I had just then started selling to Corporate. Until then, I was selling to entrepreneurs and small businesses. Selling to corporate called for lot more skills than selling to entrepreneurs & small businesses.
Networking skill is one of them.
We didn’t have #LinkedIn then.
I was hanging out where my clients met.
Road shows, seminars, conferences, product launches, workshops and any event where the corporate was in full attendance.
In most cases, the event would be conducted by our Principals – Microsoft, Oracle, IBM etc. We used to get a stall outside the hall to showcase our solutions.
Do you know how and when I met my clients?
During tea breaks and lunch time.
I sacrificed my lunch to go around and meet people. When they were having their lunch.
It used to pay off.
I would introduce myself. Exchange business cards. Would ask them if they are looking for some help.
I then promise to visit them soon and talk further. They’ll agree.
If there were 2000 people in attendance, I would have met at least 40 customers. That was just 2%.
But I have 40 contacts now.
I would start my outreach immediately after the event.
I provided value to my prospects before they bought anything. And I provided more value after the sale.
Coming back to networking, I networked not just with prospects and customers but also with competitors, partners and principals. Literally, anyone in the Eco-system.
I would know about the purchase of Air Conditioners by my prospect through the AC vendors, even though I was selling only Software.
All those strategies apply these days as well. On LinkedIn as well as otherwise also.
There used to be light rain almost every day in the afternoons in Singapore. The already clean roads get washed up yet again. Smell of the earth would be evident all around. It makes you feel energetic and more productive.
One such afternoon, I was learning how to hold the chop sticks. From one of my customers. I was a Vegetarian then [Vegan now] but that was a Chinese restaurant that considers small fish as Vegetarian. I had to explain several times to the bearer both symbolically [in sign language] and verbally saying “no small fish”.
My guest taught me how to hold the chop sticks and I really learnt it. You won’t believe, I was picking up rice with the chop sticks. It surely helps to eat less quantity in one mouthful and chew it well. May be, a lesson in Sales as well: Take up only what you can chew. And chew it well.
What happens when you dine together? You get to know the person personally. You get to know their interests, likes, dislikes, passion, hobbies etc. You build a strong trust based relationship. You don’t go with an agenda. You go with the flow. Eventually, you build a great relationship.
That was not the first time or the last time I dined with Customers. Even in India, I have dined with Customers. That’s a secret recipe for a great relationship. Customers want to deal with someone who is as much human as themselves.
In the last few years, I have built a style that I follow, when I dine with customers & prospects. I narrate stories from my life and what I learnt from it. That sets up the conversation. I don’t intend to close or anything. But I have probably created a strong emotional buy-in in the minds of my customers.
I am sure you have stories like these as well from your Sales experience.
I think, majority of us in Sales, that includes me, do not stay in touch with customers with whom we had built a great relationship.
Take away: List down some of your old customers and get back in touch this week. You may be in for a surprise.
Prospecting is not researching about Prospects. It is nothing but validating if the Prospects are going to buy from you or not. Whether there is a product fit or not. It is about finding if it is worth spending that time with them. You can fight competition. But you cannot fight “no fit” or “no need” or “no funds” or all of them put together.
Some questions for you to ask them:
What is your problem statement?
How soon do you need to do this?
Where is the money going to come from?
What benefits will you derive if you do this?
What bottlenecks do you foresee for this project?
Who are the key stakeholders?
Who are the people who are going to benefit from this?
How will it affect your business?
What will happen if you don’t do this?
What are the attributes or qualities that is essential on the part of the vendor?
Lead Generation and Prospecting are two very important activities for any Organization. These can make or break an Enterprise. In some Organizations, it is the Marketing team that does the lead generation and passes the Marketing Qualified Leads [MQL] over to the Sales team. And sales qualifies these leads before taking it further.
And Sales also does Prospecting. From making cold calls, running a survey, conducting a customer satisfaction audit, asking for customer references, engaging existing clients to warming up prospects who had expressed interest in the past, targeting named accounts, Sales does everything to generate prospects.
Let us take a look at some ways to generate leads:
LinkedIn Premium or Sales Navigator: You should use it extensively to research, target and find prospects.
Use your website to generate leads – by implementing SEO, Website optimization, Call to Action forms, giving free Ebooks, useful and educational blogs [like this one]. Just do everything under Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing.
Got up early today at 5 am. Then, the usual morning routine continued. Quickly, started my digital assistant ‘Google Now’ to tell me where I should focus my time today. First off, what’s the news today? How is the weather? Traffic in the route that I am likely to take today?
Can you give me a snapshot of people I am likely to meet today and also let me know what their political affiliations are? What are their food preferences? What are their priorities at work? What characteristics do they expect in a vendor? Why did they fire the last vendor they had? What are our chances of winning this deal? How should I tweak the proposal to make sure that I get the deal?
What should I eat today? I have taken too much protein this week till now. So it is essential to consult Google Now what I should eat to get a balanced diet for the week. Can you build up my menu for the day? And can you ask Roger [robot] to pick them up from the stock in kitchen and refrigerator and set my breakfast at 7:08 am at my work table at home office?
