They Can't Buy From You If They Don't Know You Exist
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
by: Troy Harrison

Section: Newsletter Articles

Let’s get real about prospecting. Prospecting has changed – right along with everything else in selling. And as salespeople and managers, we have to adapt and overcome those challenges, but certain things remain true. As the title says, they can’t buy from us if they don’t know that we exist. And, if you view prospecting as the most direct way to make sure that potential customers know that we exist, you understand how it fits into our sales matrix.

In our B2B world of selling, we have one great advantage – we know (or should know) who our potential customers are. We don’t have to broadcast messages and hope that our potential customers reach out to us – and yet that’s what entirely too many salespeople still do. I’m not big on a “crank it and hope” philosophy, so let’s dig into the realities of prospecting today.

Telephone Prospecting: When we think of “prospecting,” this is what we think of. Smiling and dialing, cold calling prospects in an attempt to get appointments. There are a number of sales “experts” out there who will tell you that this approach doesn’t work anymore. I will tell you that telephone prospecting doesn’t work – unless you do it. Yes, I said it; telephone prospecting from a quality database is still the best, most controllable way of gaining an audience with targeted decision makers, WITH the following caveats:
  1. You must be working from a quality database and asking for a specific person, by name, rather than doing the “person who” call. The “person who” call is when you call the receptionist (if they even have one nowadays) and ask for “the person who handles….” Etc. If you do this, you’re dead in the water. Data is too easy to obtain nowadays; databases like Data Axle (formerly ReferenceUSA) are free through most public library systems in the United States and have complete data including contact names and titles – check yours and see if they have it. If not, one nearby will – you have no excuse for not starting from good data.
  2. Contact-to-dial ratios are lower than they used to be. Twenty years ago, you would get a contact (a voice to voice conversation with your targeted decision maker) on every 2nd or 3rd dial. Now it’s more like every 5th. There’s no good way around this, and all the Internet research in the world won’t help you increase that ratio.
  3. That means that you MUST have a compelling AND SHORT introduction message. “How are you today?,” “I’d like to see if you’re getting quotes on,” or “I’d like to talk about” isn’t it. Have an incredibly powerful benefit statement ready (or a couple to rotate) and a good question or two ready for when they respond. The lower contact ratios mean that you have to be really good at the prospecting conversation; the law of large numbers won’t help you here. If you’re working from a good database of well targeted prospects, have a compelling approach, and are enthusiastic, you should be getting an appointment on every 2-3 contacts.
What about other ways of prospecting? There are others, of course – but their percentages are lower. Still, prospecting in the 21st century means that you have to be adept at all of them.

Email Prospecting: Email prospecting is probably the lowest-percentage form of prospecting you can use. If you’re going to do an e-blast to prospect, you really should be doing more than 200 at a time, at a minimum, - and even then you might not get a return email or call. The “delete” key is too easy. But, if you are going to prospect, here are a few tips:
  1. Don’t put an attachment in the email, not even a great flyer. This will get it spam-blocked and/or deleted more than anything else.
  2. Personalize it – use the recipient’s first name, at a minimum.
  3. An all-text prospecting email works best, because some email clients (Outlook, for instance) don’t open images by default. Plus, all-text looks more personal because it is.
  4. Your return rates are even lower than direct mail. If you get a 1% return rate on a cold email blast, you’ve done great - .1 is more typical.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the only social media prospecting worth discussing for B2B selling, in my opinion. Sure, some are having some luck on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, but in the B2B world, that’s an exception. LinkedIn is where your decision makers live, and you MIGHT be able to get some new prospects here – but you have to work carefully.
  1. DO NOT immediately hit someone with a sales message when you connect (this will result in a disconnection more often than not). LinkedIn leads must be nurtured rather than attacked. From the time of connection to the time of the first sales message should be at least three messages (non-selling) and four weeks. MINIMUM.
  2. Post often – once per day is ideal, so that you show up on peoples’ timelines.
  3. Engage – make sure that you are reading, liking, and commenting on others’ posts, particularly your targeted contacts.
  4. Even so, recognize that LinkedIn leads will be a minority of your incoming leads, unless you’re either very lucky or very good.
Text Message Prospecting: I do not recommend a text message as a first contact, under any circumstances – there’s no quicker way to get blocked permanently.

So, what does my preferred prospecting mix look like, assuming it’s done based on the above guidelines? From a time allotment standpoint, I’d suggest 70% telephone prospecting, 20% LinkedIn, and 10% email. Your results, of course, might vary – but this is what I’ve seen work across industries and geographic areas. Remember the title of this article – they can’t buy from you if they don’t know you exist. Let them know you exist.

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”, “The Pocket Sales Manager,” and a Speaker, Consultant, and Sales Navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces. To schedule a free 45-minute Sales Strategy Review, call 913-645-3603 or e-mail