Fearless Prospecting in a Changing Economy
By Steve McCann
the past few years, the sales profession, as well as the economy,
has changed dramatically. Cutbacks, downsizing, and a need to do
more with fewer resources dominate many companies. For salespeople,
this means a tougher time prospecting and a longer timeframe for
converting those prospects into paying customers.
result, many salespeople are either getting a lot more “no’s” as an
answer, or they’re getting no answer at all from prospects. And the
more “no’s” a salesperson hears, the more he or she develops a fear
of rejection and dreads prospecting in general. That’s when
prospecting procrastination sets in, and salespeople spend more time
reviewing their notes, answering email, and tweaking sales flyers
than spending face time with potential clients.
counter this problem, many sales books and training programs tout a
“secret formula” or “key closing statement” that will make
prospecting easier. Salespeople are taught how to lead prospects,
how to counter an objection, and how to close the sale. The problem
is that all those suggestions are focused on the salesperson and not
on the one person who matters the most in the interaction—the
prospect. Such salesperson-focused training and approaches may have
worked in the 1990s, but they are simply ineffective today.
great at prospecting when economic times are tough, you need to go
beyond yourself and your fears and focus on the prospect. Only then
will your fear of rejection and prospecting procrastination
disappear. Use the following suggestions to revitalize your
prospecting efforts and put your fear of rejection in its place.
your internal dialogue: The physical act of picking up the phone
or walking into a prospect’s office is not difficult for salespeople
to do. What stops them in their tracks from performing these
seemingly easy tasks is their internal dialogue. You know the
messages… “Why should I bother? He’s just going to tell me ‘no’.”
“She’s probably satisfied with her current provider, so why waste
my time?” “The last ten people told me ‘no,’ so why should
this prospecting call be any different?” Such internal messages
are called negative projection. Realize that whenever you approach a
prospecting call and believe the other person is going to blow you
off or tell you “no,” that’s exactly the result you’ll get.
Prospects can pick up on what you’re projecting and will respond
what’s the solution? Positive expectations. When you have a genuine
positive thought about someone and believe your interaction will
work out well, then you can’t fail. Even if the prospect doesn’t
want to take your help, that’s okay; his or her reply has nothing to
do with you. As long as you believe that the call will go well and
you think well of the other person, you’ll no longer fear the actual
act of prospecting—and that’s the main objective. To put it another
way, when you think ill of another you are in the experience of
thinking ill. So if you think you’re going to be rejected, you’re
already in the experience of being rejected, which is what you’ll
ultimately end up with. But if you expect a positive outcome, you’re
creating the experience of success. So shift your internal dialogue
to create the kind of experiences you want to have.
your everyday selling activities about your prospects: In sales,
you get paid in proportion to the amount of people you serve and to
the degree in which you serve them. Therefore, the more you focus on
your prospects and make the interaction about them, the higher your
chances for success. Unfortunately, many salespeople get confused
with exactly how to focus on their prospect. As such, they’ll open
conversations by saying something like, “Hey, how’s it going…I’d
like to tell you about a new product we’re offering that will help
you make more money in your business.” While on the surface such an
approach seems like it’s focused on the prospect, in reality
prospects know it for exactly what it is—a sales pitch, which is
precisely what they don’t want.
do prospects want? To feel respected. Yes, they want salespeople to
respect them and not to begin the prospecting call or visit with the
salesperson’s agenda. The first way to respect a prospect is to
respect his or her time. Therefore, a better way to open the
prospecting call or visit is to simply ask, “Would it be okay if I
asked you a question?” or “Do you have just a few moments to talk
with me?” or “Is this a good time for us to meet?” Respecting your
prospect from the first contact sets the stage for success.
Therefore, always do a respectful introduction and make the initial
contact about the prospect.
Listen to validate: During the initial prospecting session, good
salespeople are listening more than talking. Great salespeople take
it a step further and employ what’s known as “listening validation.”
Listening validation is when you’re seeking to understand the
prospect. It’s empathic listening. Active listening—the technique
that most salespeople employ—is simply listening to prospects and
then feeding them back what they just said so they feel understood.
Listening validation goes a step further and listens for the
feelings behind the prospects’ words—the intent and the
motivation—and then replays the emotions back to the speaker.
an example of how active listening and listening validation differ.
Suppose you’re meeting a prospect face-to-face in his office. You’ve
just discussed your new product and the prospect has given an
overview of his company—where they’ve been in the last few years and
their current situation and needs. As the conversation ends he says
to you, “So we’re really looking for three things: Price—to cut our
costs by at least 20%; reliability—I want an account rep I know and
trust; and a strong guarantee—we can’t afford risk right now.”
were employing active listening, you would then say to the prospect,
“So what you’re looking for, Mr. Prospect, is to cut your costs by
20%, someone you can call five days a week, and a twelve-month
guarantee. Did I hear you right, sir?”
were a savvy salesperson and employing listening validation, your
response would go a step further and you’d say, “I heard you say
that price, reliability, and warranty are important, Mr. Prospect.
But what I’m sensing from you—and if I’m wrong then please
correct me—is that cutting costs right now and having that guarantee
would be the most important to you. Based on what you’ve said, it
seems that your company is going through your worst year ever
right now. So having a low cost backed with a twelve-month guarantee
would really help you feel like you’re being taken care of
and that you have a strategist on your side. Am I catching that
difference? Active listening just restates actual words; listening
validation gets at the feelings and emotions behind the words.
Realize that everyone wants to be understood; it’s a basic human
need. Listening validation is one key way to let your prospect know
that you understand his or her situation. And when your prospects
feel understood, they’ll feel good about you and will be more likely
to buy. By employing listening validation, you’re building trust,
which is the foundation of any sale.
Prospecting Made Easy: Successful prospecting in today’s economy
requires that salespeople make a paradigm shift in their way of
thinking. This shift happens when you release your fear of rejection
and satisfy your security instincts by putting your thoughts solely
on the best intentions for your prospects. Only then will you be at
ease when prospecting. And always remember that to be at ease when
prospecting is a powerful—and profitable—place to be.
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