How many hours of work have I put in this week and how am I doing against my goals for the week? What are the pending tasks? Can you prepare a spreadsheet and line them up all? I have no time you see. Send it to my mobile phone when I go out for a walk.
The clock showed 6:23 am by then. Went out for a walk. Google Now sent me the report as requested. I viewed it. Took some action on it during my morning walk. Sent out mails to customers that were pending. In fact Google Now assembled the mails and asked for my approval to send out those mails. Just had to swipe and the emails were sent.
6:43 am: Returned home. Took bath. And it was 6:48 am then. Time to pray. Took 23 seconds and looked at my tablet and recited a prayer. Took a deep breath.
Asked Google Now, what dress I shall wear for the meeting. Asked, how shall my handshake be? Is there something I should carry with me for the meeting? Is the customer I am meeting this morning at 8:12 am, business like or friendly or ethical? [Mutually exclusive.:)]
Took my digital assistant’s help and got the deck ready. Checked out if the customer I am meeting is on his way to office.
7:08 am: Roger brought the breakfast to my work table. Thanked him. Quickly finished the grub and saw google now updating my weekly calorie intake and it said what I need to take still so that I can get the balanced diet for the week. It searched online for organic food vendors and it went about ordering my food for the rest of the week, of-course only after taking my approval. It was by then 7:31 am.
7:33 am: Cab arrived. Took the self driving cab to the metro station. 7:37 am. Waited for 60 secs. Took the 7:38 am train to MG Road.
Prepared for the meeting by going through the decks assembled by Google Now. Spoke to a colleague for some information.
7:59 am: Reached MG Road. Cab sent me a message that it is waiting. Took the cab to reach the client’s office. On the way went through the info sent by colleague and assembled by Google Now. Went through the report it prepared about the client and their project. Reached client’s office at 8:06 am. Too early for the meeting. All set for the meeting at 8:12 am.
8:12 am: Client side manager arrived. Shook hands as suggested by Google Now. Talked to him as suggested by Google Now. Shared docs as suggested. Spent a long time with the client. Exactly 6 minutes and 15 seconds. Had black coffee in between. Promised the client to start the project once we get an agreement. He promised to talk to his boss and send the confirmation around 10:08 am.
10:09 am: Received the order confirmation. Informed Google Now. It was the first to know this. It celebrated the order by ordering [?] a cake online for me. I asked it to deliver it at my office. And asked it to inform my team members and get ready to start working on the project.
10:30 am: Reached my office. Team members were ready to start the project. Google Now had sent me a rough draft of roles and resp of each team member. I approved it and they received it. They all agreed. 10:45 am: Project work started.
10:50 am: I took my digital assistant’s help to scout for new customers. Saw what my competitors are up to. Where are they focusing their energies? What is their road map? Where are they likely to be in 5 months? Have they recruited and expanded their team or not?
12:42 pm: Got back home for lunch. Finished lunch at 1:05 pm. Decided to work from home post lunch. Did prospecting. Lined up prospects for meetings and demos the following week. Kept google now informed. It celebrated the appointments and cheered me to do more. It sent me a nice book written by Chet Holmes. I decided to call it a day by 2:00 pm.
What a hectic day it was.
Accomplished much. Planned even more for the coming week. Will do as planned.
How was your week? What are your plans for the next week?
The process of identifying prospective or potential new clients for your business is called as Prospecting. It is during this process you qualify prospects [or leads] and see whether there is a fit between what he/she needs and what you have got to offer.
Why should you undertake Prospecting ?
Prospecting is done to identify new customers. It is very important to do Prospecting on a continuous basis. New customers are very important for a business to grow. It is also worthwhile to remember that existing customers have to be retained at any cost since the cost of acquiring new customers is too high compared to the cost of retaining existing customers. But that doesn’t mean we should stop doing prospecting or stop acquiring new clients. The only way to Growth is to acquire new customers at whatever cost.
Sales people normally do cold calls to identify prospects. But traditional Cold-calling, as we know it, is dead. In today’s world, one does a lot of homework before picking up the phone. Whether one is calling a list from a database or calling on the leads that have come in through their website or Ad campaigns, one has to do plenty of homework before connecting with the Prospect.
Let us now take a look at how to do Prospecting.
Step by Step Guide to Prospecting:
The first step is to define your target market. Or your target segment.
Then undertake a study of your target market or target segment.
Understand what is causing them headaches or what goals do they have for their organization this year.
Find the right set of people in Organizations within the target market, those who are most likely to have a need for your products/services.
You may use LinkedIn and/or any other service that gives you access to your target segment including the decision makers direct phone nos.
Understand the Buyers’ Persona.
Make a list.
Run a campaign. Whether yours is a B2B or a B2C. It can be an Email campaign or an Ad campaign on the web or both.
