ACTG Sales Management Blog

Sales & Sales Management Expertise Blog  

How to Prospect in Sales – It’s an A Priority

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Sep 08, 2022

In analyzing those salespeople who are successful year after year, we find significant consistencies in prospecting behavior and practice management. These top sales producers adhere to “The ONLY "A" priority is prospecting” principle. Successful salespeople service accounts just like everyone else. They also have fires to put out and meetings to attend. But nothing gets in the way of consistent prospecting.

So, following their lead:

  1. Schedule a time each day to make phone calls and stick to the schedule. First thing in the morning works well. The longer you procrastinate, the better chance there is of something getting in the way of this critical activity. You don't have to like prospecting; you just have to do it. Every day. The more of this activity you do, the more proficient you will become.
  1. Don't look, act or sound like every other salesperson. Create a unique approach – Don't just say that you are different. Put yourself in your prospect's place. Would you take your phone call and be responsive? If not, work on your strategy and script. For example, when you get your prospect on the phone, say “Hello.” and be silent. Wait for the prospect to respond.

Buyers are conditioned to hear “Hello. This is Joe from ABC Company and I am calling you to ….” Prospects hear this, immediately recognize a sales pitch and quickly disconnect.

  1. Successful prospectors understand that the purpose of a call is to set an appointment with a qualified candidate. Stop selling on the phone. Stop seeing just anyone who will see you. Make sure the prospect qualifies to do business with you. On the phone call identify that the prospect has a problem and get him to invite you to come and talk about it.

The quality of the phone call determines the quality of the appointment.  At this point, your goal is to identify if your prospect has a problem that you can solve. Ask questions like “Can you tell me about the problems you are experiencing?”

Ask the question “Why is this problem a problem?” so that the prospect reinforces, in his own mind, that this is something he needs to address. If he can’t answer this question, chances are the problem isn’t big enough for him to spend time and money on it.

Ask the question “How much is this problem costing you?” Asking this will make the client put dollars to the problem. If the money involved is more than or equal to the price of your product, he is more apt to invite you to visit. Establish that he would like to fix the problem.  At this stage, you are trying to get enough information and “pain” to justify a meeting.

Keep the following questions handy when you are on prospecting calls. They will help you weed out the “tire kickers.”  

  • Tell me about your current problems… in administering your 401K (for example).
  • How long has this been a problem?
  • What have you done to fix it?
  • When you spoke with your current provider what did he say?
  • What has he done to make this problem go away?
  • What happens if you don’t fix this?
  • How much is it costing you?
  • Is that a problem?
  • Do you want to fix it?
  • But not today?
  1. Understand that prospects want to meet professionals through introductions, not cold calls, so always ask for introductions as your first prospecting strategy. Ask your best client advocates the simple question “If you were doing what I do, who would you talk to next?” Then ask them if they would be willing to make a call on your behalf. You can find more information on How to Get Introductions here.

You know that prospecting is essential to your selling success. And you know that you can't consistently grow your business unless you consistently prospect. You can't count on market conditions or new products or low pricing to create opportunities. You must find prospects that fit your profile and qualify to do business with you.

So ask yourself which of the above might help you most today. Implement this change for the next 30 days, until it comes naturally. Commit yourself to changing one prospecting behavior or business practice that will dramatically impact your business.

 

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Topics: Prospecting, prospecting skills, sales prospecting

5 Reasons to Run a Sales Blitz for Sales Prospecting

Posted by Mark Trinkle on Fri, Dec 03, 2021

sales blitz

We expect every member of our team to prospect every day as one of their sales activities. But now and then, it helps to put a focus on the effort and bring the team together on a call blitz.  This works for many reasons.

One, we like the company of doing this together. Salespeople are often lone rangers, making calls and sending emails and linking in but it sure is nice to have our team to celebrate or to complain to and more importantly, to share experiences with and learn from.

