Understanding the Sales Cycle: Prospecting 101

John Tabita
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In the previous installment of my series, Understanding the Sales Cycle, I said that the sales process begins in one of two ways, either the prospect contacts you, or you contact the prospect.

Contacting prospects—otherwise known as prospecting—can be a frightening thing. For many, prospecting for new business isn’t part of their sales process, sometimes by design, but more often by default. Yet, in order to gain new clients, you must engage in conversations with people in your target market. There are many ways to do this:

  1. Networking groups
  2. Cold-calling
  3. Social media
  4. Conducting free seminars or workshops
  5. Loitering in the lobby of companies which have bad websites

All right, I wouldn’t recommend the last one, but you get my point. But getting people’s attention is only the first step. I also mentioned a marketing whitepaper, which says this:

In sales and marketing–only two things matter:

  1. Getting people’s attention, and
  2. What you tell them when you have it

The vast majority of investments and attention are paid to the first–whether it’s lead gen, demand gen, direct mail, SEO, Google Adwords, cold calling, or other things.

But ask any successful salesperson or marketer: once you get the person on the phone, or once they pick up your marketing piece or visit your website–if you don’t have something VERY compelling to tell them–you’ve lost them.

You need “a clear statement about the tangible business results customers get from using your product, service or solution”. That means you ought to plan out what you’re going to say in advance. Some might call that a unique value or selling proposition. In networking circles, it’s known as an elevator speech. In cold-calling, that would be a script. Here’s an example of a bad one:

I am an expert in the web design field. You might have seen some of my work: *******.com, *********.com, and ************.com. I could design a site for your business at the lowest rate around. If you are interested, I could give you a free 1-hour consultation.

The problem with that statement is the word “I” … “I am…” I could…” “my work…” The person who wrote this script is probably an outstanding designer with great work. The problem is, this person looked at what he or she could do and asked, “How can I sell this?” … rather than, “What problem can I solve or what solution do I provide?” Here’s a simple formula for creating a unique value proposition:

  1. Who you are and what you do
  2. Who you do it for (i.e., your target customer)
  3. What needs solving (describe the need or opportunity in their language—the specific problem that needs solved or solution they’re looking for)
  4. How you help them solve it (i.e. benefit statement)

Let’s look at fictitious XYZ Innovations, which has developed a new marketing tool to help a niche industry that includes locally-owned real estate and insurance agents.

  1. Who you are and what you do: XYZ Innovations provides marketing tools
  2. Who you do it for: locally-owned insurance agencies
  3. Problem that needs solving: finding more qualified leads and getting more face-to-face meetings.
  4. How you help them solve it: a new marketing tool that has been used successfully by local insurance agencies nationwide to identify their most desirable customers and selectively market to them.

Here’s how you might turn that into an elevator speech or cold-call script:

XYZ Innovations helps locally-owned insurance agencies generate more qualified leads, get more face-to-face meetings, and write more policies.

We have a new marketing tool that has been used successfully nationwide by local insurance agencies to identify their most desirable customers and selectively market to them.

When it comes to cold-calling, many people resist using a script because they don’t want to sound scripted. But the problem with sounding like you’re reading a script lies in your delivery, not with using a script. Several months ago, after conducting some telemarketing training, I asked each person to come up with a script, then practice it to perfection. Not long after turning everyone loose with their new scripts, one of them ran over to my desk and said she’d just set an appointment. After agreeing to the meeting, he had asked her, “Do you want to know why I said ‘yes’? Because you sounded very professional and I could tell you weren’t reading from a script.”

If you’re afraid of sounding scripted, then practice it until you sound natural. That goes for both a cold-call script or an elevator speech. Go ahead, you try it.

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