Prospecting is the only way to discover sales gold

I've never met a salesperson who enjoys making cold calls.

However, I've never known a salesperson who didn't have to.

Cold calling is one of several techniques a successful salesperson uses to prospect for new business opportunities. The process can be arduous, but it is vital since only a small percentage of all business leads turn into qualified prospects and only qualified prospects turn into happy customers.

Successful salespeople understand that they must be willing to do the things necessary even though they may dislike doing them.

Developing the habit of prospecting on a daily basis is crucial. As I say in my book, "World Class Selling: The Complete Selling Process" we first make our habits and then our habits make us.

Set aside a specific time each day to focus on your prospecting efforts. If you're just beginning your sales career, you can expect that prospecting will comprise a substantial portion of your day. However, if you don't spend the time necessary to find ample prospects, you will not have many customers.

Understand the type of customer you're looking for by developing a profile of the type of individual, organization or company that could benefit from your product or service. Be as specific as you can, identifying characteristics that distinguish your customers from those of your competitors.

A prospect can show up anywhere -- at a party, at the grocery store or even at the service station. However, to make the most effective use of your time, determine where you're most likely to find your desired prospects. If your target audience is sailboat owners, you're more likely to find them living close to the ocean than in the desert. If you're selling electrical generators, your prospects would include any large organization that needed backup power supplies.

Leads generated from the Internet via the company Web site or other e-mail inquiries can provide you with a lot of "suspects." Although there may be a very high percentage of these inquiries that in the end don't pan out, there is still gold to be found in properly mining these suspects to unearth solid prospects.

Once you've identified the appropriate target, your next step is to establish where you're most likely to find them. Focus on the specific type of prospect you're looking for by developing a network of associates that will lead you to them. Your networking activities might include joining a community group like the chamber of commerce.

Read local newspapers and trade journals to keep informed of business developments that indicate a need for your product or service in a certain industry.

Contact businesses in industries similar to those of your current clients. Share your track record with them as well as benefits your customers are enjoying.

Also, don't be afraid to contact your former customers. Find out why they're no longer buying from you and ask what you can do to regain their business.

Now that you've found the people you're looking for, determine which prospecting technique will be the most effective to reach them. Begin by cold calling or doing face-to-face prospecting.

However, before attempting to make a cold call or setting up a face-to-face appointment, do your homework.

Find out who the decision maker is in the organization and direct your call to them. If you cannot reach the decision maker on your first call, ask for someone who has their ear who can discuss the needs of the company and problems they might currently be experiencing. Learn as much as possible about the company so you will be prepared when you finally make contact with the decision maker.

Averaging $100 to $500 each, the sales call is the most expensive prospecting method.

In this time of financial uncertainty, it is vital to do everything you can to obtain a significant return on your company's investment. When making a cold call, whether on the phone or in person, your opening remarks must not only grab the prospect's attention but convey your sincere interest in satisfying their needs.

When making a face-to-face cold call on a private residence, your prospect might not think to ask you in as most residents are hesitant to invite in a stranger. Be certain to dress the part of the professional, courteously introducing yourself and handing the prospect your business card. Once you have established your credibility, then politely ask, "May I come in?"

Since the cost of the average sales call is a significant investment, many companies rely on the less expensive method of telemarketing to qualify prospects. It's estimated that nearly 7 million people in the United States earn their livelihood in this field, the highest percentage being inside sales. The telephone is a cost-efficient way to cover lots of territory, so use it for everything from arranging a meeting to closing the order.

The benefit of setting up an appointment by phone is that your prospects will already know who you are when you arrive. It is more difficult to establish rapport over the phone, but it is still possible if you have the right attitude. Introduce yourself and your company. Be enthusiastic, warm and friendly, but also brief and to the point. Ask if the prospect has a moment and if this is a good time to talk. If you're interrupting, offer to call back at a more convenient time.

Finally, another effective prospecting technique is acquiring referrals.

Your most promising source of leads is referrals from your satisfied customers, who are usually delighted to be of assistance since you've been such an asset to their businesses. When you ask your customer for a referral, request the name of a specific business acquaintance. Then you will know exactly who to contact and the prospect will be more receptive since they know the person who recommended you.

Your opening will be similar to the one used for telemarketing. Again, start by introducing yourself and your company. To spark their interest and capture your prospect's attention, mention the name of your client who made the referral and state the benefits they have achieved from your product or service. Finally, close by asking if your prospect would be interested in achieving similar benefits for their company.

Whether you utilize face-to-face calls, networking, telemarketing or referrals to find and qualify your prospects, it is important to develop the habit of prospecting on a daily basis, using the techniques that work best for you.

Without getting into the habit of prospecting, you won't be able to determine who really is a qualified prospect and without qualified prospects you'll have no customers.

Be alert to business opportunities that may arise in any situation. Set prospecting goals for yourself.

Most importantly, remain patient and be persistent in all your prospecting efforts.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.