Early this year, a family on a beach in Australia found a bottle on the shore. They uncorked it and discovered a letter inside. It was dated June 1886. It is the oldest message in a bottle ever discovered. The sender threw it from a ship as part of an experiment to track ocean currents. The message asked the recipient to respond to an address and share the date and location of the find. Of course, with the bottle adrift for 132 years, the sender never heard back.
This tale might sound familiar to sales leaders. Prospecting efforts get stale fast. Let’s look at why sales leaders need to revisit their prospecting efforts and what those changes need to be.
First, let’s consider three reasons why ineffective prospecting means more than just lost leads.
1. Weak Prospecting Costs Your Team More Than Leads.
Ineffective prospecting increases the team’s sales cycle, and longer sales cycles drive costs. This problem is common among selling organizations. Ambitious sales leaders often pull more levers to reach the customer across many channels. The purchase process regularly involves six different interaction channels, and each of these interaction channels adds another cost. Rising costs often lead sales leaders to leverage even more channels. This approach doesn’t solve the underlying problem. More channels will not help until the message is perfected.
2. When Leads Drop, Team Morale Follows.
A strong prospecting strategy is not just about dollars and cents; it’s also about motivation. Unsuccessful prospecting erodes morale. Unfortunately, the connection between effective prospecting and motivation often goes unnoticed. Many believe extrinsic motivation drives change, but in truth, intrinsic motivators drive change.
What’s the difference? Extrinsic motivation is when one person tries to make another want to do something. Intrinsic motivation is when a person is motivated not by outside influences but by an internal drive. Gallup research has shown that “the extent to which people feel powerful and engaged in their work is directly linked to positive business outcomes.” Effective prospecting is the ultimate motivator.
3. The $3.1 Trillion Problem
Reaching viable leads is expensive. Sales professionals need to make it count when they get there. Priming the pump is costing sales organizations big dollars as salespeople are forced to churn through duplicate and invalid data. Many industries face this challenge; consider the staggering $3.1 trillion cost of poor quality data in the U.S. As a result, managing data demands more time than using the data. Earning the conversation is expensive. Sales professionals need to have a customized message when they reach the customer.
Effective prospecting is important because it touches on every area of the business. Sales cycles, morale and resources all come into play. Organizations need a smarter way to prospect. They must be able to coalesce support among decision-makers. One customer’s enthusiasm doesn’t indicate broad support; sales professionals will need to persuade the buying team on the value of the solution. To help them do so, sales leaders need to consider three factors:
1. Equip Your Team to Adopt the Customer’s Mindset.
Pushing a sale forward means discussing the solution with people in leadership positions. Sales leaders have an obligation to help their team connect with this group. Research offers some answers. Several studies have found “evidence that people desire power not to be a master over others, but to be master of their own domain, to control their own fate.” Sales leaders need to help their team foster the consultative skills that allow customers to participate in the solution. Train your team to ask questions designed to uncover the leader’s goals. Doing so not only advances the sale but also helps foster the leader’s resolve to leverage his or her autonomy and act.
Customers want to be part of the solution and not a piece of a transaction. Adopt a style of shared commitment. Doing so puts more ownership in the customer’s hands. With ownership comes a resolve to overcome the business challenge or reach a revenue goal. The idea is to move past the role of a sales professional and become a trusted advisor.
2. Refocus the Team on Preparation That Leads to Insights.
Resistance is part of prospecting. Sales teams should come prepared. Train your team members to front-load their prospecting efforts by researching the customer. Research yields insights that legitimize the team’s presence in front of the customer. This step is important when working with the initial contact or a higher-level stakeholder. Build ideas that resonate with the customer with company-specific information from CRM systems. Original, pertinent ideas are rare, and they distinguish a sales professional.
Insights matter because customers control more of the purchasing process than ever before. Customers have greater access to information. As a result, “only 12 percent of buyers want to meet in person with a sales representative when determining a purchasing decision,” according to Accenture. Relevant insights give the customer a reason to stop and listen.
3. Jump-Start the Team’s Success With a Referral Strategy.
Sales professionals understand the importance of earning the customer’s trust, but building trust within the span of a single call is difficult. Effective sales leaders develop a structured referral process to overcome this challenge. The previous success does not need to be particularly large. In fact, research shows that even a small win can produce a larger favor in return, according to Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein and Robert Cialdini’s book “The Small BIG.”
Referrals are effective because they introduce an unbiased opinion into the sales dialogue. They focus the conversation around positivity by showing how their partnership with another customer can drive similar results with a new customer. A strong referral strategy is critical because, as one study shows, referred customers deliver 16 percent more in profits and are 18 percent more likely to remain customers when compared to non-referred customers.
Customers have changed, and prospecting needs to change with them. Without renewed effort, prospecting can cost an organization more than leads. Respect the customer’s need for autonomy, offer insights and leverage goodwill from referrals.