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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

THE COLD HARD TRUTH: Prospecting 101, Part 8

The Cold, Hard Truth with Gabriel Siegel

THE BOTTOM LINE: The ability to ask the RIGHT types of questions will differentiate your product or service from your competition and reduce the chance that your offering will be “commoditized”. Proper questioning, a learned skill, offers significant advantages:
  • You get your prospect involved in the sales process while you maintain control of the interview.
  • You will know what your prospect has to hear to make a decision.
  • You address objections before they arise.
  • You’re not perceived as a salesperson but as a problem solver.
At the end of this article, I share a series of questions which the writer has found to be most effective and will allow you to present yourself as professional and knowledgeable.

Judging from the number of E mails, many of our readers have come to the realization that prospecting and old fashioned “salesmanship” are the keys to survival. For some, that may a harsh reality, but such is the world of the entrepreneur. Rewarding but difficult!

A great number of respondents asked about proposals. Before addressing that subject, I would like to share this E mail from one of our readers. He never mentioned the type of business, but we all face a similar dilemma: we need to get more clients.

“Dear Gabriel:

My wife and I would like to thank you and The National Networker for offering a great series of articles on a subject that is absolutely necessary for “survival of the species”, the entrepreneur.

We’ve gone the networking route, the Twitter route and even joined our local Chamber of Commerce. We can count on one hand the number of new clients this generated. We were even at the point where we felt we might have to hire a professional salesperson to help us out which for our fledgling enterprise was a major budget buster. We decided instead to go it alone. Following your suggestions, we started to role play cold calling with each other. We then “just did it”. It was hard at first. But after a day or so, we got used to the hang ups, objections and rejections, realizing it’s not personal, and I’m glad to report that we were able to get a few appointments.

This is survival, but as you suggest in your articles, it is probably the most effective, and often, the only option. We’re looking forward to attending a Prospecting Roundtable when you come to our city”.
Name and City Withheld

When dealing with a municipality or a Fortune 500 company, a proposal may often be the only option. However, when a small or medium size business owner says “Send me a proposal” you can bet there are only three reasons why you were asked for that proposal. (We share those reasons at our PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLE).

In a recent PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLE, a participant presented an interesting and often too common “roadblock” to a sale. He cold-called a prospect and made an appointment to see the owner of a janitorial supply company. At the appointed time, he was told by the owner to speak to his secretary who would then relay the information. Our participant, who sells off-site bookkeeping services to small companies, told us he immediately launched into his presentation. He had no idea why the owner invited him in and of course neither did the secretary. He proceeded to present his company’s services. The secretary then asked for a proposal.

When he called back a week later, he received a curt “not interested” – click. What went wrong? Everything! As many of your E mails suggest, precious little business ever comes from proposals. It is a great way to “blow you off” and to detract from what should be your primary objective: getting new clients.

The participants in the PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLE, many of whom have been in a similar situation, said that he should have rescheduled the appointment. Here’s my cardinal rule: ONLY PRESENT TO DECISION MAKER(S) – THE PERSON(S) SIGNING THE CHECK.

Could this sale have been salvaged? We’ll never know. However, our participant might have said something like this:

“Mr. Prospect. You did invite me in so is it fair to say that I might have something in which you’re interested? (Wait for response). I would really need to talk to you directly; because until I do so, there is no way I can tell if I can help you. I may be able to offer you something you need and are possibly not getting from your present provider. But we really need to talk. (Immediately offer an alternate time and date).
You have nothing to lose. If he says no move on.

Another problem I’ve come across with some entrepreneurs will often cause the prospect to say “give me a proposal”. In one of my early articles, I pointed out the difficulties and problems in using buzzwords or industry specific terminology. (Remember the story of the hardware store owner). Your prospect, being human, is reluctant to admit to not understanding you. He’ll be more impressed by your questioning (indicating your interest in helping him) than by buzz words. Keep it simple! Your ability to address his concerns becomes your proposal.

Another topic that generated a fair amount of E mails asked my feelings about buying leads. One reader wrote: “I’m in the insurance business and our agency buys leads from a reputable company. As independent agents, we’re expected to pay for the use of the leads. My closing rate with leads is no greater than my cold calling and far less than referrals. What are your thoughts?”

A lead is still a cold call, albeit ostensibly more qualified. It’s the quality of your cold call opening that will determine your success with leads. If you refer to my earlier articles, we dwelt at length on developing opening statements for a cold call. Our PROSPECTING ROUNDTABLES are designed to help you refine your approaches when making unsolicited calls. If you need more help, or would like some of our readers’ insights into the issue of leads, feel free to E mail me.

We’ll be spending a lot of time on objections because it is one of the major obstacles to successfully consummating a sale. Why? Sales trainers, my personal experience and your own E mails offer some insights but these two dominate:
1) We fail to qualify prospects by not asking questions.
2) We assume a prospect thinks our service is unique, because we think it’s unique, when in reality virtually all services are commodities.

Every successful salesperson knows to anticipate objections. What he doesn’t know is what the objection will be. More often than not, you’re being told, politely, “Your service/product is no different than anyone else”. Only by asking questions can you position your service as something the prospect feels he needs and will be willing to pay for.

One critical key to a successful sale is to get your prospect involved. Here are some questions and/or statements you may want to consider using in the sales process:

Thank you for inviting me. Before I can help you I need to learn some more about your company. We’ll both know if my service works for you”.
What was it that you were hoping I could do for you?”
Off the record, is there something you’re not getting from your present provider?”
Have you given any thought to a budget” or “Have you given any thought to what this might cost? Would you mind sharing that with me – just in round numbers?”

The phrase “off the record” can be quite potent. Don’t be afraid to use it!
I’m involved with a group of “angel investors” looking to finance emerging enterprises in a specialized field. When interviewing a prospective recipient, we ask three questions:
  • How does your product/service make money?
  • How does your product/service save money?
  • How are you getting clients?
In my next article, I will share with you why the use of questions has a special value. Feel free to use them. I will also address a number of issues from your E mails, such as:
  • Additional questioning strategies
  • Cold calling vs. networking and social media
  • Referrals; How to get them
For anyone wishing to share thoughts or comments, the writer can be reached at I respond to E mails quicker and more thoughtfully than I do when contacted on social networking sites.

For more information, please visit Gabriel's TNNWC Bio.

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