Intelligence Led Prospecting

Time is a precious commodity in any business so we all need to ensure we spend it wisely. When we commit ourselves to any activity we need to know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that we will get an acceptable return for the effort invested. While this can be said about any business activity the need to spend time well is at its most acute when prospecting for new customers and new business as; to fail at finding enough new business can put the whole company at risk.

What do we mean by Intelligence?

In this context it is quite simply information that equips you to be more discerning and precise in your prospecting activities.insight7x4 Useful information can be readily gleaned through on-line and off-line research and should be a standard element of all prospecting activities. Before you leave the office or pick up the phone you should know what you are heading into.

What is prospecting?

It is any activity that enables a business to identify companies or individual people (depending on what your business does) who might want or need what you do and so could become new customers for you. We class these identified companies or individuals as suspects; all you have is an external view that suggests they have the potential to become customers for your business.

To be clear; you have identified them but this is just the beginning and you now have work to do to filter those suspects, convert them into prospects, then customers and eventually users of your products or services

How can Intelligence help you look for new suspects?

The classic sources of prospecting for new customers or opportunities of; cold calling (telephone and face-to-face), advertising, mailshots and exhibitions have been joined by; social media, LinkedIn, networking (face-to-face, on-line, organised and casual), e-mailing, in-bound marketing, blended in/outbound marketing, SEO and other website strategies, seminars and other executive speaking opportunities, referrals, introductions, recommendations and the list goes on.

This is not an exhaustive list and more are coming along almost daily – you must choose carefully the combination of prospecting sources you will use to protect the use of precious time and funds. This is the first point where intelligence will help you to focus your efforts – by studying what works and what doesn’t, you can decide on the optimum mix of activities for your specific business needs, market and products/services and thus create your ideal prospecting environment.

How else can intelligence help your prospecting?

Once you have decided on the mix of sources you will use, undertaking research to collect intelligence will make a significant contribution to the effective use of your time. To quote Peter Drucker, my favourite business expert, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” He also observed “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
Having decided upon the mix of sources you will use for your prospecting you now need to continue your research to further filter where you will apply your efforts. For instance:

  • LinkedIn – if you want to be seen on LinkedIn by organisations or people that might have the potential to become customers then you need to be in the right places. If, for example, you provide a commercial cleaning service in the home-counties there is no point joining/starting a group focused on business in Yorkshire or a group focused on, let’s say, baking.
  • Physical networking – as with the previous example you need to attend networking events that are most likely to attract people who might be interested in what you do. Before you commit to an event do the research; what type of people have attended in the past, if there is a speaker is the subject relevant to what you do and if a list of attendees is available look them up before you commit to attending. If you do attend make a list of people you want to meet and seek them out.

The basic principles established in the previous examples will also apply to; exhibitions, speaking opportunities, advertising, publishing blogs and articles. You need to do the research before spending time and effort on any prospecting activities to ensure you will be in the right place and with the right people.

One area that requires a special mention is telephone prospecting. Some call this cold calling but we see it as warm calling or more accurately and simply telephone prospecting. If all you do is pick up the phone and call anyone then it is cold calling and it is also a very poor use of your time. Fortunately technology provides us with excellent tools and facilities that enable detailed research to be conducted before a programme of telephone prospecting commences. The starting point is to create a profile of your “ideal” suspects and undertake the research to identify companies that match the profile.

Consider a relatively simple example of a profile; insurance broking firms, turnover between £5m and £10m, no more than 40 employees and based in the Thames Valley. Using web based tools you can quickly identify a short list of companies that match your criteria but you can also find out contact names, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, web presence (or not), and other useful information about the current state of affairs that will empower the conversations you have when you call. Now your telephone prospecting activities will be much more focused and productive.

If you don’t follow the research based process outlined above, then you will effectively be taking a business directory, calling every insurance broker in the book and suffering time wasting rejections. This is the needle in the haystack approach not the intelligence led approach.

