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The art of successful prospecting

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The art of successful prospecting

Do you know if you’re dealing with a “suspect” or a “prospect”?


No company truly gets off the ground until a sales takes place. And no sales will take place until a serious prospect is identified. Most salespeople dislike prospecting and really hate cold calling, and so avoid these critical steps of the sales process. Let’s look at a few simple basic guidelines that will hopefully make the entire experience less terrifying for you.


Find the decision maker

Profiling your prospect is one of the most important links in the chain of sales. You may be the best salesperson in the world, but if you find yourself talking to the wrong person; you’re just wasting your time.


Most salespeople try to close the wrong people, often too hard, and then complain when they aren’t successful. The problem here lies in the qualifying, not in closing. Talking to the wrong people is a waste of your time, and time is one resource that you have some control over. It is also the one resource that is easily squandered.


Using qualifying techniques you can determine who to sell to. Who qualifies to receive the benefits of your most precious resource, your time? Here are a few qualifying techniques:

  • Create a profile of your ideal customer.
  • Draw up a set of criteria that “suspects” must meet before you choose them to become your prospect.
  • Keep track of your prospecting pipeline so you can assess how many real prospects you have at any one point in time. 


When you qualify using an ideal customer profile, you give yourself a better chance of finding the right prospect; the prospect you want. Your set of criteria shows you who to choose, and whether or not you should invest your time and resources on a particular prospect. Follow these rules and you'll sell more, with less effort.


Suspects vs. prospects

To be a successful prospector, you must first identify “suspects” and then decide whether they qualify to be “prospects”. This may sound high-handed but you’re a valuable professional business partner, so take your time seriously.


Pre-call planning and your opener

When making that initial call, be sure you know exactly what your aim is. Can you describe your call objective in one sentence? Are you trying to close the sale in one call? Do you want permission to send info? Do you want to set up an appointment? Once you know exactly why you’re calling, you can mentally prepare your tele-script. Really make it a point to write a compelling opener. Also, remember not every person you talk to will want to speak with you, no matter how fantastic your opening. Just move on, they’re not a prospect.


Getting the appointment

If your aim is to get an appointment with the right person – the person your research has identified as the individual in the company who will be able to make a buying decision. The three things that your prospect wants to hear in the first 20 seconds are:

  1. Who you are
  2. Why you are calling
  3. What’s in it for them


Introduce yourself and your company, and then announce the reason for your call. Example: “....and the reason why I’m phoning is that I see you are opening a branch in Timbuktu and I am sure the personal safety of your staff there is of paramount importance to you...”

Pause and invite them to comment. Show a real interest in what their company is doing. Business partnering is all about putting their company first not yours.


State a reason to meet: “We specialise in XXX insurance designed specifically for expatriate staff in that new region.”

Use third party proof (name dropping): “And companies like XXX have used us extensively in this regard.”

Close on an appointment time: “So when would suit you, early next Tuesday or later in the week, perhaps Friday morning?”

Remember to restate the reason: “Great, I look forward to learning more about your expansion plans (be specific), and discussing how we can ensure the safety of your team while they are away from home.”


Setting up the rules of the game

If you want more productive appointments, change your attitude and be brutally honest as to whether or not the suspect deserves to become your prospect; i.e. someone you are prepared to work with and develop solutions. You have identified the criteria that make up a genuine prospect, so do they pass your “test”?

  • Does the suspect agree that the problem and the pain it creates is sufficiently compelling for him/her to take urgent advice?
  • Does the suspect have the money or budget to implement a solution now?
  • Who else, in addition to the suspect, is empowered to make a final decision, and will they be party to your discussions?


If the answers to these questions are positive, you probably have a solid prospect. If you get a wishy-washy answer, chances are you have a suspect and they are still shopping around. Go find a real prospect.


Remember prospects are accustomed to orchestrating their Rules of the Game from start to finish. They are used to being in total control. So when you start laying down the business rules, you need to be consistent and persistent as you are treading on virgin turf here. Re-read the cardinal points above and ask yourself whether they are reasonable for both parties.


Now watch how a new respect from the prospect suddenly develops for you. As a professional salesperson, you have the right to ask these questions and get a commitment. If you can’t reach agreement on these points you are wasting your time. Your time is simply too valuable to waste with people who aren’t serious or who don’t have the resources to buy.


Enough talking. You are now fully prepared. You know all that you need to know; you know what you need to do. Now go out there and get selling.

Last modified on Friday, 05 October 2012 12:04
Clive Price

Clive Price

Clive is Managing Director of The Peer Group in South Africa and has a BA (Econ) from Wits University and a post graduate degree in Learning Psychology from London University.

The consummate sales maestro, Clive can orchestrate any sales dialogue into a win-win for all.Pushing the boundaries of learning, he has successfully trained thousands of delegates around the world who have all experienced the ‘ka-ching’ factor from his unique brand of training. The naughty chuckle in his eyes is perhaps typical of an entrepreneurial thinker, who has turned the conventional ways of selling upside down.

He has an astute grasp of what it takes to succeed in sales and business and has published many articles including:

Objections Open the Doors

Six Common Sales Blunders

How Buyer’s Seduce Salespeople

Watch Your Sales Soar

Be prepared to be blown away with The Peer Group’s brand of training.


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