Secondly, a call blitz puts a scheduled time on everyone’s calendars for just that one activity – sales prospecting outreach and conversations. Everyone gets to decide how they are going to approach this but we do provide a recommended direction and tools.

Third, let’s face it, sometimes life and work get in the way and our sales prospecting time is taken away when we must take care of current clients. Call blitzes put a discipline and structure to this necessary sales activity of sales prospecting.

Fourth, when our team collectively puts a lot of outreaches into the universe, that is also a form of branding – we are getting the word out! 

Fifth, the team gets together after the blitz and can brag or commiserate, but still share best (and maybe not so great) sales prospecting practices. 

Here are some suggestions on how to run a successful sales blitz.

  1. Create a theme and develop a really good email campaign with that theme and send it to the targeted audience you are trying to reach. Our email campaign featured an offer for a free workshop - Roadmap for Success in 2022, that we could deliver for prospects and their teams. We sent the email out several times prior to the calling blitz in the hopes there would be some recognition when we called.
  2. Make sure the emails come from the person calling if you can. We have our database segmented by salesperson and sent the same email but it was customized with their name and sig and calendar link and sent just to their prospect list.
  3. Make sure your team knows this is a commitment of time and it is on their calendar. They must honor it and plan to provide a recap at the Post Blitz Zoom meeting.
  4. Track it – which we do weekly anyways. Here’s an example of our weekly sales activities summary but we press activity reports out daily. The sales prospecting calling blitz is not reported here and will make this week look low. (Names covered to protect the innocent!)Graph
  5. Have some fun when you get together for the Post Blitz Zoom. Have each person share their experiences, talk about what to do next, and celebrate the effort. Our calling blitz was for 90 minutes and the Post Blitz Zoom only took about half an hour. We had some great energetic stories and sharing going on – invaluable! We will rinse and repeat in 2022, you can bet on that.

Now it’s your turn to schedule a sales prospecting blitz with your team. Let us know if we can help!

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Topics: sales prospecting, Sales Activities

5 Important Sales Concepts - Be Unique

Posted by Tony Cole on Tue, Aug 31, 2021

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Important Sales Concepts

In this article, we'll be covering some of the most important sales concepts to keep in mind when you're out there selling, these are:

In our sales training classes, we spend a great deal of time on the appropriate "attitude" required to be successful in selling. With the right attitude, you can count on consistently executing the required conduct and sales techniques to be successful.  I once heard another sales development expert explain that "sales technique is just a change in language.  You already have a sales language; it just may not be as effective as it could be."  (If you want additional information on "attitude", you can find more posts in our blogs.) 

However, in this article, we'll be focusing on 5 important sales concepts.  You can also call them "techniques" but sometimes problems occur when someone tries to duplicate the exact technique that a trainer uses.  For example, if your facilitator is from the northeast part of a country where the communication style is a little more direct, faster-paced and some would describe as "aggressive", but you are a mid-westerner, then you may find yourself failing to bond well with prospects, not because of what you have said, but more because of how you said it.  So, for that reason, we'll focus on the concepts and let you develop your technique.

However, with that in mind, don't let your "record collection" or "need for approval" get in the way of executing the concepts. (There I go again- back to attitude)

 

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Sales Concept #1:  Be Unique.

You have your elevator speech, your 15-second commercial, your value proposition, your positioning statement, etc.  It doesn't matter what you call it.  The concept is this:  Have a concise way to describe to someone what you do when you first meet him or her. 

Here's the problem.  Everyone in selling has been taught the elevator speech, the 15-second commercial, the value proposition, and the positioning statement, etc.  You know it's supposed to describe what you do: 

  • "I help companies like yours manage their insurance risk." 
  • "I sell customized clothing to busy executives."
  • "I own a CPA and tax consulting practice specializing in the needs of companies that generate between 5 and 10 million dollars in revenue".

