Nine Action Steps to Open Doors to Prospects
With all of the work I do with sales organizations, one subject on top of everyone’s mind is how to land appointments with decision makers that matter.
Top sales organizations understand that regardless of how great their salespeople, how compelling their product or how persuasive their value proposition if they can’t get in front of decision-makers, none of it matters.
Today, I want to share with you a proven process for securing appointments with key decision makers under favorable conditions.
And sometime before you finish reading this blogpost, please download my eBook How to Land High-Value Executive Appointments for a complete plan.
The intent of a good strategic prospecting plan is simply to determine if there is a good strategic fit worth pursuing. In most environments, upward of 75 percent of the total selling effort required is consumed getting the first appointment.
Because of this disproportionate expenditure of energy, we place a premium on securing a scheduled interaction with high-level prospects. In other words, a scheduled meeting represents tangible evidence of a prospect’s interest and their investment of time.
What’s more, a scheduled event changes the context of the interaction from an interruption to something expected and appropriately prepared for regardless of whether you seek a one-hour in-person meeting or a 15-minute phone introduction.
Throughout the year, as salespeople strive to reach their goals, they make unimaginable numbers of prospecting calls. The vast majority are considered cold calls because the prospect does not expect the call, nor has he requested the solicitation.
That’s fine. Cold calls are an integral part of the demand creation sales process.
Our approach to setting meetings, under favorable conditions, represents a major departure from typical sales approaches. The primary intent is to simply make an introduction and gain agreement to schedule a time to further discuss your solution, based on issues your prospect faces.
This approach is of utmost importance; it is difficult to present your value proposition when you do not yet know the prospect’s issues, and you’re contacting him in what may be the middle of his buying journey. Stated simply, you can’t sell your solution unless you understand his vision or concept for a solution.
At this point, many salespeople say, “Prospects won’t agree to meeting with us unless they know exactly what we are selling and how it can bring them value.” My quick response is that the salespeople must lead the prospect to their products and services and not lead with them.
Prospects must be sold on the mutual benefit of deferring a sales conversation (your pitch) to a specific and limited time window where you are both prepared for and expecting the interaction. At this interaction, you then can uncover the need and get your arms around their vision for the solution.
Then you will be able to link your solution to their needs.
As simple as this sounds, I have found this approach represents a major philosophical shift from how most salespeople think. So I will share the nine actions steps needed for effective appointment setting.
Effective Appointment Setting
1. Aim Higher than User Buyers
As long as I have been consulting with sales leaders, I’ve heard many encourage their salespeople to make the initial meeting at the highest levels of a company (C-Suite level).
Still, I am amazed at the lengths salespeople will go to justify why they’re calling three levels below any real decision-making authority. Building a consensus at the user buyer or technical buyer levels, then hoping these contacts will ‘introduce’ them to the upper echelon is more difficult than getting introduced at the top.
True, you need to cover all the bases, especially with buying influences most impacted. However, it is much easier if your solution solves an issue impacting a C-level executive. Salespeople, particularly those who pitch products, feel more comfortable talking products with the technical folks. It’s key to develop a process to get them to aim higher in the organization.
2. Find Your “Coach” Early in the Process
Don’t fixate on finding the ultimate decision maker, the person in Strategic Selling® we call the economic buyer. That would be ideal, but many times the economic buyer is not who you initially targeted; he may not be identified yet.
Today, most buying decisions are comprised of several individuals playing a variety of roles. You need to identify who they all are and what roles they play, and how their issues and your solution impact them.
Regardless whether this concept makes intuitive sense, if you acknowledge the challenge of getting ‘in’ with a company, it makes sense to keep your efforts broad during the prospecting and qualifying phase. Shoot high into the C-suite, and find someone (a coach) who has a vested interest in your solution and one that can help you identify the right players.
In many instances, the fastest path to the ‘right person’ may be through side doors and relationships with individuals that are not in direct decision-making roles. A coach can help lead you to the economic buyer.
3. Slow Down to Succeed
No matter how interesting or eloquent your e-mail or voice mail messages are, it is highly unlikely anyone will call you back or respond to your email. Of course, this is not 100 percent true, but it is the right mindset for approaching the overall process.
If you start out with the belief that no one will ever call you back, then you will be pleasantly surprised when they do. The rest of the time, you must put in the real work necessary to get the job done.
It takes an average of 8 to 12 attempts across 3 to 5 potential buying influences to secure a single opportunity to pitch for a meeting. Practically speaking, it can take as little as 24 calls, voice mails, redirects, or as many as 60.