Sales and selling is at its most effective and productive when approached systematically and research to equip yourself with intelligence is the most effective way that I have found to make it systematic and to make the outcome from my prospecting effort predictable. Try it; you never know, you may even enjoy it and it is mainly free – how bad can that be?

If you would like more tips and advice on original ways to improve your sales and selling performance take a look at some of our other articles or contact me directly: or call me on 07974 914 557


What is Networking?

How do you know when you are doing it?

How can you use it as a new business development technique?

The word networking is used very freely these days and as a result the real meaning and value of networking can be missed. Some might argue that this does not matter as anything that helps you to meet others is all good. However, it seems to me that if you are going to spend say 10% to 20% of your time networking you really do need to know what you will get back for such a significant investment of time.

Networking has been going on for centuries although those who consider ‘events’ to be the epitome of networking often think it is an invention of the 21st century. While organised events can play a role in networking they are not the complete solution and typically only serve to provide very early introductions. The main problem with events is that most people are strangers to each other so this is only the first step, as you can only effectively network with people who you already know. I have heard this summarised as “know, like, trust” and, as well as being a necessity for effective networking, this formula is an essential foundation upon which to build new business relationships.

A well-documented example of formal networking is the coffee houses of 17th century Britain and perhaps the most famous example is Lloyd’s coffee house which morphed into Lloyd’s of London, the insurance market. The coffee houses were in effect clubs, some even required an entry fee, and the members knew and trusted each other so were willing to transact business together. It could be argued that the same atmosphere is created in a branded networking organisation such as BNI or iiB involving regular meetings with the same attendees; a community. The more randomly organised events, that are so common today, do not have the same organised structure so lack the continuity of the coffee house. On-line networking provides an equally fragile connection where it is impossible to “know” and therefore to “like or trust” the other participants so can be risky unless you can validate their on-line persona.

My brief answers to the original questions;

  • Networking requires one-to-one engagement with people, where you have an established relationship, who might be able to help you or who may have a need for something that you can do for them. I call this relationship reciprocity and if the relationship survives even when there is no specific need then the parties are genuinely in each other’s networks.
  • You know you are doing it when communication is interactive being triggered by both parties, not just one way, and it continues well beyond the first contact or the event.
  • Networking events can deliver a useful early stage in the process of new business development but will rarely be a complete business development solution. Read more on this

So, what is networking?

Let’s take an example; last week I was contacted by someone I had put into a job 5 years ago. He introduced me to someone who was looking to recruit a senior sales person, so I called another person I’ve known for 33 years who I know can do the job.

In another instance last week, I went through the LI contacts of someone I have known for 26 years and identified around 10 people of interest to me to whom he will happily effect introductions.

 That is networking!

Lies, damned lies and statistics

A common phrase originally used to describing the power of numbers to bolster arguments with truth, but now it is more commonly used to cast doubt on the strength or validity of an argument where statistics are manipulated to support the desired view.  E.g. “95% fat free” – but is that distracting from the 60% sugar and 2000 calories?

Dawn and Darcey – perfectly mirrored?
Two sides to every coin; two perspectives for any statistic.

However, staying with the positive value of statistics they can be a trigger to investigate the truth or reality behind an observed situation.  So let’s look at some statistical statements from a recent infographic posted on LinkedIn which provide opposing perspectives that can reveal quite startling pointers to simple things that could dramatically improve the performance of a business:

  • According to Dale Carnegie 91% of customers say they would provide a referral to a new prospect but only 11% of suppliers ask.  Customer referrals must be lowest of low hanging fruit so why do so few pick it?
  • If 74% of orders go to suppliers who engaged with the prospect early in the buying process why do 75% of suppliers leave it until later in the process to engage?  This is another example of a statistic that leads to one obvious outcome – proactively engage sooner – but how?

Read on for options to address these, and a few more, statistical conundrums.

