Are your team members REALLY prepared to make first contact with a new prospect?

“Be Prepared” – If it’s OK for Boy Scouts, then it’s probably a good thing.

I often help sales professionals engage with clients early in the cycle of events that gives rise to a sales opportunity. Over years of experience, I have witnessed many salespeople putting insufficient effort up-front into their research and preparation for prospecting.

The first way you need to prepare is to research both the target prospect company and its people. Get familiar with their business environment, their industry trends, their competitors, their recent results, recent press releases, their annual report, their website — those types of things.

You need to get out of the mindset of talking about yourself and how great your company is! What if you started talking about the prospect and their needs (rather than your own) right from the beginning?

Would that make a difference? I think so!

When you focus on a sector, new geography or a specific company, start looking for trigger events, such as a recent announcement, latest results, some press coverage, a new senior executive appointment, maybe a new CEO, COO, or CFO. Perhaps there is significant competition in the marketplace and competitor activity is the trigger.

When it comes to researching people, their memberships, posts, or blogs are other good places to start.

Here’s what I might look for if I were targeting a large prospective company:

  • Trigger events
  • Plans
  • Problems they face
  • Their competitor’s activity
  • People changes – Executive moves
  • Key people
    • Basic information (age etc.)
    • LinkedIn profiles
    • Interests
    • Blog posts
    • Social media ‘follows’
    • Common interests
  • Latest results (in their accounts)

The secret to successful research is to identify what they need and correlate it with what we do well. Notice I did not say “Combining what we do well with what they need.” The reason for the switch in sequence and emphasis is that you need to think about the prospects needs first.

Once you have researched a prospect company, you might start to feel that one or more of your offerings would be a good fit for them. Remember, people only care about products, services, features and functionality to the extent that they solve a pressing problem or produce a valued result.

If a person isn’t motivated to move away from something they don’t want, or move towards something they do want, they aren’t likely to move at all.

No pain, no gain, no movement.

I recommend a simple approach for researching and preparing to engage with each new prospect that requires you to focus on them and then simply tabulate your findings, as outlined below.

The first thing to ask yourself is: what are all the Challenges (problems or desired results) that would have to exist in your prospective client’s company before they’d be interested to talk to you about your potential solution?

List as many as you can. Take a few minutes to write down what might be on your list. Aim for 6 or more.

Once you have a list of Challenges, explore the Proof and Effect for each one, and then determine who might be interested to talk to you.

Let’s look at Proof first. Imagine you had complete access to the prospective client company. What would you need to see, feel, hear, or experience to prove or disprove that a problem existed or that a result might be highly valued? This is Proof, and it can be hard or soft. Hard proof would be data-driven, specific financial or performance measures that are deemed unsatisfactory, or need to be achieved in the future. Soft proof would be strong opinions that something has to change, even though KPIs or other measurements may not exist.

What Proof exists for your list of Challenges? Fill out the relevant Proof for eachChallenge in your table.

When you think about Effect, you’re trying to understand how badly the problem hurts them or how great the reward will be if the results are achieved. Ask yourself: What might be the Effect of this Challenge for your prospective client? You probably won’t know specifically, yet you can get a rough order of magnitude.

Once you’ve identified the Challenges, Proof and Effect, think about the people and functions in these companies that would be affected by the Challenges and the implementation of the solution. These are your real target prospects – real people.

Finally, look at the list and see if you can establish priorities and patterns. Priorities are the 3 or 4 Challenges that might be most important to the prospective client. Patterns are challenges that can be grouped into a few topics or themes. Perhaps several challenges affect the same economic measures or the same function. Perhaps they occur in a sequence: first these things happen, then these, then these.

With this information, we can start to create a reason for the prospect to want to hear from us and make calls to them to ascertain their level of interest. I’ll talk more about preparing for those calls in a future article.


The Sales Coach

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