Sales are the engine of a business and organizations pursue this function aggressively. Given that most sectors operate under excess capacity (higher supply) as compared with demand, the sales function has gained further importance. We find businesses investing significantly in training their sales team on ´how to sell´ and providing them with advanced IT tools to manage sales process. However, without prospects a salesman is good for nothing. Prospection is key differentiator that separates successful salesman from the rest. High performing salesman invest in prospection and do not leave it unattended. In this article we will learn how to scale up prospection in B2B segment.
Every selling product/service in the market has a customer. However, customers may not always have the need of the product or willingness to buy the same. In B2B, sales becomes further complicated as it is relationship based with high value contracts involved that do not pour in regularly. For customers, risks involved are very high, decision is taken in a group and decision making happens when salesman is not present. All of this makes sales cycle longer and complex. Hence, closing of sales is a small part of sales cycle (though a significant part) and for it to be successful, prospection has to be performed correctly.
Prospection is first step of B2B sales. It means making a contact with leads (potential customers in future) and keeping them engaged till closing of sales. It has three principal objectives:
Gathering information to qualify leads as prospects, so that salesman can concentrate on those who really have need of product/service. This ensures salesman has better conversion rate (from prospects to customers).
Building familiarity and nurturing qualified prospects who are not in buying window.
Leads can be generated in multiple ways – inbound marketing, expo/ trade fairs, networking events, contacts with industry chambers, third party telemarketing services, database on internet, Linked-In, referral from professional network, referral from loyal customer, cold calls etc. First thing successful salesmen do is to increase their circle of influence – their own professional network – as leads generated are reliable and information gathering is much easier. Credibility is key to building relationships which requires consistent effort and time.
One of the effective ways for salesmen to increase their personal network is building a professional profile on Linked-In and investing in premium account so that we get detailed information about people we wish to connect. Next step for salesman is to search all the possible companies that he wishes to sell and follow them (many companies have a dedicated page on Linked-In and they continuously update their information). For prospection, salesman should search for positions (and persons) with whom he would like to make a contact and find out a shared connection. Once identified, do a thorough research on your lead and prepare a short business case on how you can help them. Then speak to your shared connection to help you connect with the lead. Utilize the Linked-In platform to build your familiarity – share your knowledge and business insights, mention intelligent comments in discussion threads, help others (introducing suppliers to your purchase team etc.), and add to your network salesmen working in companies that you are prospecting. Salesmen are part of an extended family who face rejections, troubles and success. They will be more than eager to help you with business information or connecting you with the purchase team.
Word of mouth is another powerful weapon for prospection. Many salesmen do an excellent work with their customers and generate a goodwill. However, they do not capitalize on the same - asking happy customers to refer to his friend or professional network. It serves better if you go with a small list of selected leads which your customer may know. Sometimes your happy customer won´t be eager to refer to you in his business sector but he will be more than happy to refer to you in business sectors where he doesn´t have presence or competition. While working with a customer, build relationships with every person you come across – even with a security guard or receptionist. People move across different organizations. Investments done in relationships now help in generating leads in future.
Salesmen new into a sector or just starting their career might not have privilege of established professional network. They need to build it from scratch - pick up their phones and make cold calls. Visiting physically and knocking on the door while may give a notion of being engaged and working hard, it´s very inefficient way to prospection. Start with building a database in your CRM and making calls. Do not feel shy. Fix golden hours where your leads are most available and make calls. Sending emails or text/ whatsapp messages are complementary and not substitute to cold calls. Data suggest that a salesman needs 12 contacts on an average to close a sale. Most of the salesmen stop pursuing a prospect after third contact. Hence, perseverance is the key. Keep pursuing the qualified lead. Ask him about problems he is facing. Do NOT rush to sell – your calls should not demonstrate your desperation to hit your sales target or recitation of product catalogue.
While making contact with the lead or prospect, gathering information won´t be easy. Why should someone share with you his needs or business information? That is why salesman should have a robust sales pitch and diagnostics questionnaire ready. We will discuss about this in next article. As of now start populating your CRM with leads and qualify them.
CEO, Banyan Consulting