Dictionary.com defines a prospect as “a potential or likely customer.” By extension, prospecting is the act of searching for potential or likely customers in hopes of setting up an initial meeting.
How salespeople go about prospecting varies by industry, product or service, and personality. Here are just a few ways in which salespeople tackle prospecting:
- Cold calls – Getting on the phone and asking to speak to a decision maker.
- Mailings – We all get marketing fliers and brochures in the mail where businesses hope we’ll respond.
- Email blasts – It’s easy to find email addresses to build a database. This approach is more effective than mailings because you can send the same message to hundreds or thousands at a time with little effort or cost.
- Door hangers – Bypass the mailbox and go door-to-door leaving marketing material.
- Door-to-Door – It used to be the case that salespeople simply knocked on doors to meet people and sell their wares. This is a very time consuming and expensive approach!
- Internet – You can search by various criteria to see who or what businesses in a geographic area fit your customer profile with a goal of target marketing.
- Conventions – Going to some event where you set up a booth and interact with customers.
The list could go on and on and I’m sure you’re thinking of a way or two to prospect that I’ve not touched on. Creative prospecting means doing something to stand out from the crowd, something that makes people take note and listen to you when they’re not paying attention to others.
The focus of this article is not to cover the different ways of looking for customers. The purpose is to talk about the principles of influence that will give you the best chance to stand out using whatever approach is best for you. You have one overriding goal when you’re prospecting – to get an initial meeting with a potential decision maker.
When you’re requesting time with someone, did you know they’re listening to their favorite radio station? That’s right, they’re tuned on to WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? In other words, with all the other salespeople who would like their business why should they meet with you?
First and foremost, and this can’t be emphasized enough, you have to believe in your company and product. Will doing business with you make the prospect better off in the long run? If you don’t believe it will, if you doubt your company or product, prospects will sniff you out like an animal smells fear. It’s a survival instinct. For the sake of this series I’m going to assume you have that belief in your company, product and your potential to help the customer.
Knowing the prospect is uncertain about whether or not to give you consideration, the three principles that come into play most prominently when prospecting are consensus, authority and scarcity.It’s natural for the vast majority of people to feel comfortable going along with the crowd. That’s the principle of consensus at work. It’s natural because we look to others when we’re not 100% certain of the course of action we should take. Just remember the old adage, “There’s safety in numbers.”
In your marketing material, emails, phone calls, etc., can you tap into this principle by talking about all customers you already serve? The more you have, the more that consensus comes into play. Allstate Insurance did this effectively many years ago when its spokesman Dennis Haysbert stood in the Rose Bowl and said 100,000 people would watch a game there on Saturday. He went on to say Allstate filled the stadium ten times with the number of people who made the switch last year. When more than one million customers switch insurance companies you can bet many viewers called an Allstate agent or went online to compare!
If you don’t have a huge number, or even of you do, it’s always more effective when you can point out customers or clients who are just like the prospect you’re talking to. After all, dealing with a restaurant owner can be very different than dealing with a grocery store owner, or hotel manager for example. When talking to one of those business owners, if you can refer to other restaurants, grocery stores or hotels you do business with, the prospect will feel more comfortable and you’ll gain much more credibility.
Speaking of credibility, the other principle of influence that comes into play is authority. When people are unsure what to do, quite often they want to defer to an expert, someone they view as having superior knowledge or wisdom. This can be conveyed through your title, years in business or years of experience, awards you’ve won, degrees you’ve earned, credentials and designations. Any opportunity to get this information in front of a prospect conveys you have expertise. It’s a strong reason for them to consider meeting with you as opposed to someone who lacks expertise or has not conveyed their expertise.
The last principle that could come into play is scarcity. It’s a natural response to want things more when we believe we can’t get them anywhere else. Does your company, product or service have something unique or a combination of features that make it unique? This is important because you want the prospect to see he/she can’t get something exactly like what you’re offering anywhere else. If so, and you point it out so they understand what they might lose by not considering you, that might be enough for them to give you that initial meeting.
So the three principles to thoughtfully consider as you approach potential clients during the prospecting phase of the sales cycle are: consensus, authority and scarcity. Engage any or all of these ethically and correctly and you should land more initial meetings with prospects.
Next time we’ll look at the initial meeting with a prospect and how to leverage that opportunity using the principles of influence.