It might be argued that ever since the Industrial Revolution, the gap between the supply and demand in just about any industry you can think of has been widening steadily. This trend only exploded with the creation of the global market aided by the Internet.
The rate at which new businesses are opening is staggering, while the number of consumers simply couldn’t hope to match the pace. Of course, their purchasing power has been increasing, and a lot of these new businesses are actually catering to other companies, but there is still no denying that the rate at which we create new products and services is higher than the rate which would be based on the demand solely.
What all of this comes down to is that as good as you may be at sales prospecting, you can never afford to rest on your laurels since if you are not constantly getting better at it, you can’t possibly hope to keep up. To help you with this goal, we’ve decided to outline the main best practices and rules of effective sales prospecting.
1. Define the Ideal Customer Profile
Every tiny percentage that you increase your conversion rates by goes a long way to improving your profits. That means that even a very modest effort invested into defining the ideal customer profile for the service or product you are selling can result in spectacular benefits in the long run.
What you need to remember during this part of the process is that leads are not just potential customers, but could also turn into lead generators themselves.
Of course, there is the other option as well, i.e. that you could define your customer profile so inadequately that you’ll not only waste time on reaching out to someone who’s very unlikely to convert, but also frustrate them enough to ensure they’ll actually dissuade others from listening to what you have to say.
Taking the time to do this part right is absolutely essential as it will influence each of your subsequent actions and strategies.
2. Look Beyond the Group
Once you know which people are the likeliest to become your customers, it’s time to actually get to know them individually. Every bit of information that you gather on actual people you are thinking about contacting not only improves your chances in that particular instance, but also makes it easier for you to find more prospects, and approach them with an even more optimized outreach.
To be able to hope for any kind of real success you need to learn:
- What social networks you prospects prefer for which kind of activity
- What other sources do they get their recommendations from
- What kind of approach do they feel the most comfortable with
- What are their actual pain points, and how have they tried to deal with them in the past
Hopefully, you’ve already been meticulously researching your major prospects, but even the ones that won’t necessarily bring you huge deals have a lot to teach you about the group you are catering to, and you should take every opportunity to take a good, long look at them.
3. Build a Name for Yourself
Sure, the business you are working for is already investing in marketing and establishing the reputation of a reliable and valuable service provider or retailer, but people are far more likely to lend their trust to other people than they are to brands and companies.
That’s why you can’t afford to be a nameless, past-less person with only your company’s renown behind you. Instead, if you really want people you are contacting to take what you are saying to heart, you need to demonstrate your competence in giving that kind of advice and have a track record of satisfied clients to back you up.
Some of the ways to ensure this kind of recognition is demonstrate your expertise by writing blog posts, being active and helpful on audience-appropriate social channels, taking part in conferences and industry events, etc. This kind of approach won’t only help you close the deal with your prospects more easily, but, as you’ve probably noticed, it will also help you find even more of them, or rather, help them find you and your offer.
4. Encourage Referrals
To reiterate, people trust other people much more than they trust companies. What’s more so, people really trust those that they already have a relationship with, or those they perceive to be actual thought leaders. Finally, they will really be happy to take advice from someone when they are certain that the advice is given in good faith and without any actual benefit in it for the advice giver.
Referrals meet all of these conditions, which means that it’s by no means surprising to learn that prospects referred to you by a friend or a trusted colleague have the highest chances of converting into customers.
This is why incentivising your current customers to refer others to you is one of the best ways to ensure that your client network will grow steadily. From offering discounts or other special benefits, to simply remembering to ask if they would be so kind as to recommend you to their friends, creating these brand evangelists is one of the safest ways to ensure a steady influx of customers.
5. Take the Time to Find the Perfect Subject Line
If you don’t have a name your prospects are likely to recognize, your subject line is the only thing determining how likely they are to open your email (barring mistakes in targeting and other context-dependent factors). There’s nothing more disheartening than realizing that after all the work you invested in finding and understanding your prospects and meticulously crafting your pitch to them, they never actually got around to opening your email.
The exact nature of the subject line will depend on the type of prospects you are trying to reach, but short subject lines which at least hint at the benefits prospects would receive by becoming customers seem to be universally appreciated. If you also on top of that, formulate the subject line as a question, you chances to actually have the email opened are likely to increase even further.
6. Always Follow Up
So, you took the time to compose a perfectly intriguing subject line, but the prospect still never opened your email? Or they did, and decided that it did not merit a response? Not a problem, simply contact them again.
Of course, prospects will sometimes do this because they realized that you have nothing to offer that would interest them, and their reply to your follow-up will probably state this, at which point you should definitely leave them alone.
However, some of the times, they’ll simply miss your email or decide to come back to it later, only to forget about it, or to keep delaying dealing with it. In these cases a simple follow-up will do a wonderful job of reminding them of your existence, without being too intrusive and alienating the prospects.
7. Have a Prepared Script
While this advice applies to email outreach as well, it is especially important if you are involved in any kind of direct prospects like phone calls or live meetings. Having a script memorized or instantly available doesn’t mean you have to blindly stick to it 100% of the time, but it’s a great way to:
- Remove the awkward pauses which might imply hesitance on your part or a lack of a real answer
- Ensure you have covered the main benefits of your offer
- Help you immediately settle into the register that your prospects prefer, and to explain everything in terms they are most likely to understand
- Have a ready answer for difficult questions that prospects might ask and that you wouldn’t be able to figure out on the spot
8. Don’t Start Selling Too Soon
Remember how we’ve mentioned that one of the best ways to find new prospects is with the help of those that you already know about? We’ll, you can’t do that if you immediately try selling to each new prospect you come across.
Once you actually move in with the final pitch, you are practically forcing the prospect to decide if they are going to stay on as a customer, or if they’d prefer not to have anything to do with you. Of course, if they do take the offer, you can still get some additional value from them, but if they decide to leave, you can’t really hope they’ll have any kind of reason or even a chance to be helpful.
That’s why the prospecting phase should stay limited to actual prospecting, not selling. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t occasionally try to subtly point out how you might be able to help them out, but being too blunt and aggressive about it is only likely to end up with you pushing the prospects away. It’s only once you have mined the prospect for information and contacts they are able to provide, that you should proceed with the actual pitch.
9. Revise, Repair, Repeat
We started the article by pointing out the rate at which the global market is changing, so it’s only fitting to end it this way as well.
Even if you didn’t have the global changes to contend with, you would need to keep constantly revising your strategies in order to stay ahead of your competitors. Each of the parts of the process described here can be further optimized, even once you believe that you are done with it. So, even though you need to have a very good idea of who your ideal customer would be to start any kind of a campaign, that doesn’t mean that once you have a good enough starting point that your work in that department is complete.
The same goes for finding ever better subject lines, creating content that recommends you as an industry authority, improving your script or brand messaging, and so on. Hopefully, this post has provided you with what you need to start doing this in a systematic and efficient manner, the rest is up to you.