Now, get your Story ready. [Not the pitch.] People like stories. Let the Story be inspiring. Let it make the buyer sit upright and take note of it and let it induce the buyer to take action. The buyer will then help you sell to their organization. It will be his/her baby from then on.
Attend Trade Shows, Road Shows, Industry Conferences, Workshops, Seminars where your target segment is likely to participate. Network. Exchange cards.
Make a refined list. Include those who came through your Campaigns and those whom you networked with recently.
Invite them over to Breakfast meetings on Saturdays. Make Powerful and Inspiring Stories and Tell them these stories. StoryTelling is an art.
Prepare a Qualified List of Prospects, those who are a fit and those who are most likely to buy your products or services in the near future. With this, Prospecting is completed. But the Sales Process continues. Keep doing these steps on a regular basis to have a constant supply of Prospects for your Business.
An open ended question is one that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no”. The person who is answering has to answer in his or her own words. These are questions that begin with a how, when, where, what, why. On the contrary, a closed ended question is one that expects a “Yes” or a “No” as an answer. Also, a set of options to choose from as a response is a closed ended question too.
They say, to start a conversation with a stranger in a railway station is to talk about the weather. “The weather is nice today, isn’t it ?” is a conversation starter. Tried and tested practice. Though it is a closed ended question, it is a conversation starter. So, you start with a closed ended question and gradually move on to open ended ones. That way, you don’t force the respondent to start thinking right at the beginning itself.
In Sales situations, you normally tend to ask: “Before I start, may I know who are the others who will be joining us for this presentation/demo?” That is a closed ended question. But starts the conversation. And eases the situation. It shows the client that you are human too. And then you follow-up with something like this: “Before the others join us, why don’t you tell me how are you currently solving this problem?”
Why open ended questions?
Sales is largely dependent on your questioning capability.
Unless you ask questions, you will never understand what is going on.
Your right questions will lead you to the issues which will lead you to solving those issues which in turn will lead you to business.
Closed ended questions do not reveal much. Some may be answered in the affirmative and some may not be. But the conversation ends with closed ended questions.
To continue with the conversation.
To uncover the mind of the customer.
To qualify your prospect.
To get more information.
Well, I am convinced that I should ask open ended questions early in the sales process. But, how and where do I start?
Good that you have started asking open ended questions already. Now let’s look at what to ask:
Start with something like this: Can you tell me what are some of the key industry trends in your industry?
How do you keep innovating?
What are some of the key challenges that you are facing?
How did you achieve that?
What makes you unique?
What makes your clients stay with you?
What do you do for achieving total customer satisfaction?
What is your process for collecting customer feedback?
What in your view is the biggest client acquisition ever? And why?
Where and how do you find your clients?
Who do you think is your closest Competitor and why?
Where do we go from here?
What are your suggestions for us?
What can we do to help you mitigate those risks?
What is your evaluation criteria?
What is your process in such a scenario?
Why would you want to buy this?
What made you talk to us?
What would make us look even better?
How can we help you?
This is just a sample. Write your own set of open ended questions in your own words. You may want to write one set for each prospect you are meeting since no two sales situations are similar. But remember not to over do it. You have to invest time and energy to do this exercise. It is neither necessary to do this in one sitting nor it is possible to do it in one sitting. You need to get involved, invest time and energy and do this exercise with love.
The idea is to spread the word, understand the market needs, identify the decision makers involved, get to know the competition, their pitch, what works for the competition and what doesn’t etc. Idea is definitely not to sell anything.
So, here are the steps to get you to make those first 100 sales calls without any plan whatsoever. Do not wait until you have perfected your sales strategy or understood your target segment completely. There is no time for all that. You can learn all those on the job. Hit the road and start meeting clients. Here you go.
Get into an Action mode. Hit the gym if you want some energy or keep two dumbbells handy at your work place and play rock on your headphone and see the magic unfold.
Keep the script ready – at a bare minimum it should have the details on – who you are, where you are from, what is it that you want to do for them [target segment] and why – let this not be a pitch but a generalized statement. For ex, say, “we are passionate about offering solutions to the travel industry segment and we understand the issues that the travel industry faces”. If the customer asks, then and only then explain the issues and your solutions.
Identify the target customer segment that you want to focus.
Login to your CRM and quickly search for the target segment – from your Leads, Accounts and Contacts.
Check if there is a Trade Association for that target segment. If yes, is there a members database available for free or for a fee. Get that list.
Use LinkedIn, start searching for the target segment from your first level contacts, to start with.
Identify the people you want to meet – from Finance function or Marketing function and VP level or above or below.
Export that list from LinkedIn and merge it with the list from the Trade Association list. Keep the source of leads column and import it into your CRM.
Query your CRM on the Target Segment and create a filtered list [with Title/Designation, City etc].
Create a Task “Call” or “Meet” with a short description and add the Script and do a mass update to this selected list.
Hit the Visual Task Board and you will see all these items lined up in Stage 1.
Start calling or meeting.
That’s it. You are off to a great start. Best Wishes !!