The art of prospecting

prospecting250As the economy recovers, it’s time to get out of the bunker and get on the front foot to win new customers.

But knowing who to target can be difficult. Some companies research their target market by reading daily newspapers or wading through ASX announcements each morning. The other option is to try direct marketing and conduct mass-mail outs to potential clients. And plenty of businesses opt for high volume cold calling; often with mixed results. But there are a host of other ways to fatten up those sales pipes.

Here are 10 tips for prospecting for new business.

1. Learn the rules of the game

So many sales people don’t actually know how to prospect, according to sales and marketing trainer of Soapstone Group, Bryn Hughes. Sales people don’t have to prospect when the economy is buoyant, so prospecting skills fall by the wayside, he says.

“In this economy, sales people need to be very efficient to be able to keep the pipeline full. Prospecting is a defined set of skills,” he says.

Hughes, (who is a director of Optimising the Sales Force 2009), says sales people are often trying to broker a deal with the wrong people in the organisation, with purchasing responsibilities reverting to the executive team during this softer economy. Try accessing the top tier by networking or using current customers to access these people, he says.

2. Get to know your customer

Understanding your target market is vital for SMEs looking to grow.

Trent Leyshan, director of BOOM! Sales and SmartCompany blogger says so many businesses don’t define their customer base.

“If you’ve got a large customer base but only a small percentage is profitable, then some could lend themselves to on-selling or up-selling,” Leyshan says.

Businesses need to define who their best customers are – and think beyond the bottom line. Customers that refer business, upgrade regularly or work for a well-recognised brand can be worth their weight in gold, he says.

But how do you narrow down the field?

“You need to develop some key metrics and be honest with yourself to understand the long-term value of each client.”

3. Get a backbone

Being able to deal with rejection is vital for sales folk. The first step is not to take rejection personally. It’s just business, and the person who rejected your approach may not be able to afford what you’ve got on offer right now.

Nikki Braybrook, founder/director of Big Fish Creative Recruitment suggests calling someone you know will be pleased to hear from you first.

“This will make you feel good and relax you into a positive frame of mind for your prospecting calls, and it really helps take the sting out of rejections.”

Marketing Angels’ founder Michelle Gamble, reminds herself that a knock-back today doesn’t mean no tomorrow.

“Their situation could change and you might be offering exactly what they’re after tomorrow.”

4. Outsource the research

Business intelligence organisations willing to do all the homework for you are increasingly popular as businesses look to make efficiencies. Outsourcing the research means sales departments can instead focus their energies on following up identifying new business leads.

Sydney-based company Information Resource Development (IRD) makes a living out of doing all the hard yards on your behalf. It supplies real time intelligence to sales departments across the country.

A team of researchers scour more than 30,000 publications to find reports on future spending and pinpoints companies evolving. Major Australian companies are also asked to provide information. Subscribers are emailed leads five days a week. IRD founder Matt Skinner says the service puts an end to the dreaded cold call and cuts down on hours of research.

5. Empower the buyer

Websites that empower buyers are growing in popularity in Australia. These sites enable a buyer to post their needs online and vendors then post a quote online. The buyer then cherry picks the best of the bunch.

Servicehq.com.au enables people to post jobs for tradesmen like plumbers and electricians. Then there’s bidmyloan.com.au, created so buyers can gather quotes for housing loans. And in January this year, expertmagnet.com was launched, which operates to match buyers looking for service professionals.

Mark Bubner, business development manager, Expert Magnet, says the service allows buyers to sort the wheat from the chaff.

“These sorts of websites give buyers control in a consistent format,” Bubner says.

6. Learn the new rules of networking

Honing your networking skills can help slash your marketing budget.

Lisa Butler had to re-establish herself when relocating to Brisbane and setting up Paragon Associations seven years ago. She says networking is much more than pushing your business cards on to others.

These days Paragon Associations teaches professional service firms, like property organisations and banks, how to network. Butler has written a book on the subject, called Networking Exposed.

“Networking isn’t about pitching your services these days. It’s about relationship building and leveraging from those relationships,” Butler says.

Butler says social networking sites are also important networking tools.

“Just make sure your tweets are adding value to someone’s life.”

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