Sound familiar?  That's the problem.  There is nothing unique about the approach from any one of these statements. Here's the rule about the concept:

What you say should cause the person with whom you are talking to respond either verbally or mentally in one of three ways.  You have to give the prospect a compelling reason to keep listening. When you deliver whatever it is, they should respond with either:

  1. "That's me".
  2. "How do you do that?"
  3. "Tell me more."

Examples:

  • Insurance:  "I provide people buckets of money in the right amount, at the right cost and at the right time." (How do you do that?)
  • Banking:  "My clients are companies that discovered that working with a bank should be more than just a place to get money or leave money." (Tell me more.)
  • Accounting:  "I'm in the business of helping small businesses that are sick and tired of sending the government more money and keeping less." (That's me!)

The idea is to think about what people or companies have chosen to do business with you or your company or why they buy the product and service that they have bought from you. What problem was it that they wanted to go away or solve?  Or what benefit were they looking for that they weren't getting?  Take that information and create your "unique sales approach" (usa).

The technique:  Before you deliver your "usa", you may want to start by telling the person that you are talking to that it is easier to describe what you do by asking a couple of questions. "In a nut shell, what I do is...(deliver your usa)" and close by asking, "May I ask you a question?"

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Sales Concept #2:  Start Strong.

The start of any undertaking is obviously the most important step.

"Every journey starts with the first step" 

"If you want to run a marathon, you have to start with the first step"

"Putting yourself in a position to win means you have to start competing"

When it comes to building the confident and trusting relationship associated with a strong seller / buyer relationship,  the start is especially true. I'm not just talking about the immediate "bonding and rapport" part of selling.  That is important, but the "start" isn't a 5-minute segment of chitchat talking about the sailfish on the wall or the soccer pictures on the credenza.  No, the start is the entire first contact process.  It doesn't matter if it is a phone call or a meeting at a chamber meeting or the initial meeting after the phone call.  It's the start that will often, if not always, determine your finish. In today's post, I focus on the initial face-to-face meeting with a suspect.

I want to describe this segment via the "HAVE-TOs"

