Many sales people confuse “preparation” with “prospecting”. They are very different activities. True prospecting involves making phone calls, sending emails and setting and conducting appointments. However, in order to have quality prospecting time, sales people need to spend some time in preparation.
PREPARING YOUR LIST
For the companies that we work with, we typically suggest that each sales person work off of a 3 tiered target list, picture a Bullseye. In our Bullseye, we have 3 categories of prospects… the middle of the Bullseye, where you want to aim, is the “super dream team” prospect category… depending on your sales cycle and industry, these people may take up to a year or more to close but typically will yield the highest return. These are your “whales”. The second category is your “rock star” prospects… they may take a while to close, but not as long as your whales and they are still well worth your time and effort. And finally, the outside ring of the Bullseye is for your ‘bread and butter’ prospects… some refer to these prospects as ‘low hanging fruit’. One thing we know for sure… these people can help sustain you during the short term while you’re working hard on your rock stars and whales! They shouldn’t take as long to convert, so your return on time investment should be in alignment with the benefit they provide to you and your company.
SCRIPTING AS PREPARATION
I know, you hate scripts. If you are successful in sales, and have been doing it a long time, I bet that if you listen to yourself, you will determine that you already work from a standard script. You can’t help it. Over time, you’ve figured out what works, and what doesn’t. But, if you are newer to sales, or your results are inconsistent, perhaps you might benefit from developing your own script. Start with a basic agenda, define what your objective is for the call, and then develop questions to help you get there. It’s as simple as that. Some of the most powerful scripts are the ones that get your prospect out of their ‘auto-response’ mode. How do you differentiate yourself and utilize questions that make your prospect think? You plan what you’re going to say! You can call it what you want… I’ll call it a script.
RESEARCH AS PREPARATION
I’m told by many sales people that they feel most productive when they are in ‘activity’, the only problem with this, is that it’s easy to fall into the habit of getting wrapped up in unproductive activity. Preparation does not feel active, so for many sales people, it feels like a waste of time. However, the time you spend preparing almost always will result in better outcomes. It is a great idea to take some time and really work on your prospect list BEFORE you start making calls. Research your prospects on company websites, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to just name a few resources. Really examine who you want to do business with… then write your own Bullseye list! The time you spend in preparation will make your actual prospecting, phone calls and meetings, be more productive and may even shorten your sales cycles.
DANGER ZONE… PREPARATION PARALYSIS
OK, so how do you know when to stop? Have you ever found yourself in preparation paralysis? Admittedly, there is a fine line between adequate preparation and over preparation. While some preparation is better than none, too much will stymie your results. Sometimes there is no substitute for just making the first call. If you find yourself procrastinating by doing too much research, the only solution is to pick up the phone and start making calls. Over time, you begin to define for yourself how much preparation is enough. This can vary from person to person. Bottom line, if your results are suffering, you might be spending too much time in preparation.
Here is a quick list, to help your formulate your plan for preparing before prospecting.
• Define whether your prospect is a whale, a rock star or low hanging fruit. Tip: this can help you decide how much time to spend in preparation… the greater the stakes, the more research you might conduct.
• Understand the basics about your target company, what they do, who they do it for, and why. How does your product/service fit in, what need might you need to develop to present you/your company as a solution? Tip: most of this can be found on their company website.
• Do you know anyone at the target organization, or might you know other vendors they might use. Tip: inside information from someone you know is always better than what you can find on the internet.
• Develop your list of things “you don’t know” but need to uncover. Tip: this is the part of preparation that feels unproductive. Typically, you can work off a checklist that applies to many of your targets. Your sales process, depending on how long it is, will help you check things of the list, little by little or if you’re lucky, in one fell swoop.
PLAN TO PREPARE
Our suggestion? Plan time for preparing and plan time for prospecting. We love calendar time blocks, but they are only as good as you are about observing them. Treat your preparation and prospecting time blocks like you would a meeting with your most coveted prospect… you would never let something interrupt or take precedence over that! Prospecting is how you get paid if you’re on any kind of incentive plan, so don’t sell yourself short, and don’t minimize your potential results by failing to prepare adequately.
Need a place to start? Look at your target list… who do you need to research? Who don’t you know much about? Start there. Spend 30 minutes in preparation, and then 30 minutes in active prospecting. Splitting your time will help you feel like you’re in activity, while not shortchanging yourself on the valuable act of preparation. The list will never be perfect and it will never be ‘done’. Think of it as a living, breathing document. It will continue to evolve and change, so get started today.
Grow Big or Go Home!