Referrals – available 91%, requested 11%;

So why do so few ask for them?  We know from talking to many companies that the main issues that people wrestle with are around when, who’s responsible, who to ask,  and why they would respond, so here’s a few thoughts …

The best results come when companies create and diligently follow a specific process for gaining referrals that address these issues:

When to ask – this is one of the most important aspects of a successful referral process.  The topic should be introduced at an early stage in the sales conversations with a new prospect.   By doing it early it can be dealt with as part of a natural part of the relationship building conversation but if it is left too late then it can become entangled with the closing and negotiating part of the deal and in many cases it does not get raised at all for fear of damaging the chances of winning the deal.  For existing customers the time to ask will be at a successful delivery milestone or a routine project or account review.

Who does the asking – for new customers the ideal person would be the sales person who worked with the prospect to convert them into a customer.  If you have long established customers then whoever owns the commercial relationship on your behalf such as an account manager would be the obvious choice.  If the account manager is not from a sales or marketing background then the marketing department is an alternative choice – but don’t lose sight of the fact that gaining agreement to provide a referral is a selling  activity requiring one-to-one engagement with the prospect; this is not a time for e-mails or letters.

Who to ask – simply whoever is best placed to know the sort of people you might want to meet as potential new customers.  For example, if your typical customer is the financial director then that is who you want to be referred to and who you might want the reference to come from.  In any event you need to ensure the introduction is to a person of influence and ideally the decision maker in the new prospect.  You will need to manage the situation to ensure the introduction is to a company that matches your criteria for ideal prospects; sector, size, location, etc.

What incentive you need to provide – first of all define your measure(s) of success and link that to affordable value to your contact.  Ideally you should avoid using direct financial rewards for referrals as this puts a commercial spin on something that should emanate from the mutuality of the relationship.  If you want to have a financial benefit then it could be something like; a voucher to be used against a future purchase or perhaps a discount when they renew a service subscription.  You will note these incentives can only be enjoyed if the relationship is on-going so they can serve the secondary purpose of “rewarding” a loyal customer.  If the person providing an introduction is from one of your suppliers then a financial incentive is generally a more acceptable approach but something of a more mutual nature may still be more effective in the context of your relationship with them.

How or what do you ask? – as with all your customer interaction, the focus should be on benefits achieved, so for instance “Is there someone in your network/acquaintance who you think might also benefit from a similar solution/service that you could introduce me to?”  It is highly unlikely to be a competitor of theirs though.

The rewards of early engagement. 

If 74% of orders go to suppliers who engage with a prospect early in the buying process it is clear where you need to be and when.  But how?

The internet, social media and the wealth of physical networking options available today provides a huge marketing resource that could have only been dreamed about just 15 years ago.  However, this is a sword with a double edge.  Firstly, the sheer volume of data can act like a smoke screen making it difficult to see what you are looking at.  Secondly and more seriously, it is now much easier to meet people but much harder to meet the people that really matter.  There are now so many people out in the wider business community that identifying your prospective customers is much harder – wood and trees spring to mind.

The availability of huge amounts of easily accessible data is also said to be the reason why potential customers have progressed 57% (we have seen figures as high as 80%) of the way through their buying and decision making process before engaging with potential suppliers.  They decide what they want to buy then just look for someone to sell it to them at the lowest price.

Can you see the connection?  Suppliers are busy kicking up a lot of dust and making a lot of noise, mainly on the internet, hoping they will be seen or heard.  While at the same time, potential customers are on a buying and decision making journey of their own.  Instead of the suppliers and customers sharing a journey they are moving along different tracks.

What to do about it; plan well, qualify hard, be proactive and go hunting.  Create a visible presence that makes it clear you understand what matters to your prospective customers, demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership; raise the questions but don’t give your competitors all the answers.