  • You have to be prepared (pre-call strategy).  Aside from your internet research, you have to prepare for the sales process.  In other words, you have to know what questions you are going to ask that are going to move the sale forward, not just questions about the technical aspects of their current position or status.  You have to anticipate the suspect's answer to those questions and then be prepared with your follow up dialog.  Too many sales people take this step for granted because "they've been in the business for ... years."  You have to be prepared for their questions and how you will respond to them.  And finally, you have to be prepared for curve balls.  Suspects / prospects always throw them, and when you are unprepared, you will always miss them or certainly never get a clean hit.
  • You have to identify clearly what your preferred outcome is.  In the book, Getting to Yes, the authors do a great job of explaining how defining your preferred outcome helps guide you through any meeting that you have.  In selling, and specifically for the initial call, most sales people define the objective of the first call as "to get a second call".  I will change that and suggest that your objective be to make this the only call.  Try to disqualify your suspects instead of trying to qualify them.  I guarantee you will end up with more qualified opportunities.
  • You have to demonstrate your credibility, not by what you say, but by how you conduct yourself.  Make yourself different (see first blog in this series). You will do this by the questions you ask, by your focus on the prospect and what is important to them, and by your reluctance to get into a sales pitch and do a data dump in their lap.  You demonstrate your knowledge of the industry by the stories, analogies and metaphors you use about their business.  You demonstrate your professionalism by the way you ask professional penetrating questions and by how you don't look, act or sound like every other sales person that has met with this executive.
  • You have to have the courage to ask the tough questions and have fierce / honest discussions.  Everyone reading this probably knows the questions that you are supposed to ask and how you are supposed to ask them and when you are supposed to ask them. Yet, every one of you most likely leaves initial calls having failed to ask the tough questions like, "How will you make this decision?  When do I meet the decision maker?  If you don't have a budget, then how will you pay for this?  If you are shopping for low price, then what happens if I show up and I'm not the low price?  Who wins a tie?  When you told your current provider that you were unhappy with the current situation and you were shopping to replace them, what did they say?"  And finally,  "When I show up to make my presentation, I need for you to be in a position to tell me 'yes' or 'no', what objections do you have to that process?"  You all know that you should ask those questions, but time and time again, you fail to.  How come? 
  • You have to leave your need for approval at the door when you leave the house in the morning.  You have to re-write your record collection about how people buy in your industry. (Let your sales manager stew over that one.) You have to leave your personal buy cycle at the car lot where you debated for the last three weeks on which make and model to buy and where you negotiated with the manager for 2 hours.
  • You have to qualify suspects/prospects to do business with you rather than you attempting to qualify to do business with them. Too many salespeople still go to a meeting feeling like they have to qualify to do business with someone.  No, you don't.  You have to make sure that the person you are meeting with qualifies to do business with you.  Not just from a profile perspective or from an underwriting or credit perspective.  Also, qualifying is more than, "Did you do a needs analysis, discuss the features and benefits, get a budget, and agree to a decision-making process?"  In our world, in our effective selling system, it means the following:
    1. Do they have a compelling reason to take action quickly?
    2. Will they invest the time, money, and resources to solve a problem they have or the problem they see coming?  Will they invest that time, that money, or those resources in a timely fashion, or are they in the "seeking" mode of buying?
    3. Will they tell you "yes" or "no" when you present?  In order to do this, you MUST have eliminated the current provider.  You MUST have heard them say they want to "fix it", whatever "it" is. And you MUST have a solution that is appropriate for their problem.  You cannot make the mistake that, even though your solution isn't exactly right, you are good enough to sell them on buying something that doesn't fit their exact specs.
  • You have to close.  Not close the sale, but close this step and get a clear next step.  There is always the next step even if you are in a "one appointment close" business.  It doesn't matter if your business requires multiple meetings, or one and done.  Always close what you came there to do and then move on.  I promise you that, if you get masterful at this step, you will have fewer meetings and your close ratio will improve.  Ask for closure, ask for a clear next step, ask for the business.

 

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Sales Concept #3:  Identify Objections.

If you've been in sales training with any reputable training company, at some time you will have the motivation the prospect has to take action, the commitment for a budget of time, money, and/or resources to make the problem go away, or to make their dream realized. 

The normal process now is to agree to make a presentation, answer their questions, and at that time overcome any objections they may have.

Dealing with objections is really important, but dealing with them for the first time at presentation is Wrong! 

The time to eliminate the objections and stalls and to be completely prepared to answer questions is right now!  It is absolutely critical that you find out in advance of your presentation what the objections and stalls will be to making a decision.

This is not a complicated step but it may be difficult if your own buying cycle or record collection does not support the execution of the step.  Here are the steps to executing this step and making sure you improve your probability of closing the business once you present.

  • Review the motivation to take action and the budget items
  • If you haven't already done so, make sure that the prospect has committed to fixing the problem and to finding a provider for the solution.
  • Transition into the "pre-close step"-  It may sound something like, "I hate to assume things so I'd like to get clarity on our next step.  Can I share with you the process that seems to be mutually acceptable to most people I work with?"
  • Commitment dialog-  "I'll be prepared to come back and present a proposal.  The proposal will meet your expectations in every aspect in terms of objectives and features and benefits.  I'll present a solution within the budget parameters discussed.  And I will be prepared to answer all of your questions.  If I can't deliver on these three items, then I won't need to make a presentation.  When I finish my presentation, I'll need for you to be in a position to do one of two things.  Can I share that with you?" (Assume "yes")  "One thing you could do is tell me 'yes,let's do business.'  The second thing you can do is tell me 'no, let's not do business.'  Either one is ok.  I would prefer that you tell me yes, but no is ok."
  • Identify objections - "What objections do you have to this process?"

This process will not eliminate objections; it will move them up in your sales cycle.  This, in turn, allows you to separate the contenders from the pretenders and present only to those that truly qualify to do business with you.

