Prospecting: The Most Important Part of Selling

By: Thomas Young

(appeared in the Jan. 20, 1999, issue of inBIZ magazine of central Colorado)

Selling is defined as a transaction that adds value to the buyer by meeting his or her needs and results in mutual benefit for both the seller and buyer. Prospecting is the focused, persistent and systematic method of developing sales leads and beginning relationships that lead to sales.

Know Your Marketplace
The first step in prospecting is to identify your target market. Know the key hot buttons that stimulate action in your prospects. Establish a profile of your customers and determine why they buy. Do your homework and acquire in-depth knowledge of your target market.

Be Brief and to the Point
Keep prospecting calls brief and to the point. More in-depth conversations will take place in later stages of the sales process. Know how much your time is worth. Time is more important than money because how you use your time determines how much money you make.

Run the Numbers
The key to prospecting is persistence, because in many ways, prospecting is a numbers game. The more calls you make, the closer you are to a sale. Determine your conversion rates and use those to motivate you toward the next sale. Track prospecting numbers such as dials, decision-maker contacts, appointments and other activities. Each call brings you closer to a sale. You should be able to predict how many sales you will make for each 100 prospecting calls.

The Impact of Fear
The biggest obstacle to prospecting is fear. Fear is a normal feeling, but should not be a barrier to your success. Take a look at these numbers:

  • 80% of sales come after five or more calls to the same customer.
  • 48% of all sales people make only one call per customer.
  • 25% quit after the second call.
  • 10% of all salespeople keep calling until they have a sale or a definite no. These salespeople are the most successful and some of the highest paid people in the world. They strive for excellence, not perfection, and quality not quantity.

Fear, or call reluctance, can be overcome through personal development, awareness of your fears and by changing your outlook. Try saying your fears out loud to people and see how irrelevant they can be. Fears are usually based on deep emotional issues and not often reality. Fear can also lead to desperation. You should not want the sale so badly that you scare customers away. Prospects do not want to do business with sales people operating out of fear.

The First Impression
A first impression is usually made during prospecting. Although a first impression does not always make or break the sale, it is very important. Do not make up your mind about the prospect based on your first impression. However, make sure the customer’s first impression of you is positive. You never know where the next big account will come from. Be clear about the impression you want to leave with people and ask those close to you what kind of impressions they think you leave with people.

Get Organized and Use Time Properly
Time management and organization are key to prospecting. One of the best ways to organize your prospecting time is to buy contact management software. The productivity increase brought on by software over paper is phenomenal.

Set daily, weekly and monthly prospecting goals and stick to your schedule of calls and callbacks. There is no quick fix solution — only hard work, persistence and a commitment. Work your prospecting in blocks of two to three hours to avoid burnout. Take breaks to perform other sales functions. Find productive calling periods in your market. After three rounds of phone tag, explore other options such as fax or e-mail. Always leave a message and let the prospect know you will be calling back. Constant, organized follow-up is critical. Include asking for referrals as part of your follow-up process.

Rejection
Dealing with rejection is part of prospecting. Be ready for it. Rejection is not about you. It is usually about the idea, product or service you are selling. Some prospects will not be interested; others will. See rejection as part of the process and be ready to move on. You now have more information and you are one step closer to a sale. “No” is far better than “Maybe,” uncertainty or delaying tactics. Rejection gives you a solution and the best way to handle rejection is to make another prospecting call.

Prepare a Prospecting Script
It is essential to have a clear purpose or reason for calling in mind. A brief prospecting script can keep you focused and consistent. Improve the script over time to increase your conversion ratios. Practice and role-play scripts before you make a sales call. Avoid weak openers and have confidence that your message is important and will add value to the customer. Have a script prepared for voice-mail, screeners and decision-makers.

You increase your own wealth by bringing value to others. You cannot bring value to others unless you make contacts. Contacts are made through prospecting. If you do nothing else but prospect, you can achieve moderate success in sales.

Prospecting is like planting seeds and tending them with loving care until the harvest. You don’t know which seeds will be the best or bear the most fruit, so you tend them all the same. Patience, persistence and proper technique lead to a great harvest.

Tom Young, MBA is president of Intuitive Websites, a sales training and marketing consulting firm helping companies increase revenues. He can be reached at 719-481-4040, or email at  tom@intuitivewebsites.com