinking together, questioning clearly and precisely. So building rapport as a critical purpose of prospecting and rehearsing is a crucial component of preparing for anything you are going to do. Because if we do not prepare, we are preparing to fail.
Hack #8: So rehearse the process of asking the right questions, listen well, acknowledge and provide the next steps to meet at the best post or during a cold call.
Choose your vocabulary well and your tone of voice too. The wrong choice of words and an inappropriate tone can offend your prospect, which is the end of converting them into a client.
Hack #9: Try and identify the key decision-makers within the prospecting process as early as possible in the cold calling process to save time converting into a sale. Plus, it also helps you to decide when to drop following up.
Segueing well into a sales conversation from cold calling is a skill we need to develop. In the sales process, we need to transition into moving the conversation in a specific direction while continuing to command the prospect's attention and giving the prospect the respect they deserve.
We have to get the Prospect's interest and attention: If we present our product ineffectively, we will not command the prospect's interest or attention for long.
Hack #10: Learn the art of questioning – Ask the right questions and, more importantly, at the right time.
More importantly, learning the art of effective listening is probably more if not equal to the art of asking questions. As I believe,
Selling is not telling; it is listening. Not Listening is a quick path to "Goodbye".
Prepare about your prospect's areas of work, their industry, his family and some personal stuff to get him to converse with you during the stage of prospecting where both of you are trying to get comfortable. Don't think that the job of building rapport is only yours. The other side is as uncomfortable as you are because it is a new experience for them as well. Hence, knowing the prospect well before getting into a meeting or conversation will help you break the ice, make them more comfortable, and increase your chances for a second meeting where you can progress closer to a sale.
Lastly, I will end this first of a 5-series of blogs on Prospecting by saying you can never stop prospecting as the market you don't know about is much larger than the market you know. If you get to master the skills for the market you don't know, it will be much easier for you to sell to the market you know.
Watch this space for the next article in this five-post series! Coming out soon.
Aalok Bhan is a seasoned business professional with three decades of experience across the BFSI and education sectors. In his career, he has worked in full capacity with Standard Chartered, ABN AMRO, Max Life, and as a consultant with the Rain Group. An SRCC and IIM-C graduate, Aalok now runs his Thought Leadership and Consultancy, Scaling Up.
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