 

5 keys to coaching

Sales Concept #4:  Follow Up.

You've prepared.  You had a great start to the relationship by conducting an amazing first client-facing appointment.  Now what?  "Now" is where the weak link normally occurs in every sales organization's execution of an effective sales process. 

"Now" is the follow-up after the appointment and the preparation for the next step.

Assuming that the next step is to present a proposal that meets the client's needs, it's within their budget and you'll be in a position to answer all of their questions once you present.  Having stated that, your follow-up should be a memo or documented communication of some sort that should review what has been discussed and what is expected at the next step. The next step in our example is "presenting a solution".  Sandra Usleman of USI - Austin calls this step the "as we agreed to" letter.

The "as we agreed to" letter would look like and read something like the following:

  • Opening, greeting
  • Review previous meeting discussions
  • "Agreed to" points
    • The problem or desired outcome
    • The budget of time, money or resources needed to solve the problem or arrive at the desire outcome
    • The decision process
  • Next step - getting a decision to move forward or stop
  • Follow-up phone call to confirm the contents of the letter

As simple as this may sound, it can have a significant impact on your ability to close more business. The challenge isn't in completing this step; the challenge is making sure that you cover the critical points in an effective selling system as outlined above.

 

 

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Sales Concept #5:  Get a Decision.

Every salesperson worth their salt will need to be able to close, of course.

Every salesperson has been taught to 'Ask For the Business',  'Always Be Closing', 'Get The Sale'.  The problem with these exhortations is that salespeople translate them into 'get a yes'.  Which is different than getting a decision.

Salespeople struggle in getting decisions because they are afraid to hear 'no' or their sales leadership has not given them permission to get a 'no'.  If you don't get a 'yes, then typically the next alternative is 'think it over' or any one of its relatives:

  • Showing it to someone
  • Getting additional proposals
  • Going to committee
  • Have to look at the numbers
  • Haven't met with my current provider yet

All of these are rotten alternatives to a no.  You lose sleep.  You make unreturned phone calls.  You get more delays.  You lose confidence.  You lie to your manager telling them that you 'think' you're in good shape, should close now any day, they liked us, they loved the proposal, it just has to...

Makes you sick just thinking about it, doesn't it?

So, here is the 5th of 5- Get a decision.  Prior to making your presentation, you have to make your pitch as to what happens next.  It sounds something like this:

Let me review to make sure I understand what we need to do next.  First, you want me to come back and provide you with a solution to all of these problems we've discussed today that are costing you lots of heartburn and money.  Next, you want me to provide you with a solution within the guidelines we established relative to your investment of time, money, and resources.  And the third item is an assumption. I assume you want me to be able to answer all of your questions at that time.  Does that sound about right?  

Good.  I need for you to be in a position to tell me one of two things, either one is ok. Can I share that with you?

Good.  When I come back and fulfill my part, I need for you to tell me 'yes, this makes all the sense in the world, let's do business' or tell me 'no, we aren't doing business. I would rather hear yes, but no is ok.  What objections do you have to that process?

This WILL NOT eliminate objections.  It will just move them up in your process and give you the chance to deal with them prior to presenting instead of afterward.  You deal with them now and you either eliminate them as a qualified prospect and don't present or you present to a qualified prospect and get an answer.

Topics: sales attitude, improving sales, sales prospecting, sales techniques

Managing 80/20 Prospecting Time to Increase Sales

Posted by Jack Kasel on Thu, Apr 08, 2021

The most successful salespeople are always challenging and adapting their personal sales process to be more effective and increase sales. However, they don’t challenge the notion of the importance of making prospecting their "A" priority every week.

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They know that no matter how successful they are, if they don’t continue to add new relationships, that eventually, their business will decline. If you really want to increase sales this year, you MUST block off time every week for prospecting new clients.

