You don't even have to be in a technical or formal business environment to have met one. Whether it's the insurance salesperson calling just before dinner or the charity worker who accosts you on the road, most people know what it feels like to have a bad sales experience.
Whether it’s their poor listening skills, their focus on squashing all your objections or something else, you're just annoyed by their intrusion. Sadly, closing the sale is seen as the make or break moment in sales, and many salespeople think it’s OK to be ruthless in just going for the close.
But while a favourable close is desirable, it isn't the whole picture. In fact, some people argue that how you open lines of communication with a prospect is just as important, if not more important. Missing this point can impact the salesperson (or even the entire sales team's) performance.
With the focus on increasing sales close rates and average revenue per sale, it's easy to overlook any fundamental issues with your prospecting activities. We are often told to treat sales as a numbers game, and the more you put yourself out there, the more sales will roll in. But this advice only works if you are approaching prospects the right way in the first place.
A sales team without an effective prospecting process will soon run out of qualified leads, leading to the overall reduction of the team’s sales effectiveness. To help you avoid that, here are six tips on how to approach sales prospects and improve your chances of closing.
1) Find hyper-qualified prospectsIn the race to make a big sale, salespeople fall into the trap of focusing on prospect size, not quality. On the surface, it may seem more profitable to pursue only the largest deals, but you need to remember to maintain a diverse mix of large and small prospects to keep the sales funnel full.
Regardless of company size, a prospect isn’t worth going after if they don't meet your firm’s ideal customer criteria.Salespeople don't like to hear it, but not every person or company is going to be able to buy from you, even if they want to! Consider an organisation that is part of a group owned by an umbrella corporation. They may be compelled to buy from the other companies within the group. They simply do not qualify as a prospect for you.
Now, assuming you've found a prospect that meets your ideal criteria, how about your approach?
2) Focus on being a problem-solving expertWhen a prospect grants you five minutes of their time, your goal is to show them how your product can solve their problems.
When making their pitch, some salespeople feel compelled to go into every last detail about their company, products, services, guarantees, and so on. This attempt to share everything at once leads to giving long-winded answers to simple questions, spewing technical jargon, and offering too many solutions to their problem. Do this and you'll only end up fire hosing your prospect.
To get around this, focus on two or three of the most common issues faced by similar companies in their industry, and show them how your product can help solve these.
3) Ask the right questionsAre you really sure you've the ideal solution to their problem?
You should never rely on your point-of-view only when contacting prospects. Ask them questions to find out why they're having that particular problem. How will the problem affect their ability to reach their business goals?
When you approach your prospects, don't make the conversation about you. Instead, ask questions designed to get to the heart of their motivations, objections and desires. Your questions should be directed towards solving their problems. Use questions like:
- What are the major challenges they've had in their business in the past 12 months?
- What impact have these had on their profits?
- What do they like most about their current supplier?
Questions like these will allow you to find out what’s going on in their world; getting them to open up will also help with building their trust in you. Salespeople should move from only selling to becoming a resource providing significant value.
4) Be confident in your approachYou can blame it on nerves, but far too many salespeople are afraid of approaching prospects. Yes, you'd love to land the sale and add to your quota, but showing the prospect any lack of confidence won't lead to that outcome.
Fidgeting, avoiding their eyes (when in person), coming across as distracted (in person and on the phone) projects a lack of preparation or confidence in your product or service. To overcome fear, prepare a comprehensive plan for every call. Taking pointers from the previous point, create a prospecting script (preferably of blocks of script, not one full script that has to be obeyed) that makes you come across as professional and self-assured.
Plus, when you find blocks of script that work, they can become an asset for your entire sales team.
5) Be an active listenerThis should be obvious, right?
But in a recent American Management Association (AMA) survey that explored what sales tactics turn people off, 18% of respondents said salespeople simply do not listen to them. Customers tend to see inattentive salespeople as only out to trick them into buying. With that kind of opinion, they'll have their guard up, by the time you open your mouth.
Instead of yammering away with the intent to convince them, let your prospects answer the questions in their own words. Tactics like finishing their sentences, because you know the industry, only make you come across as condescending and offensive. Instead of getting them to open up to you, these tactics will shut down any meaningful dialogue.
6) Modify your approach to individual prospectsAll your prospects will have different personalities; some are more analytical and want to see details and figures. Others, usually the higher-ups, only want information on the bigger picture.
When approaching your prospect, take the time to understand their personality and modify your approach accordingly. The fastest way to be dismissed for being unprepared is to offer the wrong type of information to a decision maker.
Avoid using the same opening and value proposition with every prospect you meet. By doing this, you also avoid sounding exactly the same as every other person calling them.
ConclusionJust like approaching someone interesting for the first time, approaching a prospect may be a little intimidating. But with a thought-out plan and some confidence, you will come across as knowledgeable and confident, and that may be all you need to get your foot in the door.
How you approach your prospect can determine if they'll even give you the time of day. With the sales industry constantly evolving, only those salespeople who learn from others’ mistakes and evolve will be on track to meet their sales goals.