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. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07974 914 557