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The Fear of Prospecting: “Phone-a-phobia” (2/2)

What is a prospect? For most salespeople, a prospect is someone that is currently looking for the kinds of products or services that their organization provides. With this definition in mind, many salespeople think of prospecting as hunting for people that are looking for them – a relatively small number of hard-to-find opportunities.

What would a salesperson’s life be like if we turned the typical definition of a prospect on its head?   What if we defined a prospect as a person who is not actively looking for your products or services at the time that you call on them? The universe of potential prospects grows tremendously under this expanded definition.

Today, most potential prospects do some research and scan the internet from time to time, looking for ideas for solving their business problems, even if they are not actively evaluating vendors for any specific solutions. Therefore, it would be foolish to think that prospects are not “educated” buyers. However, because most people do not have formal requirements for solving many of their business problems defined yet, they are not quite “expert” buyers. In these cases, the best sales prospectors are those who make the first contact with buyers and help them progress from a casual interest to the point where they admit they have a business problem that could be addressed with that salesperson’s product or service. It is only at this point that prospecting ends and real selling can begin.

There are three stages of effective prospecting:

  1. The prospect admits interest and curiosity.
  2. The prospect admits there is a pain – a critical business issue or potential missed opportunity.
  3. The prospect and salesperson agree that the problem is big enough to warrant action, that it should be investigated further, and that the salesperson’s products and/or services could help with this type of problem.

Many salespeople don’t get to stage two or three because of their inability to effectively generate interest and curiosity. Phone-a-phobia (or call reluctance) is based in:

How do you overcome this lack of knowledge and the fear of prospecting?  A simple, effective, five-step process is all it takes:

1. Planning Most salespeople are deficient in time management. One salesperson confided in us that his time management process is based on “STP:” the first month of the quarter is reserved for Strategic activities, the second month for Tactical activities, and the third month is full of Panic.

Prospecting starts with booking “sacred” prospecting time. In general, a salesperson that is at quota should have at least four hours of sacred prospecting time booked on their calendar each week. If you are not at quota, then you should book at least twice as much time. If you don’t reserve this time in your calendar, other immediate or urgent tasks will consume your unscheduled prospecting time.

2. Prepare – There are two parts to prospecting preparation. One is research, and the other is pre-call planning. During this time, the salesperson determines whom he or she is going to call and what he/she is going to say. Recently, we worked with salespeople to identify their “Top 5” opportunities in their territory that they are not currently working. These “Top 5” should be pursued for 60 – 90 days. At that time, you can reevaluate each, and see if you might exchange one or more for another, more promising opportunity.

Once a salesperson has decided on their “Top 5,” research can begin. What is the business problem that these companies have that you think you can help them with? Who in that company is the best person to contact? By confining your research to your “Top 5,” you focus your effort on a smaller group that has the highest probability of success.

Like buyers who conduct research on selected potential vendors, salespeople should also research and follow their “Top 5” prospects. Google Alerts, industry analyst evaluations, LinkedIn, and even Facebook can help you get ready for your prospecting calls.

Once your research is complete, you are ready to begin your pre-call planning. In your first call, you only need prospects to expresses interest and curiosity (“Tell me more.”). You should be prepared with verifiable facts about your company that are relevant to the person you are talking with. Your prior preparation will enable you to sound more professional.

3. Practice – For some reason, salespeople think that the ability to react spontaneously is a value-add to their career. Time and again, we see salespeople who refuse to use prospecting tools because they feel like it’s remedial, they sound scripted, or it makes them uncomfortable. Yet, when we listen to their spontaneity in prospecting calls, it usually sounds awful.

Create your tools for a good phone conversation. A well-composed phone script will help salespeople to focus on a critical issue that has a high probability of existing at prospects’ locations. A good prospecting script should be given to the prospect in a window of twenty seconds; otherwise, you will lose their interest. All you want them to do at this time is to say, “Tell me more.” If they do, you want to be prepared to introduce your company by describing how it has helped other people in their industry, focusing on facts, not opinions. Be prepared to tell prospects a reference story about how you and your company helped another person with a similar job title or in their industry to solve a relevant business issue.

The next part of practice is to sit at your desk before you start phoning, and read aloud from your tools. Make sure that you are comfortable with the exact words that you want to use and practice it until the timing is natural. A good exercise is to read your phone script into your own voicemail and then listen to it. As you listen, take notes as if you were hearing it for the first time. This will let you know if you have any words that are tongue twisters, any ambiguous terms, or if your timing is not right. If you do this four or five times, you will sound much more natural and appear much more confident in your delivery.

4. Perform – Clear your desk of everything but your research, your tools, and a clean note pad. Then, like they say in the Nike commercials, “Just do it!” In the first 20 seconds, your phone script should ask the prospect, “Are you curious?” A good phone script can also be used with an administrative assistant or in a voicemail. If they say, “Tell me more.” be prepared to introduce your company with three or four facts that are relevant to the prospect. Tell your reference story. You’ll be surprised at how many prospects will open up and tell you that they have that same problem in their company.

At this point in time, you can qualify their pain – their critical business issue. Ask questions like: How big is this problem? Is this issue something that is of a priority that you want to address now? How much is this issue costing you?

The answers to these questions will tell you if this pain is significant enough for the prospect to take action. If it is not significant enough, then you can offer a menu of other issues that you hear about most often from people with the same job title.

5. Follow-up – Log your activity. Record the date, the person you called, the issue you inquired about, and the result (e.g., voice mail, admin, etc.). Make sure that you keep track of your successes. For example, how many of those calls generated prospect interest and curiosity, how many prospects admitted pain, and how many qualified the pain? Don’t be afraid to adjust your script for your next prospecting session.

Master the critical skill of prospecting and you will PROSPER! Send a letter to every prospect you spoke with, confirming your understanding of their business issues, the reasons for the business issue, and the next actions to be taken.

If you prospect on a regular basis and do it the same way every time, you will continuously improve both your tools and prospecting skills. Nothing overcomes the fear of prospecting more effectively than mastering this critical skill. Those salespeople who can do so need never worry about phone-a-phobia again, as they will forever be immune.

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