This article was guest written by AXIOM Sr. Instructor Mike Crocker.
A friend of mine is the General Manager of a local restaurant near my house. It was slow one day when I was there having lunch. He and I were talking when a guy came in and asked to speak to the manager. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. The man represented a company that provided paper products; paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, etc. After introducing himself he said, “I wanted to take a few moments of your time to see if my company might be able to save you money on paper products for your establishment.” My friend explained that they were happy with their current supplier, but he appreciated the visit.
After the salesperson left, our conversation continued. I was curious as to how many times a day salespeople come into the restaurant attempting to sell him something. As it turns out, it was significantly more than I had ever imagined. If you think about it, everything that happens in a restaurant from the food, condiments, linens, paper products, cash registers, television feeds, etc. is purchased from some other company and all of those salespeople want a piece of the business. Unfortunately, they often simply drop by and claim that they can save the restaurant money on whatever products/services they are selling. Here is the second thing I learned: While the number of salespeople calling on the restaurant is significant, the number of sales people who get a serious meeting isn’t.
That got me to thinking about how salespeople typically approach prospecting. How many times have we been guilty of dropping in or cold calling a business and asking immediately to talk to the decision maker? Then, if we are able to get to that person, we have nothing more compelling to say so we blurt out “I think I might be able to save you money.” Since these buyers hear the same line countless times daily, we don’t differentiate ourselves from the myriad of other sellers out there and as a result, we are conditioning buyers to turn us away. Even if we do have the opportunity to meet with them, we are left trying to save them money compared to their existing provider. Sure saving money is important, but it isn’t the only thing that business owners and decision makers care about. They also want to put a quality product in front of their customers, drive revenue streams, keep their employees and customers safe and happy. They want to run in an efficient manner and minimize obstacles that prevent the business from being as successful as possible.
Now, if you are like me and this strikes you as obvious, the question we have to ask is, “Why?” Why would so many sales people default to the same “general benefit statement” and diminish the potential value of their products and services? Perhaps the answer lies in what they didn’t learn BEFORE talking with the decision maker. Since the typical sales person has been taught to bypass everyone else in the organization and get to the decision maker as quickly as possible, most learn nothing about the business before reaching their “target destination.” As a result, they can’t speak in any specific terms about how they can help this particular company realize their objectives.
If we want to be different and improve our results, we need to take a more targeted approach to prospecting. When you think about it, it only makes sense that before we talk to any decision maker about our products and services we know something about the current state of their operation. Understanding the business issues that concern them most and then bringing possible solutions that help them achieve their goals greatly enhances our likelihood of getting them to sit down and seriously evaluate our solutions. Prospecting should not be a “dial for dollars” exercise, but rather a targeted approach whereby we identify likely business opportunities and then verify business issues before we propose potential solutions.
This targeted approach actually begins even before we contact a single person. We start by identifying the types of customers who are likely to have problems we might be able to solve. Based on our solution set, what types of, organizations, business units, divisions, or departments operate in such a way that they are likely to have particular business issues that our solutions can address.
Then, we must verify the existence and significance of those issues BEFORE we try to solve them. It only makes sense, right? Otherwise we might waste time trying to address issues that either don’t exist or aren’t significant enough for the decision maker to want to address them. Once the issue has been verified and it’s significance understood then we have something compelling to say when we talk to the decision maker. We know something about how they are currently operating and can provide solutions to have positive impact outside of, or in addition to trying to save them money.
When we take a targeted approach, our chances of getting that decision maker to sit down with you and listen to your solution are greatly increased for two reasons. First, we have differentiated ourselves by not using the same old expected prospecting line. And second, we have demonstrated that we can have real impact on THEIR business based on the specific issues they are facing. If you were a decision maker, with which seller would you be more likely to spend your precious time?
- What percentage of your prospecting attempts are successful at taking your dialog to the next step?
- Do you research a prospect before contacting them?