Do Reps Still Know How to Prospect?

We have recently hosted two different sessions with sales leaders and sales reps on the topic of Prospecting.  It was very interesting to listen to the reps talk about the challenges they have with prospecting.  We heard the sales leaders say things such as:

  • I used to make 30-40 calls per day when I sold and I don’t understand why they can’t do it
  • The reps just need to spend more time prospecting
  • Reps today just don’t like to prospect

Then I heard the salespeople say things like:

  • My boss just wants me to pound the phone, but cold calling doesn’t work anymore – nobody answers, returns a call or answers email
  • If I use tools like LinkedIn or other types of social media, those contacts don’t show up on my activity report and my boss gets mad
  • It’s really hard to get people to talk to you

In our discussion, we covered all kinds of topics such as ways to identify prospect companies and contacts and research you can do prior to the call, etc.   Then we asked a critical question that was very revealing – “How do you go about generating interest on that first call so they want to commit to the next call or keep talking?”   The answers I got back were:

  • “I ask them about their biggest challenges”
  • “What can I take off your plate that you have a hard time getting to”
  • “I tell them about all the ways that we’ve helped other clients”

The problem that I have with these approaches is that the rep has not earned the right to ask these questions yet.  The prospect doesn’t even know whether they want to keep talking to the rep yet, so why would the prospect start telling the rep about their biggest challenges.  In the old days, before everything was available on the internet, people would actually take your call or return your email because you, as the rep, were a source of information that they did not otherwise have access to.  In today’s world, they don’t need to talk to a salesperson.  Today, salespeople need to lead with something relevant that draws the prospect in and makes them want to hear more.  There is a big difference in saying “We have really cool stuff and help our clients solve problems” vs. “I’ve done some research on your company and found that you are active in the XYZ industry.  We have worked with several other companies that faced [some common challenge].   How have you dealt with that?”   The difference is subtle, but very significant.  In the first example, the sales person is “telling” the prospect things that they can find easily via Google.  In the second example, the rep is leading with something very specific to the company and the market and is trying to engage the prospect into a conversation.

The same concept works via email.  I am big on “selling the problem” before you start talking about a solution.  Effective salespeople do their research, find an issue or challenge to talk about that the prospect probably cares about, then engages the prospect.  Based on our work across hundreds of salespeople and managers, I believe this art form is rare.  I challenge all salespeople who read this to try something new.  The things that worked in the past may not work anymore.  Try the new approach of selling the problem first.  You will find that it is more effective and is the first sale you make in any account.

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