Last week, I received a call from a guy who wanted to know if I would be interested in buying two horses. While I live in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and we do have a few rural farms in the county, I'm sure my neighbors wouldn't appreciate a couple horses running around our backyard! The seller told me he needed to sell his horses and was calling people in Pine Township to see if there was any interest. I told him I was not a prospect.
While the seller only wasted about two minutes for me, there are quite a few people who live in Pine Township, Pennsylvania. I can only imagine the amount of time this seller was spending to call people with no interest in his horses. After all, just because you want to sell something doesn't mean there is anyone who will buy it.
Targeting the correct prospects for your products will increase your success rate. When I was in college I sold books door to door during the summer. They were reference books to help kids do better in class and improve reading. Note: this was pre-internet. Whenever I left one house, I would ask if the next couple of houses had kids. I did not want to waste time going to a home without children. This means every conversation enabled me to further refine my efforts.
Today, focusing on the right prospects is very important. Your time is valuable and the people you are contacting are constantly being solicited in person, by phone, via email and through social media, not to mention the myriad of other advertising vehicles. Pin-pointing your efforts and targeting the most receptive buyers is critical.
Here is my advice to you.
Identify Unmet Needs
Define who will need your product or service based on the problem it solves or the desire it meets. Those people or companies form your prospect list. While it may take longer to create a list this way, the names on it will be much more meaningful and worth contacting: think quality over quantity.
Build Your References
Once you have identified a qualified prospect, whether they are buying from you or not, ask them for referrals. People or companies with the same interests tend to know each other. And it will be easier to open a door using a colleague's name. I've had people call me, rather than the other way around, because a client has said good things about Affinity Express.
Profile Clients and Prospects
Look at your current and past clients to narrow down segments and industries. Successful salespeople often sell within the same category because they understand the needs of those customers. We have a growing group of retailers in the grocery segment and direct marketers using our pre-media services, so every new contact gets easier as we build our list of references.
Find the Right Buyer in the Organization
Understand how purchasing decisions are made. You may get a great reaction and tremendous interest from someone who has no authority or influence to spend. I can't sell Affinity Express advertising and marketing production solutions to the IT departments of companies.
Network with Salespeople in Other Industries
Their prospects might have the same challenges as your clients and you can leverage their existing working relationships. In my case, contacts in our newspaper segment often have direct relationships with major retailers I am trying to reach. The name of a decision-maker and, in some cases, a phone call on my behalf is invaluable.
Do Your Homework
Having a list of quality prospects isn't enough. Why should they buy your product or service? Do as much homework as possible on the needs of prospects so that you can customize your offer to be relevant and meaningful. Don't spend all your time talking about how great your company or service when you should be touting what it does for the prospects (i.e., the value proposition).
My company offers an ability to better focus on core business, reduced operating costs, gain fast turn times and more, but when I talk to a prospect, I talk about these benefits in relation to what is happening in an industry and in a specific company (e.g., downward price pressure, need for faster time to market, emerging competitors, etc.). I find myself most often explaining why outsourcing is a viable and effective strategy for production, as opposed to lining up features and benefits against another provider.
People buy from people, so they have to like dealing with you because of your professionalism, responsiveness, knowledge and sense of humor.
In the end, focusing your attention on the right prospects in the right segments with the right offer will save you time, eliminate the frustrations of contacting people who aren't interested in your product and improve your closing ratios. Making five presentations and winning two deals is much better than making 100 presentations to get one sale. It comes down to working smart versus just working hard. And the only way to do this is with homework and preparation.