5 ways to prospect better

A successful sales strategy not only involves looking after your clients and maintaining existing revenue, but also includes successfully converting leads to prospects. All too often, it can be easy to slip into your comfort zone and deal solely with clients that are already familiar with your business, and forget about chasing after new business. However, without prospecting you may never expand your customer base and grow your business - so here are five easy tips on how to improve your prospecting strategies.

Identify skills and personalities needed

Your sales team is an integral part of the business, but have you ever considered the type of personality and skill set needed to deal with certain customers? A Salesforce prospecting report likens sales pitching to baseball, where it's essential to understand that roles in a team can differ based on what each member does best, whether it's starting or closing pitches, to achieve a winning team outcome.

Perhaps one of your sales consultants has a friendly and outgoing personality that may be suited to inbound lead qualification, while another may possess the ability to improvise and listen to others that may be suited to outbound prospecting. Playing to the different strengths of your sales team can enable you to achieve the best possible outcome.

Research your target

It's no secret that knowing more about your target customer will enable you to sell better. But don't assume this stops at a simple Google search on the company they work for - it goes far deeper than that. D&B's Company360 software  for example, enables businesses to search and view information on key operations, family trees, financial information, competitor lists and executive positions. Having a name on hand, in particular, is valuable when cold calling for the first time.

Other sources of information include: the prospect's website, LinkedIn profile, industry websites and publications, and social media. At a strategic level, you should identify their challenges and how the product/service you're selling aims to meet these challenges. This acts not only as a conversation starter, but also demonstrates the extent of your research.

Give them valuable information

As we said above, knowledge is power. Most customers and prospects enjoy having knowledge that can enable them to make better business decisions, which is where your sales staff comes in. Salespeople that provide prospects with valuable information such as economic analysis, their business perspective on industry issues and current trends they may not know about. You may choose to email your prospects with a white paper, or simply pick up the phone to give them the low-down on the latest developments - as long as the information is relevant to your target audience. Of course, insider information and sensitive company news should never be disclosed without prior approval.

Customise your pitch

A blanket pitch will get you nowhere fast. Time-poor executives will simply not tolerate cold calls that are irrelevant or a clichéd opening such as "I know you're busy but..." or "You don't know me but..."

Sales coach and speaker Gavin Ingham says that well-planned and targeted cold calling strategies that are implemented by knowledgeable and credible sales professionals can be a "powerful and important addition to your client acquisition strategies". Some tips on how to do this? Change your pitch based on your prospect's style of speaking and tone - if he/she's soft-spoken, don't talk in an overly energetic voice. Don't use terminology your prospect will not understand. And lastly, use the knowledge that you gathered in step 2 to show that you've customised your pitch to their needs.

Get a referral

Salesforce calls a referral the "secret weapon" to an in-depth meeting. Why? It gives you credibility and an additional prospect to contact. If one prospect says no, ask them politely for a referral to someone else that might be interested. The worst that he/she can say is no, right? However, sales speaker and consultant John Boe cautions salespeople against asking for a referral before you close the sale, as this may jeopardise the sale itself. But once the sale is closed, your customer may be "on an emotional high" and more receptive to making a referral.

You should also ask for permission to use your customer's name when introducing yourself to the referral - and depending on the customer's personality and how comfortable you feel around him/her, you could ask for your customer to organise a casual introduction in the form of coffee or drinks.

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