Many sales reps and managers complain that they can’t create a consistent flow of revenues or commissions month after month. Instead of a nice, straight line increasing consistently over time like an upwards pointing arrow, they find themselves staring repeatedly at sales results that look more like
a hockey stick: nothing for two months, a sharp increase for a month or two, then back down again to nothing a month later.
So what can you do to keep your sales funnel full of leads, to ensure a consistent, reliable flow of revenues all year round?
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a lack of consistent revenues – the “hockey stick syndrome” – is caused by a lack of consistent prospecting. A failure to prospect on a regular basis will inevitably result in irregular revenues, and inconsistent commissions.It’s that simple.
This is especially true when we’re doing well. It can be so easy to forget about prospecting when we’re wrapped up with following a dozen or so hot leads, who are demanding lengthy proposals and multiple meetings, conference calls, demonstrations and references. But this is precisely the time when we need to be prospecting, to ensure that steady sales flow doesn’t suddenly dry up.
Yes, prospecting can be a difficult and, for many people, daunting task. The simple fact is, not all sales reps like doing it. But I’ve yet to meet a top sales professional for whom prospecting hasn’t played a pivotal role in their success.
And let’s face it, prospects don’t fall from the sky. We have to work at getting them consistently, so we can close sales consistently. After all, even if you’ve mastered all the questioning, closing and objection handling techniques in the world, you’ll still almost certainly fail if you don’t have any prospects to use them with!
So if you find prospecting always somehow slips to the bottom of your “To Do” list, here are 12 Tips to help you ensure your sales funnel is consistently full of leads:
1. Sell more products to existing customers. This can include selling additional quantities of the same product, selling add-on services or products from your existing portfolio, or introducing your existing customers to a new product they might be interested in. To get started, plan to stay in touch with your current customers through a combination of direct (phone calls) and indirect (email, direct mail) methods about once every six weeks, with the goal of selling them additional products or repeat orders. Just don’t go overboard, or you may cross that magical line between persistence, and stalking.
2. Set a goal for the number of networking events you will attend each month, and the number of new people you’d like to meet at each event. Then don’t leave until you’ve collected that many business cards.
3. Reward yourself for closing new business. Treat yourself to a trip to the spa, your favorite Bordeaux or dinner out at that great little Italian restaurant. Remember: what gets rewarded, gets repeated.
4. Take a look at opt-in email lists. Set up a targeted email marketing campaign to acquaint potential new customers with your company or products, then follow up by phone.
5. Ask your current customers for referrals. The key is to be as specific as possible. For example, don’t just adopt a generic, “do you know anyone who” approach. Instead, make a list of all the companies or people you’d like to meet, approach any existing customers who might have a contact at those new prospects, and then simply ask: “Mr. Customer, I’ve been trying to get hold of the VP of Marketing at ABC Corporation – you don’t happen to know them, do you?” If it’s one of their business partners or associates, or even just a firm that’s in the same industry or building, chances are your customer will know the person you want to meet, and will probably be only too happy to make the introduction.
6. Go for a walk or drive around your territory, and take a look at who is in the neighborhood. Then, try making some face-to-face cold calls. The change of perspective can be refreshing, and you never know when you will find business in the least likely of places.
7. Make a habit of having lunch, coffee or breakfast with at least one new person each week. Share ideas, and give them any leads that might help them first.
8. Write articles for relevant on-line or print publications your prospects might read. It’s not as hard to get published as you might think, and once you’ve been published once, it only gets easier. Just make sure to retain full rights to your articles by not being paid to write them. Then, once they’ve been published, send an email or mailing to your prospects and clients inviting them to read them. Plus, try sending your articles to larger publications, too – trust me, they don’t bite, and if your article is accepted, you can’t beat the added credibility and visibility.
9. Volunteer to speak at trade shows and conferences. As a rule of thumb, you should speak at every trade show where you exhibit. This will increase your credibility, and drive traffic to your booth. Even if you aren’t exhibiting, you should still submit a proposal for a workshop or showcase. If you secure a speaking spot, let your customers know that you’ll be there, and when they can see you. Then invite prospects to visit you at the show, and set specified times for meeting people at your booth. That way, you will get a steady flow of traffic, and others will be attracted to your booth to see why so many people are gathered there.
10. Be excellent at what you do. Word travels fast, so do everything you can to make sure that all the talk about you is positive!
11. If possible, join the trade associations or organizations your clients and prospects belong to. Not only will these associations keep you up to date on what’s happening in the industries you sell to, they’ll also provide you with a great opportunity to meet key people on a regular basis. To build a successful network, be sure to attend the meetings as often as possible – not just once or twice a year.
12. Lastly, for a cost-effective way to keep your name in front of potential clients, try sending mailings to prospects, complete with relevant items of interest. Send these mailings about once every 6 weeks, and you’ll also benefit by learning when key people in the organization leave their positions due to a promotion, reassignment or departure for a new company.
Of course, this isn’t a complete list of all the possible ways to build your network and find new prospects. But they are some time-honored ideas that I’ve found work for almost every business or situation I’ve encountered.
And remember, you don’t need to pursue all of these ideas at once to become a successful prospector. In fact, it might be unproductive to do so! But at any one time, you should be involved in at least four of these twelve techniques, and make sure that the four you choose change as your company – and your clients – evolve.
The key is to make prospecting a regular habit. By committing a set amount of time each day, every week towards meeting new people, in the long run, your sales funnel will be more full than you can handle, and your “hockey stick” revenues will be a thing of the past.
Colleen Francis is a certified sales professional advisor. You can catch her on the Web at www.engageselling.com.