Prospecting with a Customer-Centric Approach
Sales prospecting is a maze. Sales professionals face dead ends, circular routes, and backtracking.
These long paths are the result of complex stakeholder groups, elongated sales cycles, and ineffective lead data. In response to these challenges, organizations continue to increase their investments in CRM systems. However, while these new systems boast new features and even AI capabilities, they rarely help the sales professional get to the customer’s core needs. CRM systems provide an array of data points, but it is the sales professional’s job to draw a line through them.
Charting that line is difficult. In reaction, the ever-growing CRM market continues to release even more advanced solutions claiming to coalesce these points into a map for sales professionals. As a result, global CRM spending exceeds $20 billion annually, according to research from Bain.
The ROI for this cash outlay remains unimpressive. Research from C5 Insight determined that the failure rate for these solutions “seems to consistently fall between 30% and 60%.” Sales professionals need a more effective way to prospect.
Here, we offer three sales prospecting practices that drive meaningful results. These approaches work because they achieve a closeness with the customer that is absent from the remove of technology. Most sales organizations will achieve the best results by combining these three steps with their existing CRM capabilities.
Simplify the Messaging
Complex messaging places a burden on the customer because it requires them to untangle the details. In addition to this burden, the customer faces numerous other competing business responsibilities. Therefore, it is the sales professional’s job to simplify their prospecting message. Doing so is difficult. The message must inspire confidence, overcome the status quo, and demonstrate credibility. Sales professionals can achieve these outcomes with three capabilities:
Inspire Confidence with the Affect Heuristic
The affect heuristic tells us that people make quick assessments based on their mood. Researchers published in The Journal of Behavioral Decision Making explain that “people rely on affect when judging.” Putting this concept to work means choosing words that will encourage the customer to develop a positive “gut feeling.” Sales professionals should craft their message around positivity so that the customer will identify them and their capabilities as beneficial, rather than risky. Lead with industry-specific benefits. “Affect is a strong conditioner of preference,” conclude the researchers.
Overcome the Status Quo with a “Hinge”
Circumstances incentivize customers to maintain the status quo. Any change to what is “normal” represents a risk. The messaging must be strong enough to overcome this anchor to the norm. One way to do so is with a “hinge.” A hinge is a point of connection, a name of a referral, an article, something you saw on the customer’s website, or a trigger event (e.g., a merger or acquisition). If none of these examples apply, a sales professional can form a hinge by articulating a current and relevant industry issue. This approach is part of the credentializing process, a key step in overcoming active inertia. If the customer is going to expand their thinking beyond comfortable boundaries, they need to know they’ve got an ally in the battle.
Demonstrate Credibility with “Normative Messaging”
Customers need to see that the solution has credibility. The most compelling way to demonstrate credibility is to illustrate the degree to which others have seen success with the solution. Describing a solution’s broad-based adoption is an example of “normative messaging.” When seeking to capture the customer’s interest, apply normative messaging by underscoring how others in the same or similar industries have adopted the solution with successful results. Doing so is a precursor to building credibility.
The messaging must always acknowledge the customer’s perspective. Research from the Internal Journal of Business Communication shows that people are most responsive when the messaging they receive demonstrates what the researchers call “you-attitude,” which places the customer’s interests first. An effective “you-attitude” communicates a specific, purposeful message, while anticipating how the customer will react or feel. Finding this tone means doing three things well:
Isolate the Challenge
In prospecting conversations sales reps must show that they understand the customer’s goals and challenges. Business capabilities are increasingly nuanced as leaders try to outpace the effects of commoditization. Therefore, sales professionals must explore the details behind the customer’s needs to isolate the challenge. Without proving their understanding of the underlying needs, the sales professional’s message will go unheard. Relevancy in sales prospecting is key because ultimately, the sales professional must connect their solution to the challenge.
Implementation is crucial as solutions become more complex. Stakeholders need to understand the support they will receive after making a purchase. The solution must be able to integrate with the numerous other moving parts of the business. Additionally, a partnership approach offers opportunities to increase the sale in the future as the customer discovers new needs. Show the customer that you want to be part of their team rather than making them one of your clients.
Answer “So What?”
Ultimately, the sales professional must answer the question “So what?” Answering this question underpins the value of the solution and helps earn an appointment. While the solution might boast numerous outcomes, keep the list focused on those that will resonate with the customer. To understand what metrics matter, revisit the underlying problem and ask yourself, “Which outcome of the solution offered connects most directly to the challenge?”
Sales professionals must remember that the job of coalescing support is entirely their own. A customer’s enthusiasm doesn’t indicate broad support. A receptive customer only represents one piece of a team. Ultimately, the sales professionals will need to persuade the buying team on the value of the solution. To confront this challenge, sales professionals should consider three strategies:
Preempt Resistance with Insights
Resistance is part of the sales prospecting process. Therefore, sales professionals should come prepared. Research the prospect to equip yourself with insights that legitimize your presence. This step is important not only when working with the initial contact, but also when talking to a higher-level stakeholder. Use company-specific information to build ideas that resonate with the customer. An original, relevant idea is rare; having one distinguishes a sales professional from the rest.
Articulate Shared Success
In a study published in The Society for Personality and Social Psychology, researchers 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.” That is, many people pursue leadership positions out of a desire for autonomy. For sales professionals, this finding underscores the importance of helping the leader arrive at the value of the solution rather than making them feel as though you are taking the wheel. Ask questions designed to uncover the leader’s goals. Doing so not only helps you, but it also helps foster the leader’s resolve to leverage their autonomy and act.
Build a Network with Referrals
Referrals are a powerful way to prospect into new business, but sales professionals must earn them. When asking a current contact for a referral to another contact, consider leveraging a previous success. Customers will be more likely to help you if you have done something for them. Moreover, the previous success does not need to be particularly large. In fact, research shows that even a small win can beget a larger favor in return. This reference to an earlier event is another perfect example of a “hinge” explained above.
Effective sales prospecting requires a layered approach. CRM systems represent one layer, and the above customer-centric approaches represent another. To drive results, sales professionals need both. The problem, however, is that the escalating arms race of superior CRM systems has gradually obscured the importance of simplified messaging, customer-centricity, and coalescing stakeholder support. The most successful sales organizations remember to balance sophisticated CRM capabilities with customer conversations.
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