The number one reason a sales rep fails is an empty pipeline. The root cause of an empty pipeline is a failure to prospect. Having a Prospecting Plan fills your pipeline and identifies the right prospects to engage. So how do you create a prospecting plan?
First, need to think about the right markets to target. This is just like a prospector in search of gold. The prospector would not go out to any river with hopes of finding gold out of sheer luck. The prospector is going to do his research or perhaps test the soil for mineral ore. Likewise, the prospector won’t arrive without his tools. The same goes for prospecting in a sales context. To be successful you must target the right markets (river) and have a prospecting plan (your tools). Sales managers must guide their reps in understanding the markets with the most opportunity. Position your team over a river with lots of gold. Ask yourself:
- What markets receive the most value from buying our products/services?
- What market segments in the industries we serve are growing?
- What trends are driving growth?
The answers to these questions should serve as a guide for the most promising target markets. Your main goal is to understand the urgent needs and compelling desires of your target market.
After identifying your target markets, perform research on 5-6 prospect accounts within the market. Research can be overwhelming if you do not use a Prospecting Plan.
Below are 5 categories to capture in your prospecting plan:
- Business Results – Alerts you to the company’s overall strategy. Business results are concerned with where a company is going, what their future looks like. i.e. grow revenue by 10% annually. These goals are usually provided in company financial statements or in management presentations.
- Business Strategy – concerned with how the prospect plans to achieve their Business Results over the next 3-5 years (or longer).
- Business Initiatives – Specific projects or programs undertaken to achieve the business strategy in the near-term. Examples may include reducing costs, increase efficiency, or improve sales performance.
- Challenges – things that will support or constrain the progress of achieving the objectives. Examples include changes in ownership, production, R&D, logistics, money, or people.
- Critical Capabilities – These are the capabilities your offering must address as you look at #1-4 above.
You may be tempted to wait to have these questions answered directly by the prospect. However, the more information you have before speaking with the prospect, the better chance you have of earning the prospect’s business. Calling into an account when you have minimal information is a quick way to lose an opportunity.
Once you have completed your prospecting plan, it’s time to engage with the prospect. The key to engaging a prospect is framing the benefits of your solution in terms of their overall strategy. How will your product/service allow them to achieve the goals you researched in the prospecting plan?
Going back to the prospector looking for gold in the river. What are the chances he finds gold on his first try? Probably unlikely, but the more and more he pans, the higher his chances are of finding a golden nugget. If your sales team tries to prospect once, they will likely be unsuccessful. Prospecting needs to become a habit. It should be a repeatable process that your team executes daily or weekly. The more you dip your pan down into the water, the higher your chances are of getting that golden deal.