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Business Management

Improving Your Prospects, Part Two

Jim continues his discussion of effective prospecting techniques.

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I’ve had my share of phone-prospecting success. But, I admit I’m not a natural — that’s why I write a script. When I first started prospecting, I mistakenly winged it on every call. Without my talking points outlined in front of me, I frequently became flustered as I fumbled for the right words.

The phone script

Using a script helps the prospector ask the right questions and convey the right message. Does this entail reading a script verbatim? Certainly not; it’s important to sound natural.

So, given what I know about the market today, I sometimes deviate from the script and, maybe, embellish just a little. But, if I digress and stray off target, as I occasionally do, my script helps me collect my thoughts.

To write a script that sounds natural, impart a conversational tone. If someone gives you a canned script, rewrite it to fit your personality and style. After you write the script, practice it repeatedly, out loud, until you’re comfortable with your pitch. You may even want to rehearse the script with a friend or loved one. With any script, first identify yourself and your company: "Good morning, this is Joe Jones from New Vision Graphics."

Phone protocol

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Everybody has his or her own delivery, and several techniques can qualify an account. When I probe for information, I remain low key. I say, "I need your help. I understand that you operate a fleet of trucks. Is that correct?"

In my experience, when you combine humility with questions, the other person is usually much more receptive. If you’re too pushy, the other person’s natural response is to push back or be uncooperative.

If the company doesn’t operate a fleet of trucks or a chain of stores, politely end the call and move on to the next prospect. If the company can use your services, probe a little further. My second question: "My company designs and manufactures truck graphics. Who would I need to talk to about your graphics program?"

Suppose the receptionist has connected you to the fleet or marketing manager. Next, confirm he or she is the right person: "Mr. Smith, I understand you’re the contact regarding your company’s fleet-graphics program." After pausing for a couple seconds, if he doesn’t respond, ask, "Is that correct?" If he isn’t, ask who is.

Before launching into your sales spiel or barraging your prospect with questions, first ask if it’s a good time to talk. If it isn’t, ask for a convenient time to call back.

The initial prospecting call’s objective is collecting information, not delivering a sales pitch. Remember the words of Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

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As with face-to-face selling, open-ended questions (which can’t be answered with a yes or no) help the prospect open up. Usually, these questions start with who, what, why, when, where or how. Once the prospect starts to talk, carefully listen to what he or she says. Above all, don’t interrupt until the prospect finishes talking.

Nothing sounds better to a prospect than his or her name. During the conversation, try to call the customer by name a couple times. This helps you take the chill off a cold call and build rapport. Just don’t overdo it to the point of annoyance.

After beginning the conversation, be prepared for the prospect to ask you questions. Phone conversations often unfold differently than planned. To overcome any obstacles, "improvise, adapt and overcome," as the saying goes.

Selling yourself

In many cases, the prospect will ask questions about your company. Prepare a list of characteristics that distinguish your company from your competitors. This list should emphasize the features, benefits and advantages the client will gain by hiring you.

If the prospect asks questions you can’t immediately answer, or has some objections to doing business with your company, write these questions and concerns down before formulating appropriate responses.

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Craft your selling proposition around your business’ uniqueness. For example, if you’re an award-winning designer, emphasize how quality artwork can elevate your customer’s image. If you’ve recently purchased state-of-the-art equipment, tout your efficient turnaround and product quality.

Whatever your message, keep it positive. Take the high road and make your customer feel positive; don’t mudsling against your competitors.

As you finish your phone call, thank the prospect for his or her time. And, if it’s a bona fide prospect, say you’ll follow up by sending company information, and a salesman will call in a couple weeks. Log any qualified leads into your target-account list.

Leaving voicemails

When making business-to-business prospecting calls, the caller typically must leave a voicemail rather than connect directly to a live prospect. Personally, I hate leaving voicemails. But, when making a business call, it’s often the only way to communicate with the prospect.

To avoid flubbing my words or babbling incoherently, I prepare voicemail messages in advance. In my experience, a prepared statement usually sounds much better than off-the-cuff rambling.

Conclusion

I’ve shared some of my successful phone-prospecting techniques. They’ve worked for me, but they’re not the only approaches. So, if you have friends in the industry who’ve successfully drummed up new business, ask for their advice. Take them out to lunch to learn about their techniques. By getting your friend away from the shop, you’ll avoid the inevitable interruptions.

Whatever approach you use, consistently make phone prospecting part of your daily routine. Regular prospecting will provide a few golden opportunities. The new accounts gained will help offset any losses from your current customer base. Regular phone calls to existing customers should complement your prospecting efforts. This helps generate additional sales and minimize account attrition.
 

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