The customer at the other end of the phone was out of ideas.
He talked to me about how his internal team was no longer breaking sales records or getting results the way they used to. As we spoke more, I learned that his salespeople received a defined commission based on orders in their territory, creating an annuity payment for the sellers. Their business model encouraged prospecting was only needed when an existing customer was dropped or lost.
The problem was clear: complacency had taken hold of the team.
“So how do we get the team to start prospecting regularly?” he asked. “They all just say that they don’t have time for that.”
“That’s perfect,” I explained. “What we are going to do is make prospecting a seamless part of their work, so that every client call made is a smarter one.”
Sales activity problems are different from sales revenue problems. Previously, we’ve talked about how to diagnose and tackle revenue challenges. Activity-related problems, on the other hand, always have their roots in prospecting.
Overall, prospecting cures complacency. It keeps your sales team sharp, tuned-in to the needs of your customers in the marketplace and keeps them skilled at helping solve the problems of those customers. Just as important, it safeguards your business against unexpected losses. A six-month sales cycle can be reduced to a fraction when you have a regular supply of solid prospects in your sales funnel. There’s an opportunity cost to mitigate, too. Without regular prospecting, you’re inviting your competitors to scoop up all the new customers out there, making your job harder down the road when you suddenly find yourself in need of new business.
And yet, relying solely on the business-as-usual method of prospecting (e.g., cold calling, traditional advertising) just doesn’t cut it anymore. As with the client I’ve cited above, many teams rightfully say they don’t have time for this old fashioned approach. But let’s face facts. There’s been a tidal shift just in the last few years in how prospecting needs to be done in the marketplace to get the results you’re looking for.
Making it work smarter
The right approach—the smart approach—is what I call the Omnimedia Solution.
Think of all media like a diet. When you are an omnivore, you are able to consume, work with and make use of all kinds of sources: from traditional direct marketing and networking to online email blasts, social media, podcasts, blogs, e-newsletters and more.
With Omnimedia, you can use more kinds of media for prospecting, you can convert more information into sales fuel, and you can achieve better outcomes both in terms of having a bigger funnel of customers and in being able to measure the effectiveness of your efforts.
Let’s look at how you can start prospecting smarter using this method.
Make prospecting less labor intensive, but more focused. One of the most common excuses salespeople give for why they don’t prospect regularly: they claim it eats up too much time. That excuse vanishes if you define it as a finite period, scheduled daily. If your team is on the road a lot, for example, identify a 30-minute period every day in which there’s downtime. Make that the time when prospecting calls are made. And when they make those calls, encourage them to focus on asking their customers probing questions about the problems they are struggling with currently.
Treat each new connection as a new point in a growing network. When speaking to a customer or a new prospect, find out who else is associated with that person and use it as an opportunity to get introduced. This is where LinkedIn can be really powerful, because it shows you how you know who you know. That makes your network grow even faster. Other social media, such as Twitter and Facebook can also be powerful assets in this way, too.
Produce how-to videos and share them online. This doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. All you need is your smartphone, a half-decent light source and a few minutes of your time to write and perform your how-to video. In it, show your audience how you solve a problem that they struggle with. Save your video and post it on YouTube or Vimeo. Make it available through your LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook accounts, or even on your company’s blog page. I do this in my own work and I don’t mind telling you that my how-to videos are my number-one lead generators for new business.
Always ask for referrals. Always. Always. Always. The main reason why you don’t have enough referral-based business is because you haven’t been asking for referrals—either at all or as often as needed. They only open doors for you if you ask. So start asking.
Measure what’s important. If you are preparing and distributing an email-based newsletter or using social media, look regularly at the data it produces. How many people open it? How many click on the links? Which subject lines work better than others in A/B testing? Apply that same approach to your how-to videos, or any other marketing that you post online. Turn meaningful data into deeper knowledge. And, if you have the contact information for those most active subscribers, call them!
Call lost customers or lost prospects. Take the frostiness out of cold calling by focusing on customers and prospects whom you haven’t heard from in a while. You are known to them, and that means you have a much greater chance of leaping over the gatekeepers and other barriers that typically stand in the way of making a phone blitz work effectively.
Leverage the competitive streak of your sellers. Organize a call blitz involving your sales team. Create a kind of competition where the first-place seller wins a prize. Most salespeople hate to lose at anything. Get that to work in your favor. One client of mine does this every Wednesday for two hours. The winner gets a prize, but also has to share secrets of success with the team, turning the blitz into a powerful coaching moment.
Work harder to spot opportunities. This is where data and old-school prospecting can work hand-in-hand. First, look at the feedback you receive from your prospecting efforts online. Which of your how-to videos, blog posts or newsletters generates the highest response rates from your readers? That data tells you something. Now combine that information with the traditional prospecting efforts of your sales team. As they meet new people and have new conversations about problems that customers are having in their own work, ask yourself: is there an overlap here between what you’re seeing online and what you’re hearing in face-to-face conversation?
The Omnimedia solution is a powerful tool in your prospecting arsenal. Make better use of the tried and true methods of reaching out to new customers, backed with the knowledge that comes from online marketing. You will find that you will get the sales results that have been looking for—more often, more profitably and in less time.
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Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.
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