In Overcoming Common Sales Challenges (Part I: Change), we began with a conversation focused on the challenge of overcoming human being's inherent desire to maintain the status quo.
(If you have not read Part I, take a few minutes and give it a read.)
Part II: Prospecting and nurturing
The best salespeople are like the best farmers. Not only are farmers (and salespeople) required to be experts attending to their fields and harvesting at just the right time (a.k.a. closing the sale), they must have deep knowledge of financial markets, local and global trade, weather patterns, soil, and chemistry so they know what is the best crop to plant, at what time, all for the purpose of maximizing the limited resources at their disposal.
If all goes as planned, closing the sale (a.k.a. the harvest) is the point of glory, but being good at harvesting (or closing) is not what makes a great farmer (or a great salesperson). The most successful farmers, and the most successful salespeople, know the real work is everything that happens before the harvest.
Although he never actually wrote (or said) — “The end justifies the means.” — Niccolò Machiavelli, the 16th-century author of “The Prince” did describe a very complex set of interactions for which this is a reasonable summary.
To their collective detriment, many sales leaders and their subordinates have adopted this “Machiavellian” concept. I would contend that to be a truly effective sales professional, a successful end (the closed sale) is only predictable and repeatable when the “means” (a.k.a. the process) is deliberate, disciplined, rewarded, and emphasized. The end does not justify the means. It is only through the correctly executed “means” that sustainable and repeatable “ends” can be predictably achieved.
To achieve one’s full potential as a sales professional, effective prospecting and nurturing is not just about filling the pipeline. Prospecting and nurturing must become your raison d’etre (way of life).
Everyone working in sales today knows that prospecting is more challenging now than at any other time in history. But why?
- There exist more product and service duplication in the market than ever before. Right or wrong, this confuses and reinforces the challenge of perceived commoditization.
- Prospects (a.k.a. customers/buyers) are more accessible due to email and social media. This greater accessibility leads to dramatically increased distraction.
- Salesforce automation (SFA), Marketing Automation, and Artificial Intelligence (AI),/ Machine Learning, are overused. This overuse has the major side-effect of making all salespeople look and sound the same.
- Thanks to Internet search engines, prospects have access to more information and the ability to perform cursory comparisons virtually instantaneously. This access to information is both a blessing and a curse. Not only is it essential that your products and/or services are easy to understand, but they must also be simple to distinguish from the competition.
- It is much easier to “look good” than to actually “be good” from an Internet-based marketing perspective. The Internet is very democratizing; going a long way to “level the playing field” for a new business to compete with entrenched incumbents. However, the price of this democratization is trust. It has become extremely difficult to separate the reality from the hype.
Due to these five challenges, prospects tend to revert to being “price driven” and increasingly reluctant to engage with salespeople.
What should you do?
Have a written plan. It sounds like a cliché and every sales training you have attended, or book you have read starts with this same guidance. A plan not written down is not a plan. The more detailed your written plan, the more effective it will be. At a minimum, you must include the types of companies you believe are most likely to need what you have to offer. Next, describe for yourself what types of people (a.k.a. personas) you want to target. Finally, design the ideal path you would like your prospects to follow, beginning with the first contact and ending with the closed sale.
Ask. Listen. Learn. Your mission is to learn as much as you possibly can about the fears and pain of your prospects. No prospect is ever interested in hearing about you or the features and benefits you think your company can provide until they believe you understand what he/she needs to have less fear and/or pain.
Be disciplined and consistent. Prospecting must become one of your most prioritized daily activities. Even on those wonderful days when you are closing a deal, don’t skip your prospecting. The most productive sales professionals allocate blocks of uninterruptible time every day for prospecting.
Check out our video recap below:
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