I was recently asked a question about prospecting after someone reached out in response to my email spam and social selling articles. I had highlighted some of the very worst prospecting tactics I and many others have experienced. But the question to me was, how should one prospect and is there one best prospecting methodology?
The past few years have seen a ton of interest in the prospecting side of sales. It makes sense as the barrier to reaching decision makers has grown significantly as buyers have more information to avail themselves of and the volume of outreach from sellers has increased exponentially. This has led to a trove of advice and recommendations on various practices to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of prospecting. Many of these articles have declared “cold calling is dead” or “social selling is king” or other declarative statements that hold one prospecting method as better than all other methods.
The truth is, however, that there is no 1 best way when it comes to sales. There are certainly things that do not work, if those things ever did work to begin with. And then there are things that have changed because technology and access to information have advanced. But in terms of best practices, it ultimately depends on what you are looking to accomplish and your specific situation. You have to find that process and various practices that work best for you which will be guided by some of the following:
- Maturity of Company & Product – Are you a startup or established company? Are you introducing a novel product or a commodity? Each of these requires a different type of sale.
- Your Ideal Customer Profile & Target Market – Do you sell into well-known markets with lots of competition or brand new markets? Are your customers more innovators or laggards?
- Growth Objectives – What have the founders and/or investors targeted for growth? Often factored in these objectives are market focus, burn rate, and future funding goals.
- Complexity & Cost of Solution – Do you sell a highly customized solution that is a capital expenditure or something that is mostly self-service that can be bought via a credit card?
- Sales Philosophy & Methodology – How does sales leadership view how they sell? Every head of sales comes into the role with certain biases and a particular approach.
The result is that there is no one right way to prospect. Even from one SaaS startup to the next, there can be wildly different prospecting strategies. One method can be a disaster for one company, yet can yield massive success for another. You can never quite tell ahead of time though until you are in the heat of your sales efforts.
The real question to ask first then is not “what is the best prospecting method” for your organization. Instead, the right question to ask is:
What is the right process to uncover the prospecting approach most appropriate for you?
Often we gravitate to the latest hot methodology or some quick fix hack or a witty email template. These days it is the Challenger Sale and social selling. In the past, things like SPIN selling and Target Account Selling were the rage. I am sure something else is brewing for 2016. None of those really matter because they all avoid getting to the core of what actually works for your market, your company and your team. You need to find your own unique prospecting method. The approach for uncovering your unique process unfolds over the following series of activities:
- Asking your existing customers to share the value of your solution in their own words…instead of what you want to hear,
- Refining those customer words to craft your messaging, which sometimes means scraping your buzzword laden business speak,
- Defining an ideal customer profile that resembles your most successful customers, not who you wish to have as future customers,
- Building buyer personas based on typical buyers faced in your deals and tying messaging to those specific audiences,
- Experimenting with different engagement methods and measuring results to identify pockets of high responsiveness.
- Through this process you should find the right engagement methods, the proper engagement cadence, and messaging that work best for your ideal customers and various personas. As you test different email templates, call conversation trees, social media messages, you will begin to see reoccurring patterns over time. Note that you are doing this as a continuous process. Most companies go through an initial effort and then never revisit those customer findings, leading to stale messaging and degraded prospecting results.
As you test various engagement methods, there are some practices that will limit your success. These come down to core selling skills that apply regardless of the factors mentioned previously. Here are a few things that you need to be aware of as you build your specific prospecting method:
- Do not send the same message to the same person more than once
- Do not send messages that do not have at least one valuable / useful thing for the recipient
- Do not send messages without one (and only one) well defined and specific call to action
- Do not contact too much in too short a time span, space out your touches
- Do not make conversations about you or your product, focus on your prospect
I will get into more specifics in future articles, but it is worth opening up the discussion because there is so much conflicting advice out there. When someone says “cold calling is dead” or “social selling is king”, understand that advice from the frame of reference of that person. That may be true for that person in their company within their target markets at that point in time, but it may not be true for you. Think long and hard about whether a particular piece of advice applies to your situation instead of adopting the latest sales hack that purports unbelievable results. The only “best” prospecting method is the one that works for you to drive results.
Image credit: CC by Steve wilson