In my last article, I said that you can easily mimic the practices “Big Box” SEO companies have used to make themselves into such effective sales organizations. One of those practices is prospecting for new business.
Prospecting is contacting people with the sole intention of drumming up business immediately. Every industry has a predictable sales cycle—that is, the time required to take a client from first meeting to final handshake. The higher the cost and the more complex the sale, the more time involved. The sales cycle for a box of nails is around 30 seconds. For multi-million dollar enterprise application software, it’s more like 30 months. The goal of prospecting is to find someone who’s likely to buy your product or service within your typical sales cycle.
Because prospecting can be downright terrifying, it might be helpful to establish what prospecting is not—just in case you’ve deluded yourself into thinking that your current activities can be construed as such.
Prospecting is not Selling
Selling is easy. I love selling, even when the prospect doesn’t buy. Prospecting, on the other hand, is hard. Prospecting is finding someone to whom you can sell. Selling begins only after prospecting reaches a successful conclusion.
Prospecting is actually a form of marketing, which is why cold-calling is called tele-marketing not tele-selling. I make that distinction so you may realize that it’s entirely possible to have someone else do your prospecting, leaving you to do the selling.
Inbound Marketing is not Prospecting
Yellow Pages, paid or organic search, and blogs all help you be found when potential customers are in research or buying mode. Inbound marketing is when the buyer is seeking a seller. Prospecting is the exact opposite. It’s the seller seeking a buyer.
Connecting on Social Media is not Prospecting
While posting special offers on social media channels is a form of prospecting, doing so exclusively is the quickest route to being “unfollowed.” The primary purpose of social media is to establish relationships with your followers. Those may lead to sales, but social engagement cannot be called “prospecting” in the strictest sense of the word.
There are many ways to communicate with potential buyers. But unless the sole purpose of that communication is to bring the other person into your sales cycle and close a deal within a specific time frame, it’s not prospecting.
What Prospecting Is
Here are the activities I define as “prospecting”:
Cold-calling is using the phone in an attempt to set up a sales appointment with a decision-maker.
Cold-canvassing is cold-calling in person. Rather than trying to reach a decision-maker over the phone, you walk in.
While I don’t personally advocate it, you can use email to the same end. Sending unsolicited email is less effective than other prospecting methods and can land you on the wrong side of the law, if done wrong.
While prospecting on social media is generally frowned upon, LinkedIn is the exception to that rule. When done properly, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool for gaining new clients. The reason it’s so effective is that it allows you to target prospects who have a highly probability of needing what you sell. I’ve been prospected a number of times on LinkedIn and in many cases, it was something we were already in the market for.
To Prospect or Not to Prospect
A colleague recently shared with me that his business has changed from chasing new projects to managing long-term clients who pay to keep him within easy reach. But this doesn’t happen overnight. Here are some reasons you might engage in some or all of the prospecting methods I’m recommending.
- You’re just starting out and need clients right away
- You’re in a slump and need clients right away
- You’ve gotten lazy about your other marketing activities and need clients right away
- Your other marketing efforts have suddenly dried up and you need clients right away
- You’ve just lost your two largest clients and you need to replace that revenue right away
- You have too many cheapskate, over-demanding clients and you need to replace them with better-paying ones right away
Are you beginning to sense a common theme? I’ve had people comment that they’d rather quit their business and work for someone else than resort to cold-calling. Personally, I wish I’d learned to cold-call and prospect effectively before I decided to quit my web business.
How about you?
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.