The full answer would be to add a direct outbound selling function to your go-to-market strategy but for many this sounds like cold calling so, would not be considered.  We can show you how to make this work but that is a discussion for another day so for now the next three tips will go some way to provide an answer.

Nurturing leads generates as much as 50% more business.

This one is simple to understand and even more simple to rectify.  Because there is so much data freely available we no longer value it.  We can buy 50,000 records for pennies per record; send them all an e-mail and talk to the few hundred that get back to us.  We don’t really have time to do anything about the 49,000 plus that do not get back to us so we just ignore them.  We can then buy another 50,000 records and repeat the exercise.  So, we now have over 99,000 companies or individuals who have had one message from us but we have no idea what impact that message might have had; it might be good but it could also be bad.

A much more effective approach would be to focus on a much smaller number of better quality data records.  We can then plan a series of accumulative contacts; an e-mail offering a white paper, a follow up to those who did not reply with a different offer, invite some to a business briefing, if they opt in add them to your newsletter circulation, call some and actually speak to them (scary but very effective).  Simplistically, this is lead nurturing; making carefully planned and orchestrated multiple contacts with the same people.

We will expand on Lead Nurturing in a future article but some of the key things to consider are; create a funnel and use qualification techniques to move things down the funnel focusing on the leads most likely to generate business for you.  Have stages that define the status and position of a lead in the funnel and match your nurturing activities to the stage creating a progressive journey for the prospect.  Keep communication simple delivering a logical story for the prospect.  While e-mail and even social media are useful tools for nurturing, you will also need to speak to your prospects both on the phone and face-to-face.

80% of marketing leads do not convert into business.

What a waste!  The most common cause of this issue can be found in the title; they are marketing leads but may not be sales ready leads.  The cure; marketing and sales need to be joined at the hip but rather than marketing driving sales it must be the other way around.  Sales need to commit to what they need so they can do their job; they need to define what would constitute a sales ready lead and marketing need to deliver it.  Now the sales people can be held accountable.

92% of prospects may say No as many as five times before saying Yes …

But 80% of sales people give up by the 4th No!  This one is very simple; don’t give up!  An understanding of the five Nos, helps sales people to understand what is happening in the minds of their prospects which in turn helps them to stay motivated to keep going.

But won’t this annoy people?  Not if you practice “polite persistence”, ensuring you have something different and meaningful to say in response to having listened carefully to the prospect’s response at each point of contact – see above under lead nurturing.

shorter sales cycles, new customers, more business, increased profilts, better cashflow

Is that your LinkedIn profile sat there on a heap of new sales but you don’t realise?

limanI think that there is a huge difference between thinking you’re using and really using the internet to develop the business.  A lot of the time what I see is a public display of vanity rather than a commercially fueled injection of sanity.  But it doesn’t replace every other communication channel and tool!  The internet, social media, telephones and old school cards are just tools of “the trade” – whatever professional role you are in.

But how many industrial injuries are caused by tools each year?  In one case the CEO of a board I trained had seven (!) years of unactioned invites in his inbox on LinkedIn, he was mortified when I explained what they were and asked how he would feel if he invited his suppliers and they never responded.  I tactfully suggested he should accept them and then send each a nice note to say sorry, just had a LinkedIn Course and perhaps they ought to catch up.

How many sales people and professionals actually make this LinkedIn “stuff” work?

My experience is very few until I train them, which is really sad, and it’s not just a UK thing either but a global phenomenon.  LinkedIn is the most underutilised free sales tool on the planet!

I work with many globals and when I audit them the profiles are shocking, the company profiles are dire and the way that they use, behave and convert the tools to more effective engagement and shorter sales cycles … well let’s just say it leaves me scope for improvement.

All tools are good, if used well, at the right time and in the right way.  At the moment my best guess is 5-10% of LinkedIn users are there; I cannot and wouldn’t comment on all the other internet tools but suspect it could be very similar.

