Prospecting for More Sales in a Bad Economy

A poor economy has too often become an excuse for poor performance of many businesses. While the current economic situation is a contributing factor, many of these businesses can perform much better. Most businesses in the U.S. are small and have sales that equal less than 1% market share. If your business has less than one percent of market share, it should be able to grow in any economy.

One hidden area in which to find more sales is right under your own roof. According to “Baseline Selling” by Dave Kurlan, 60% of all sales people are not prospecting consistently, and 50% of all sales people won’t prospect. Combine those figures with the fact that 60% of all sales people suffer from the habit of making excuses, and I think we have uncovered one of the secrets to bringing more sales to your top line.

Simply, if you get everyone responsible for sales to focus on prospecting better, you will increase sales. I recently spoke with the CEO of one of my client companies, and he was complaining about how his sales disappeared. So I asked him who is responsible for sales. He named three people. I went down the list, person number 1 did no prospecting in the last week, person number 2 did no prospecting in the last week, and person number 3 was prospecting only sometimes. Bingo!!!

There are nine rules about prospecting that I have learned over the years. If these rules are followed, they will give you the results you need:

  1. Set Goals – It is very important for sales people to have specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based goals for each step in the selling process. One step most commonly skipped in the goal-setting process is prospecting. Failing to set goals for prospecting is a huge mistake. When setting prospecting goals, one must have overall prospecting goals and goals for each element of prospecting, placing greater emphasis on higher value activities. For example, it is a good idea to set up a point system (e.g. 4 points – closed deal; 3 points – proposal; 2 points – conducted a meeting; 1 point – scheduled a meeting). Each week, establish an overall goal for the week based on their schedules and what they believe is lofty-but-realistic, and they can then set their goals for each of the areas.
  2. What Gets Measured Gets Done – Every sales person hates to report on their activity. However, research has proven that whenever someone collects their own data and reports it, their results increase dramatically. Whenever I work with a client who refuses to complete the tracking sheets that I provide and send me the “Week-in Review,” I already know that client is underperforming. What those people are telling me is they do not want to be honest with me or themselves, and they are not doing what they need to do.  The more detailed your activity tracking, the more you can learn and the more you can predict. Measurement can tell you how much activity it takes to produce the sales you want. It also tells you how you are being inefficient or in many cases when activity is lacking.
  3. Be Prepared – Be ready to explain what you do in one simple sentence. In addition, your explanation must be from the perspective of the client. Lastly, you must be ready to explain to someone in one sentence what a good referral is for you.
  4. Schedule Time for Prospecting – The best way to address a task that you do not want to do is to put it on your calendar like any other important meeting. You should put time on your calendar to make cold calls, call people that will give you qualified referrals, and to follow-up on referrals and leads. By blocking time you are making a commitment. Caution: This is not the time for organizing your client database or other administrative tasks. Also, do not fool yourself. Make sure that you are calling a fresh prospect list. I am amazed at how many people will beat up the same contacts week after week and think they are doing legitimate prospecting.
  5. Avoid Leaving Messages – When prospecting, too many sales people are hiding behind voicemail, e-mail, and text messaging to avoid rejection. This is not prospecting. Statistics tell us that it takes 5-7 attempts to get through to someone. They will answer the phone if you have faith. Try calling at different times of the day, on different days of the week, but do your best not to leave a message. Once you leave the message or send the e-mail you are acting, sounding and will be treated like a salesperson.
  6. Give a Reason For a Returned Call – If you leave a message or send an e-mail, you must be creative. If you call and leave a message of regarding your identity, company name, and purpose of your call, you are not going to like your success rate. I like leaving messages that keep them puzzled. Most times your message should be simply, “this is YOUR NAME. Call me when you are back in the office. My number is XXXXXXXXXX.” Say it with confidence and urgency. They may have no idea who you are and will call you back because they think they are supposed to remember who you are.
  7. Prospect Consistently – This should be a daily activity. The only reason to miss prospecting on a given day is because there is no work that day. All other excuses are unacceptable. If there is ever a break in your sales production, you can always track it back to a time where there was a break in your prospecting consistency. Failing to prospect is the equivalent of failing to breathe. If you stop breathing, oxygen does not get to your brain and you die. The more consistent and healthier your breathing patterns are, the better your brain functions.
  8. Have a System for Getting Referrals – Statistics speak for themselves. If you spend your day making cold calls you might get 2% as customers. If you network your odds may go up to 10%. However, referrals increase your chances to between 50% and 75%. Ask any salesperson and they will tell you that their highest close ratios come from referrals. So you would think that they would spend most of their time working on referrals. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Most sales people I talk to do not have a system for getting referrals, and what they call referrals, I call cold calls. In my opinion, getting someone’s name and permission to use them as a reference is not a referral. It is a reference. A good referral system consists of helping others uncover a potential client through a system of questions. Those questions help your referral source conclude that they know someone that has a problem, they would like to help that someone, and they think you are the right person to solve it. The referral source is then willing to contact that person and make the introduction before you make the call.
  9. Give More Referrals Than You Receive – The secret to getting a lot of referrals is giving a lot of referrals.

If you want to get the sales needle moving in your sales department you probably need to look no further than the prospecting efforts of your sales people. One hour of daily effective prospecting in the right places will put you ten paces ahead of your competition.

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Reference and excerpts taken with permission from online sales training and development tools developed published by, of which Activate Group, Inc. is a licensed distributor.