You must be patient, professional and persistent. To improve these odds, as we discuss in our eBook, How to Land High-Level Executive Appointments, doing your homework and developing approaches based on what is top of mind to decision makers will improve your odds.
4. Always Ask for the Prospect’s Time
Salespeople argue about this one, but a failure to ask for the prospect’s time goes against the entire philosophy of ‘never sell into an interruption.’ There is no excuse for not asking: “Have I caught you at a bad time?” or “Can I take a quick minute to introduce myself?”
Most often, salespeople are afraid this gives the prospect the opportunity to say no. That said, it is unlikely bullying past someone will set you up for long-term success. A response indicating the prospect is busy represents an ideal and straightforward opportunity to schedule a brief call next week.
5. Don’t Try to Sell Your Solution on Initial Contact
As I stated earlier, the objective of prospecting calls should not be to sell. Still, sales professionals are typically so versed on product features and benefits; they can’t resist selling. To avoid this tendency, remember the prospect is not expecting your call and probably regrets picking up the phone as soon as you say: “Hello, my name is. . .”
Your objective must be to get the prospect to agree to commit some of his time in the future to speak with you. If that’s your primary objective, it doesn’t make much sense to spend time selling him on your products or services. Just get to the point and reason for your call. “I am calling to arrange a time on our mutual calendars so I can introduce you to myself and my company,” is not a bad starting point.
6. Structure Your Message to Get a Yes Answer
After doing your homework, pick one key challenge you believe your prospect or his industry faces. With that issue as the foundation for your call, use it at the beginning of the call to get an agreement that he, too, faces that issue.
By example, “Many hospitals we work with struggle to adopt EMR systems to control cost, improve quality and to maximize incentive payments. Does this challenge resonate with you?”
Studies show that you have 10 to 15 seconds by phone to strike a chord with someone when trying to secure their time.
To secure time with key decision makers, it will be necessary to explain the valid reason why you think they should listen; the basis for this comes from your knowledge of their industry or company, based on your homework on issues they face. Your statement needs to be succinct enough to express easily to your prospect and for them to say “yes, this is an issue we face.”
7. Your Objective for the Initial Contact is the Meeting
Most sales training centers on the products and services companies offer. So salespeople are challenged to avoid talking about what they’re selling. It’s in their DNA. This inclination is compounded by the prospect’s natural reluctance to commit his time to something he’s not entirely sure about.
However, your goal is to convince your prospect that scheduling time to meet is a better framework for you to pitch them and (conversely) for them to react to what you are pitching. Ironically, the greater challenge turns out to be avoiding the urge to pitch them on the spot, especially when the prospect has the issue, and you see your solution as a perfect fit.
8. Prospects Reluctant to Meet Even with an Issue
Salespeople are often surprised by how receptive prospects are to my non-traditional approach. Still, no technique will eliminate objections nor would avoiding objections be desirable.
An objection is a logical response to an unsolicited request. Stated simply, objections represent the prospect’s part of the conversation. Objections are supposed to happen, and only the prospect can overcome their own objection.
Our job is simply to assist them in this process, so you should be prepared to address objections in a straightforward manner. The key to handling objections: Be prepared for a predictable set of logical reactions.
Successful sales professionals spend time thinking through how they will handle common variations on objections including: “Why don’t you send me some information on this?” or “I have some time now on the phone, why don’t you explain to me your solution?”
9. Be Ready for the Reschedule
Because of busy schedules today, on average 25 percent of meetings need to be re-scheduled. And sometimes as many as half of these never get re-scheduled. This predicament is simply part of the sales process so don’t get discouraged.
Remember, you are not scheduling a qualified sales call but simply changing the context of your initial approach. Be prepared to handle this move and focus on getting the prospect to re-commit his time.
Generally speaking, cold calling may yield one appointment for every 30-40 live interactions, however, following a process as we discussed in the eBook will improve those yields.
Implementing this approach to appointment setting produces dramatic results. By shifting the context of a cold call away from pitching your product, you can succeed in setting initial appointments more than 50 percent of the time.
A Final Word
If you successfully master my non-traditional technique of not leading with your products or services, but the issue your prospect faces, the sales results can be stunning.
Let me give you a real example of the true potential for us to do better as a sales profession.
According to 2012 study conducted by Inside Sales Inc. and covered in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Inc.com articles, 71 percent of Internet leads are never followed up! What’s more, those leads that are followed up on, “the salesperson who does call, only makes 1.3 call attempts before giving up and moving on.”
You will be less likely to give up on your prospect calls if you quickly and naturally establish a reason to set up a specific meeting to discuss the challenges they face, while you learn their vision of a solution.
See you on the upside,
For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700