James Potter; LinkedIn expert

James Potter; LinkedIn expert

As for the impact of LinkedIn on sales, this depends on how you use it.  I have one client that counts results in Millions of pounds so like all tools, used well and used at the right time = fabulous results, but used badly = frustration, wasted time and at worst self harm as you publicly demonstrate your lack of engagement, your lack of focus on your personal or corporate brand.

Check out this blog about why your organisation should be using LinkedIn.

If you’re not getting results on LinkedIn perhaps we should talk?

Article kindly provided by guest author James Potter the Linked In Man for our November 2012 newsletter.

TECG, sales process, sales pipeline, sales forecast

The Energy Conservation Group

The Outcome:

A streamlined and more effective and agile sales operation positioned for continued sector fluctuation.

“Performative made a significant contribution to securing our position as a leading quality supplier in the renewable energy market.  We now have a fully integrated sales process for both office and field staff, which has brought us more effective new business generation and better visibility of the sales pipeline. We are now better placed to respond to whatever the market, government regulations or the competition may throw at us.  We enjoyed working with Performative and found them responsive, collaborative and pragmatic, always willing to contribute and flex with the changing needs of the business.”  Chairman, TECG;

The Challenge

The Energy Conservation Group (TECG) helps homeowners and businesses conserve energy, save and make money through the design and installation of energy solutions.  Although TECG was performing well, competition in the sector was increasing and government regulations and incentives were changing, both of which created business risk.  Performative was asked to review the sales operation to find areas to streamline and improve agility and performance.

The Performative Solution

Performative initially undertook a Sales Maturity Assessment (SMA), which found:

  • Fragmented sales management
  • Leakage throughout the sales cycle leading to lost opportunities
  • Field sales motivation issues
  • Lack of sales targets
  • An over-complex lead generation process.

The issues found were compounding to create low efficiency and effectiveness.  Performative designed a Sales Performance Transformation programme to address this, which included:

  • “Lead generation” performance improvement for two telesales teams
  • Field sales performance improvement
  • Improvement of the interface between the lead generation and field sales operations
  • Recruitment and selection of both internal and external sales people
  • Definition and delivery of new sales models and associated processes
  • Induction, training and development of all sales people
  • Design and delivery of compensation plans based on achievement against selling targets
  • Definition and delivery of an optimum sales management model for the field sales people
  • Design of the optimum sales management model for the whole selling operation
  • Review of the sales “employment” model and recommendations for change
  • Preparation of a handover to TECG including the means for on-going evolution
  • Provision of on-going support and advice.
SAM Learning, business growth, sales recruitment, sales training

SAM Learning

The Outcome:

The CEO was able to confidently transition to the US leaving a well-run UK operation with a good sales team that was maintaining market share in an increasingly competitive environment.

“Having Performative involved in crucial sales appointments gave me peace of mind to leave the UK and build our US operation. Subsequently, they have delivered a number of training interventions for the UK sales staff.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating; two years on and the business is going from strength to strength.”   David Jaffa, CEO, SAM Learning Ltd

The Challenge

SAM Learning is a leader in cross-curricular on-line revision and exam practice, providing students with imaginative and interactive ways to learn.

Performative was initially engaged due to the pending move of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to the US to start SAM Learning over there.  This situation meant that the UK required a senior executive to run the business in the UK.  There was also recognition that the UK required some support for the sales teams who were facing increasing competition in the market.

The Performative Solution

The first task for Performative was to use its sales experience to recruit a UK Sales Director.  Performative used a multi-step interview process and candidate profiling.  The chosen candidate was a success and has since become to UK Managing Director.

Performative did multiple projects thereafter including:

  • Delivering custom designed selling skills workshops for the UK field sales team to help the existing team of account managers to develop new business hunting skills.  This has paid off in the form of new customers being created and more accurate sales forecasts being produced.
  • Providing support in the final selection of a new business sales person for the US operation.
  • Providing sales skills training for the internal telesales team to enhance the skills of the team in three main areas:
    • Making new business appointments for the field sales team.  This included work on improving the profiling of potential customers to increase the effectiveness of the calling.
    • Increasing their skills to more effectively close small new business opportunities on the telephone.
    • Increasing their skills when “farming” existing accounts to get extension business.


