As a new salesperson, I won three very large clients in short order. One was the state of Ohio, and the other two were big brands that belonged to The Limited. I was making great money and taking care of my three giant clients. I visited the two retail brands daily and met with the state every month.
Then, I lost all three of the accounts in several months. The state of Ohio went first for a political reason. The first brand moved out of my territory a few months later. The second brand shut down as fashion changed. This can happen to you if you are not prospecting proactively. This experience changed my sales prospecting approach from reactive to proactive. I was not interested in playing catch-up in the future.
The Importance of Sales Prospecting in B2B Sales
It’s critical that salespeople consistently prospect to build their B2B sales pipeline. This is true even if you are a top performer, and even if you are adept at the sales prospecting process. Your ability to access buyers and decision-makers is no help if you need to win a deal now.
That is how salespeople become desperate. You can’t shorten a longer sales cycle just because you need to close a deal. Your need to make the sale doesn’t supersede your potential buyer’s need to work through the stages of the sales process. Cold calling now doesn’t have the same effect as cold calling 90 days ago.
In this post, we will work to understand proactive prospecting, and techniques for B2B sales success and measure success.
Understanding Proactive Prospecting
Proactive prospecting occurs when you engage in outbound prospecting systematically on an ongoing basis. This requires conscious effort as you cultivate relationships—long before you are desperate to replace a lost client or make a sale. The biggest challenge of this approach is that it takes time. If you work in a red ocean industry where you compete for deals or must displace your competitor, you understand how long it can take to make a sale. It can take months or years to acquire a first meeting. Your success depends on your ability to build your sales funnel so you can reach your goals.
How Does Proactive Prospecting Differ from Reactive Prospecting?
In large companies, you will find senior salespeople who manage a few clients. Instead of working for a salary, they are collecting what is effectively an annuity. However, their success is not guaranteed. Every so often, something changes in one of their large clients, and they lose an important part of their income.
Suddenly, they are desperate. And they’re woefully out of practice when it comes to prospecting and selling because they haven’t made a cold call since President Obama’s first term. The world’s best cold-calling script may not be enough to help these reps.
Salespeople who find themselves in this situation are years away from winning another company to replace the one they lost. This is the result of reactive prospecting, which ultimately leads to desperation. This example illustrates why proactive prospecting is an important initiative for every sales organization.
Strategies for Proactive Sales Prospecting
Not everybody loves the strategies for proactive sales prospecting, but taken together they will protect your sales goals and your income. The best time to prospect is when you are already succeeding. And the best way to begin is to develop a proactive prospecting mindset.
What you think and believe about prospecting will affect your results. Cold calling is a low-yield prospecting process because it yields few meetings, but that data point on its own is misleading. If you look at where revenue comes from, you’ll see that it’s cold calls. In your mind, you must separate the low yield on any day from the revenue it generates. It takes time to finally get a meeting with your dream client, but eventually, you will help them with a purchasing decision. Your ally in this pursuit is consistency. Remaining consistent requires an adjustment to your mindset. When you know that proactive prospecting is the key to steady, long-term success, you can more easily stay the course.
Proactive Prospecting Techniques and Best Practices
A good sales prospecting plan starts with making time for proactive prospecting. One of the best and most effective techniques in proactive prospecting is to spend 90 minutes on it every day. This approach will ensure you have the opportunities you need. At the same time, you can double or triple the number of first meetings you set using the Trading Value Rule. You can find this strategy in The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales.
A best practice for prospecting is to create a carefully crafted list of companies that will benefit from what you sell. You want to call on companies that are a good fit for the results you can help them achieve. Another best practice is to take a list of 60 dream clients and call three each day of the week, touching all these companies at least once a month. You can find this strategy in Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition.
Best practices also provide guidance on how to connect with contacts. The best and most important technology for salespeople in a world overrun with sales emails is the telephone. It’s too easy to rely on emails, InMails, and other digital media, but these are impersonal and ineffective. The second most important technology is access to phone numbers and email addresses of your ideal customer profiles.
Setting SMART Goals and Measuring Success
SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Challenge yourself to set and reach certain goals around prospecting. Many people count calls and emails, but the most significant outcome for sales teams is meetings. Instead of setting a goal around activities, make your smart goal something like setting three new first meetings a week. You would be hard-pressed to fail with 150 meetings in a year. This is more than enough sales conversations for a B2B salesperson.
When proactively prospecting, the key performance indicator (KPI) for measuring your success is new opportunities. These opportunities need to cover any lost clients or deals, even those you were sure you would win and retain. You never want to find yourself behind on creating new opportunities. When you need deals, you are already in deep trouble with no way out.
To succeed in sales, you need to prospect, book first meetings, and create new opportunities. The more you focus on being effective in your prospecting, the better your results. By being proactive around your prospecting, you prevent yourself from slipping into trouble when something changes for the worse. To learn more, read The Ultimate Guide to Prospecting. If you need more help, you can go here for B2B sales training that will speed up your results.