By Susan Salvo
“Our sales team is great once they get in front of a prospect for a face-to-face meeting. Even in this tough economy, our team is still closing new business, albeit with a longer sales cycle. The real challenge is getting the initial meeting with someone who can buy from us.”
Does this complaint sound familiar? Getting the initial appointment with a decision maker is one of the most important ingredients in the sales process, but it is often viewed as a daunting task. However, the solution is simple: create a structured process that includes generating leads, prospecting, making the initial contact, scripting, working through the gatekeeper, and setting a meeting.
1. Develop a Golden Database
Cold calling or prospecting for new business is a numbers game. Therefore, it’s critical to have a healthy database with a list of well-qualified prospects. There are many excellent sources for leads, as well as industry-specific lead lists. It’s also important to have a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool to house a prospect list. You can use these tools to find the best prospects by sorting lead sources by geography, revenue, SIC codes, number of employees, and so on. You can also use them to manage your prospects by setting the initial call, scheduling follow-up calls, and most importantly, taking notes while talking to the prospect. When used properly, the database is a sales person’s best ally in staying organized.
2. Know Your Ideal Prospect
Take time to look at your current customer base and identify at least five shared characteristics. These may be related to geography, size, market sector, number of employees, or product. When prospecting for new business, it’s easier to develop business in vertical markets where your organization has a proven track record. If you’ve been selling to manufacturers of tennis balls, try selling to manufacturers of golf balls or ping pong balls.
3. Write a Letter of Introduction They Can’t Ignore
Before picking up the phone to make the initial contact, send a one-page letter of introduction to the prospect. It should be in three parts: a headline to grab the prospect’s attention, a short description of your product or service and the benefit to the prospect, and lastly, a call to action, a request for a face-to-face meeting. Once you have sent the letter via regular mail, set a task in the database for a follow-up call to the prospect five to seven days after you’ve mailed the letter.
4. Be Prepared: Write a Script
It’s important to have a script when talking to a prospect. A script will help you to keep focused on your message and ensure you cover all the topics you need to set a face-to-face meeting with the decision maker. The script should be short and should reference the introduction letter. You can also create a script for voice mail messages. An effective voice mail message will lead to more returned phone calls and more meetings.
5. The Gatekeeper is Your Friend
Most decision makers have a gatekeeper, whose job it is to restrict direct contact. However, the gatekeeper can be a great resource. Using a powerful introduction letter, sometimes you can set a meeting without talking directly to the decision maker. Often the recipient of your letter will ask the gatekeeper to schedule a meeting. If you have sent the letter to the wrong individual in the organization, the gatekeeper can also redirect you to the appropriate person.
6. Ask for a Meeting or Move On
Once it’s been determined that your offering is a good fit for your prospect’s needs, it’s time to set a meeting. However, if the prospect is not an ideal candidate for your offering, don’t hesitate to walk away. That’s why it’s helpful to have a robust lead list.
With these simple techniques, Susan can help any sales team learn to set high-quality meetings with decision makers, even in challenging times.