A VP of Sales I know, Alan, called me a few months ago with a problem. His company had made several acquisitions that had brought new products into the product portfolio. These new products were quite different from those that Alan’s sales people had been selling, but they were deemed strategic. Alan’s CEO believed they represented the company’s future and had tasked him with finding opportunities to sell them immediately.
All of which brings me to the reason for Alan’s call. Two months into his team’s effort, a quick perusal of the opportunities for the new products in his company’s CRM revealed just ten opportunities, not a lot for a sales organization with over 100 sellers. I asked Alan how his people were going about their prospecting.
“Most of my sales people have been selling to the same customers for years, so they have a lot of strong relationships.” Alan said. “They’re calling their customers and asking if they can came out and present some new capabilities the company has. We’re not having any trouble getting customers to meet with us, but it’s not translating into new opportunities.”
We talked a bit further and eventually, I suggested Alan have his people try a different approach. I told him that prospecting for sales opportunities was no different than prospecting in the traditional sense. If you were prospecting for gold, for example, there are three things you would need to do, in the following order:
Step One: Learn what gold looks like.
You could stumble over the biggest chunk of gold ore ever seen if you don’t know what you’re looking for. The first step is to determine what the ideal customer looks like for the product or service you’re trying to sell. Businesses buy products and services because doing so will help them solve or avoid problems. Along with feature and function, learn the business problems your products are designed to address. Also, learn what characteristics would be evident in a company that is experiencing those problems.
Step Two: Learn where gold is likely to be.
It only makes sense to focus the effort where a little homework reveals the payoff is likely to be the greatest. Determine which accounts or departments within your module look like the ideal customer. For Alan’s sellers, it could be the case that departments other than those to whom they normally sell represent the best opportunities. Their usual contacts might not be experiencing the problems the new, strategic products are designed to address.
Step Three: Get permission to dig.
Approach someone within the prospect organization in order to ask a few questions, dig into the business, as it were. Are they experiencing the problems you’re looking for and if so, are they interested in solving them?
The last time I spoke with Alan, the number of opportunities in his funnel had risen from ten to over 110. His sellers are taking a much more targeted approach to their prospecting, and are filling the funnel with quality opportunities as a result of applying this three-step process to prospecting for sales opportunities.