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How to Prospect to Modern Buyers

The world has become a noisy place. A chorus of players has led to a marketplace characterized by pricing pressures, short schedules, and aggressive procurement practices, and customers are tuning out of the sales conversation making effective prospecting difficult for today’s sales professional.

Smart sales professionals make the most of prospecting by following these three steps:

  1. Uncomplicate the Conversation
  2. Articulate Your Place in the Customer’s World
  3. Coalesce Support Among Decision Makers

Uncomplicate the Prospecting Conversation

Customers are busy. Therefore, professionals need to articulate the relevance of their call briefly. Some sales professionals do so by preparing a “commercial,” a one-sentence description of why a partnership would be beneficial.

Effective sales professionals research the prospect to make their message resonate. This preparation is especially important for having meaningful conversations, not just more conversations.

Sales professionals can incite meaningful conversations by adhering to the three precepts of capturing the customer’s interest:

  • Simplify Messaging: The initial call to a customer is time-sensitive. Forming a fast connection requires affect, rather than exhaustive explanations that undercut the effectiveness of your message. 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.
  • Overcome Inertia: The dominant challenge for sales professionals today is helping their potential customers overcome the status quo. Some call this immobility “active inertia,” which is the act of applying old, irrelevant strategies to new problems.  Lifting them out of inertia requires forming 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. It can even be a pain point so long as the takeaway is positive. A hinge is a powerful tool for “warming” up old calls. By citing a commonality, the customer will feel less distance from the sales professional. This approach is also part of the credentialising 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.
  • Employ Normative Messaging: Customers need to see that a 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.” Research shows that normative messaging has been effective in shaping behaviour across a range of initiatives. Therefore, 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.

Articulate Your Place in the Customer’s World

Sales professionals out-prospect the competition by taking the time to prepare and refine their message. When customers get a sales call, they are looking for a reason to hang up.

Too many sales professionals give them this reason by delivering information that is either irrelevant or a mere rehash of what the customer already knows. The solution: adopt a customer-centric focus.

Prospects are more likely to be engaged when the salesperson communicates with a voice that places the customer’s interests at the forefront of the conversation. This can be achieved by:

  • Focusing on what is important to the customer:  To demonstrate credentials, a sales professional must show that they understand the customer’s goals and challenges. Doing so means articulating the nuance of the challenge. Here, relevancy is key. Sales professionals should discuss previous successes within the same industry, demonstrating transferable results. That is, it must be made clear to the customer that this earlier success stems from a solution featuring easy implementation. Remember, the customer’s time and attention are limited; therefore, keep the message concise. Cutting the wording down to size requires multiple revisions, so it is important to allocate plenty of time early in the process to get the phrasing right. Finally, consider front-loading the benefit. Begin the messaging with the positive outcome you achieved, then explain how you got there, and then, lastly, define how the customer can enjoy similar success working with you.
  • Demonstrating the Ease of Doing Business Together: Be specific when explaining how your capabilities connect with the customer’s business. Today’s businesses need more than a solution that works; they need one that works fast. Therefore, including implementation in the discussion demonstrates that you represent more than a product — you represent a partnership and a process. Additionally, a partnership approach offers opportunities to increase the sale in the future as the customer discovers new needs and more opportunities for growth. By articulating your place in the customer’s world, you’re preemptively answering the customer’s question: “Can I engage with this person over an extended period and drive success together?” Show the customer that you want to be part of their team rather than making them one of your clients.
  • Explain The Outcomes You Can Deliver: 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?” Also, consider the words that the customer has used up to this point. Concerns surrounding “revenue” connect with the solution’s ROI. Conversely, concerns about “implementation” connect with the solution’s scalability.

Coalesce Support Among Decision Makers

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 prospecting. Therefore, sales professionals should come prepared. Research the prospect to equip yourself with insights that legitimise your presence. This step is important not only when working with the initial contact, but also when talking to a higher-level stakeholder. Sales professionals today have a wealth of information via sales and marketing automation tools and CRM systems. Use this company-specific information to build ideas that resonate with the customer. Original, relevant ideas are rare, but having one distinguishes a sales professional from the rest.
  • Articulate Shared Success:  Pushing a sale forward means discussing the solution with people in leadership positions. Therefore, sales professionals must understand what approach will connect with this group. In many cases, the sales professional should consider the importance of helping the leader arrive at the value of the solution rather than making them feel as though they 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 use their autonomy and act.
  • Build a Network with Referrals: Referrals are a powerful way to generate new business, but sales professionals must earn them. When asking a current contact for a referral to another contact, consider contacting 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.

Factors like commoditisation and complex buying processes have conditioned the customer to turn their ear away from sales professionals. However, with a renewed focus on establishing credibility, capturing the customer’s interest, and driving momentum, sale professionals can engage a smarter prospecting strategy that puts the customer at the center of all decisions.

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