The Outcome:

Transformed sales team structure and composition to reduce reliance on too few customers and on the Managing Director as the focal point for sales, thereby positioning the company better as an acquisition target.

The Challenge

Arrk is a software development company that focuses on helping its customers improve their bottom line through the imaginative use of web and mobile technologies.

Arrk’s challenge was that it had built a strong, but small, customer base and this had become a risk to the business.  The Managing Director (MD) was also heavily involved in the success of these few customers, thereby compounding the over-reliance position.  At the time of Performative’s project, the MD was interested in the possibility of selling Arrk, so needed to ensure a robust selling operation was in place for the benefit of potential buyers.

The Performative Solution

Performative undertook a Sales Performance Transformation exercise in two stages:

  • Performative initially provided an interim Sales Director, who undertook a range of activities to structure and establish a good team.  These included:
    • Evaluating the capabilities and motivations of Arrk’s existing sales and marketing people through one-on-one interviews and psychometric tests
    • Creating a marketing/lead generation capability
    • Designing and delivering a training and development programme for sales, marketing and sales support staff
    • Managing the sales team and undertaking coaching and mentoring as required
  • In parallel to the sales team work, Performative implemented Performative Structured Selling®, which included:
    • Creating an overarching sales and marketing strategy
    • Reviewing Arrk’s current sales and marketing processes including the bidding processes and standard document used for bidding and proposals
    • Amending existing processes as required and blending with Performative Structured Selling ® to produce a complete sales and marketing approach
    • Documenting the complete process as a sales manual.

ERA Technology

The Outcome:

The end result was a fully integrated end-to-end Lead Generation process that focused on target customers and ensured valuable sales resource was engaged appropriately and at the correct time in the sales cycle.  This process delivered in excess of 10 fully qualified new customer opportunities against which in excess of £330,000 additional business was secured.

As a result of Performative developing and executing the Performance Initiative Programme we have benefited from the potential of more leads in 4 months than we would have been able to generate ourselves in 12 months.”    Divisional Head, ERA Technology

The Challenge

ERA Technology provides specialist engineering consultancy to owners and operators of large-value capital assets and systems; helping clients to reduce risk, improve operational performance and comply with functional safety and regulatory requirements.  The division of ERA focused on the Telco sector was finding it increasingly difficult to find and win new business.  A very large customer was also planning to move to off-shore operations thereby threatening the loss of a major revenue stream.  The management team recognised the need to rapidly gear up to proactively acquire and develop new customers, but there was a lack of internal sales staff to focus on this as they were fully engaged in protecting the existing revenue.

The Performative Solution

ERA engaged Performative to assist in the drive to increase new business.  An initial Sales Maturity Assessment (SMA) confirmed a number of potential improvement areas, which led to a two phase Lead Generation programme.

Phase 1 involved a series of preparation steps, tailored to the divisional objectives, to establish a solid and reliable base for generating new contacts.  This included:

  • Crystallising the value proposition and defining Service Lines and associated benefits.
  • Conducting structured “sales focus” workshops, resulting in a re-definition of the ERA product proposition and the market segments to be targeted.
  • Developing and implementing processes to separate new customer creation and development from the identification and pursuit of individual sales opportunities.
  • Creating a fully populated database of potential new customer contacts.

Phase 2 involved:

  • Creating an effective telephone-based Lead Generation process.
  • Undertaking the Lead Generation process designed to generate qualified meetings for the ERA sales team with a view to creating 8-10 new customers.
  • Handing over structured information packs to the sales team for the arranged meetings.
  • Assisting with the transition of this approach, and the associated knowledge, in house.