Please Use the P Word

One word seems to conjure up dread among sales people: the word. Prospecting. While once commonplace and often highly anticipated by outgoing, friendly sales people, prospecting is a lost art. Yet, every salesperson that does not prospect is stopping sales. Every manager who doesn't proactively teach sales people how to prospect is stopping their forward progress. In the early days, sales managers

One word seems to conjure up dread among sales people: the “P” word. Prospecting.

While once commonplace and often highly anticipated by outgoing, friendly sales people, prospecting is a lost art.

Yet, every salesperson that does not prospect is stopping sales. Every manager who doesn't proactively teach sales people how to prospect is stopping their forward progress.

In the early days, sales managers would take five or six sales people into the community. They would go to a local donut shop, talk to the customers and leave, knowing that everyone there knew who they were, what they did and why they should keep their contact information. Then they went next door.

It may sound old-fashioned in today's multi-media world. But personal communication builds relationships and is most effective as a first step.

Why Prospect?

Five potential results can come from effective prospecting:

  • Positively communicating with the community.
  • An immediate appointment or sale.
  • Referrals to active prospects.
  • Contacts for a file of future prospects.
  • A prospect locator or bird dog.

The Prospect Plan

Just like sales people create a daily action plan for sales, they should plan to prospect. Set the goal — what outcome is desired from prospecting? Be sure the goal is “SMART” — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based.

Consider this as a goal. If a salesperson makes five new contacts and gives out five business cards a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, he or she will make nearly 2,000 new contacts. It's simple math: five daily contacts times 365 equals 1,825 new contacts. Or if you prospect only 5 days a week, then 1,300 new contacts.

Let's evaluate this against our SMART goal criteria.

  • Is making five new contacts a day a specific goal?
  • Is this a measurable goal?
  • Is securing five new contacts daily attainable?
  • Is the goal realistic?
  • Is it time-based?
  • Does it make sense?

Yes to all of the above.

The more contacts you make and business cards you give out, the more people will know you, remember you and eventually call you.

Create a strategy or strategies that identify how to achieve the goals. These may include:

  • Improving weak skills.

  • Making a time commitment to prospect a certain amount of time each week. Book time in advance on the calendar and be disciplined in keeping prospecting “appointments.”

  • Look at the outcome desired from prospecting and develop a list of criteria that defines a positive, acceptable result.

  • Schedule time for follow-up/prospecting. Sales people often lose opportunities because they neglect to take the next steps with new contacts. Put time in on calendar for follow-up so new leads don't grow stale. Prospecting doesn't require an enormous amount of time and can even be worked in to everyday activities. Every time a salesperson goes out, he or she should give out business cards.

    Think about simple ways to extend awareness. For example, carry an inexpensive, branded pen (they can be bought for less than $0.30 each online) and leave it in the check sleeve presented by the waitress when you dine out. That pen will pass on to a multiple people.

  • Practice. Know what to say. Identify the value statements that will spark interest or action. Make notes, but practice until the presentation is natural, not rehearsed.

  • Develop a list of questions that might be asked and think about how to answer them. Be prepared.

  • Never ask a question unless you know what the answer is. For example, how do most people answer this question: “Is this a good time to talk?” Most will say “No.” So, don't ask! Ask questions you know will start a conversation. Avoid those that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”

  • Invest the time to track and measure. Assessing success, refining and improving strategies requires measurement.

Next month, we will discuss how and where to identify potential sources.

Richard F. Libin is president of APB-Automotive Profit Builders, Inc., a firm with more than 42 years experience working with both sales and service on customer satisfaction and maximizing gross profits through personnel development and technology. He is at [email protected] or 508-626-9200.

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