As we think about all of the things as sales professionals that we're supposed to do, it really comes down to three things that actually get us paid: 

  1. Find Opportunities
  2. Qualify prospects
  3. Get a decision

I want to focus on the first thing we get paid to do and that's to find opportunities. There are many ways we can find opportunities⁠—cold calls, drop-ins, direct marketing, social selling (LinkedIn and Twitter), getting introductions, etc. 

Although there are many ways we can prospect, some provide a higher return on the biggest investment we can make, and that’s our time. In a previous blog, I tried to debunk the “time management” problem. It isn’t a time management problem, it’s a priority management problem

As we focus on prospecting, the least return on our investment is cold calling. For all the time you invest in cold calling, the actual return (speaking to a decision-maker) is extremely low. We know it’s a necessary evil, but not a permanent problem. On the other hand, it is a proven fact, the highest return on our prospecting time is in getting introductions.  

So here is what I would like you to consider:

Time blocking
  • Do you have time set aside each week to prospect? If you don’t, you would be well-served to block time to prospect

Allocate your time within the time block you’ve scheduled

  • If you have allocated an hour a day, my recommendation would be:
  • If you have allocated 15 minutes to cold call, you should be able to get 15 calls in within that time. If you call 15, you will probably speak with two people. How long does it take to NOT talk to 13 people?  You can make a lot of calls in 15 minutes if you are focused.
  • 15 minutes for social selling to find introductions—maybe not sell, but find introduction opportunities.
  • LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Blogging—whichever you are allowed to do within your work rules, do it on a regular basis.
  • 30 minutes on getting introductions
  • Calling people and saying “I’m looking to expand my base of contacts” Or “I’m looking to meet great people such as yourself, when can we get together to determine if we can help each other?”
  • Identify your 15 best clients and make it a goal to get three introductions from each of them. How much success would you have with 45 new names to call?

This is just a rough outline on what you can do but the big takeaways are this:

  1. Prioritize prospecting—make it a significant part of your week.
  2. Prioritize how you are prospecting—get introductions—it will provide the highest return on your time invested.

Someone needs what you do, so go find them and start prospecting today to find more of them!

Need Help?  Check Out Our  Sales Growth Coaching Program!

Topics: Prospecting, prospecting skills, sales prospecting, increase sales, time blocking

The Art of Silence in Sales

Posted by Mark Trinkle on Thu, Apr 01, 2021

Most salespeople are afraid of silence because they perceive it to be awkward or a sign that the prospect has mentally checked out. But that's simply not the case! It is critical that you let silence do some of the heavy lifting during your prospecting conversations.

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Ah, the unmistakable sound of silence. Wait a minute…does silence make a sound? If you are a professional salesperson, you would say it absolutely does. Susan Scott, the author of the wonderful book, “Fierce Conversations”, offers up some great advice when she suggests, "To make your conversations more impactful, allow the silence to do the heavy lifting."

I think what Susan could have in mind are the hundreds of thousands of salespeople who treat silence like it is a bad virus; they instantly run away from it. But, what if silence was good within the context of having a powerful conversation? What if silence took you to a deeper level in a conversation with a prospect?

Most salespeople are afraid of silence because they perceive it to be a) awkward or b) a sign that the prospect has checked out on them. But, remember that you can speak much faster than people can listen, so sometimes they just need to be given time to allow their internal processor to catch up.

Here’s one more thing I have observed with salespeople- they ask a great question, the prospect goes radio silent, and then the salesperson ruins the moment by collapsing like a poorly dug prison tunnel.

Let the silence do the heavy lifting.

I know it will be a strange feeling at first, but sometimes strange is actually a good thing. Give your prospect some space to process the questions you ask them.

Now, go do some heavy lifting…actually, let the silence do the heavy lifting for you…and sell like a champion today.

Need Help?  Check Out Our  Sales Growth Coaching Program!

Topics: Meaningful Sales Conversations, prospecting skills, Qualifying leads, Qualifying skills, sales prospecting

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