The biggest problems I see in selling both high-tech and low-tech products and services are the prospecting strategies utilized by today's sales teams. More often than not, these teams completely ignore the first sale. What I mean by "the first sale" is the one that is required to get a prospect to invest his or her time and attention with you and your company before a sale of goods or services is made. If you try to present the second sale-your product or service-during the first contact, you're skipping a crucial first-sale step.
When you ask a prospect to meet with you over the phone or face to face, think about what you are asking that person to do; you're asking for an investment of time and attention. In today's hectic, uncertain, and precarious business environment, time is something your prospective client can ill afford to waste. And that goes for you as well. Time is precious.
When you ask your clients for time, attention, and/or a commitment of interest, you must understand that you're asking them to make an investment in you, your ideas, and your products and services. But in the case of the first sale, the investment is not related to money, but to time and focus. So answer a few quick questions about your first sale:
- When a prospect agrees to meet with you, does he or she receive something in return?
- Are you providing something of benefit or value?
- Are you explaining how to improve the operating conditions of the person's business?
If not, your offer to meet will be viewed by the prospect as an offer to take time, attention, and interest away from his or her organization. Remember, if you're trying to start a new relationship, and indeed you are when you're prospecting, you must give something before you get something.
I liken this to opening up a bank account. There is no bank in the world that will allow you to withdraw money prior to opening an account and making a deposit. So, what deposits are you making in the relationship account that you are trying to open with a prospect? If you're not willing or capable of making a deposit that makes sense from the prospect's point of view, the person will in all likelihood reject whatever you have to offer.
Take Time to Prepare
Before approaching a prospect, spend some time learning about the company's business and identifying the benefits, from the prospect's point of view, of agreeing to the first sale, or meeting. Once you have done that, make sure all of your messaging-both verbal and written-emphasizes and reemphasizes the value that the prospect will derive when he or she agrees to your offer for the first sale. Remember, it's not until the second sale that you begin discussing your products' or services' value propositions, the business challenges they overcome, and how you'll engage with the client.
When you view prospecting as a first- and second-sale process, you commit to providing value from the start and laying the groundwork for a mutually beneficial, long-term provider-client relationship.
GIL CARGILL is principal of Cargill Consulting Group Inc., a sales and sales training consultancy in Los Angeles that he founded in 1978.