Do you regularly prospect for new customers? What is the best way to approach sales prospecting?
Sales prospecting kickstarts the entire sales process, yet few business owners give it the time and attention it deserves. In his book New Sales Simplified, sales expert Mike Weinberg stresses the importance of regular prospecting and provides some tips on how to incorporate it into your processes.
Keep reading for sales prospecting tips from Mike Weinberg, one of the most renowned and trusted sales experts in the world.
Mike Weinberg on Sales Prospecting
Many business owners like to talk about selling, but when it comes to prospecting, fewer actually do it. Three ways to make prospecting a priority and get it done are time blocking, creating a personal business plan, and maintaining a balanced “pipeline” or portfolio of active accounts.
We’ll discuss Weinberg’s sales prospecting tips below.
Block Time for Prospecting
Time blocking is reserving stretches of time for activities that are priorities. Schedule blocks of 90 minutes to two hours at least twice a week for prospecting. (Three is probably the maximum you can concentrate and be free of interruptions.)
If you’ve done little or no prospecting, consistently devoting four hours a week to it should significantly improve your results. If you have aggressive business development goals, scheduling eight or nine two-hour blocks a week—still only a third of your working hours—will get superior results.
The keys to successful time blocking are:
- Put the time blocks in your calendar (don’t just mentally reserve the time).
- Treat the time as inviolable and use it for prospecting.
- Stay on task during the reserved time. Don’t check email or take phone calls.
Calculate Your Sales Activity Time
To efficiently and consistently generate new business, determine how much sales activity it takes you to generate a sale from the beginning of the process to the close. By keeping track of your sales time and activity for each account from initial contact to closing a deal, you’ll soon have enough data to calculate this. With this number, you can determine the amount of effort required to achieve whatever number of new sales you’ve set as a goal.
The typical stages for tracking your time are:
- Target a prospect
- Have an initial conversation
- Conduct an initial meeting
- Uncover the prospect’s issues, confirm fit, agree on next steps
- Have a second meeting; gather more data
- Make a proposal or presentation
- Close the deal
Count the hours backward from a closed deal to the first step to determine how much new-business activity it takes to close a deal. For the purposes of illustration, if your sales goal is 12 new sales, you’d need to:
- Make 144 cold calls (assuming half lead to initial meetings).
- Have 72 initial meetings (assuming two-thirds of initial meetings move to the next stage)
- Have 48 prospects confirming fit and agreeing to next steps (assuming three-fourths progress to the proposal stage)
- Deliver 36 proposals (assuming you win one of three)
- Close 12 new sales
The better you get at using sales tools such as cold-calling and conducting effective sales meetings, the more efficient your numbers become, and the better your results. For example, if you increased the proportion of cold calls that secure meetings from half to two-thirds, you’d ultimately increase sales.
Develop a Personal Business Plan
Besides time blocking to ensure that you follow through on new business development, write a personal business plan annually. The process of developing a plan sparks creativity and big-picture thinking. In addition, it requires you to take ownership of your area of responsibility, whether a portfolio, sales territory, or functional area such as inside sales.
A personal business plan has five components:
- Goals: Identify your personal goals for the year—for example, total revenue, revenue from existing versus new accounts, revenue by account, and number of new accounts gained.
- Strategies: Determine how you’re going to reach your goals—for example, cross-sell (sell additional services to existing customers), growing specific accounts, or use methods such as team selling, social media, and events.
- Actions: Commit yourself to specific sales activities, which you can quantify and track by key activity metrics—for example, number of hours committed to prospect calls, and face-to-face sales meetings and the number of presentations and proposals produced.
- Hurdles: Determine what potential hurdles you should address preemptively—for example, lack of sales support or too many competing responsibilities.
- Personal development: Identify areas in which you’ll develop your skills and steps you’ll take to develop them—for instance, improving your writing and social media skills by attending training or seeking a mentor.
Once you have a plan, take two more steps:
- Share it with your colleagues: Weinberg recommends that each sales rep take 30 minutes to present their plan to the sales team and get feedback. This creates accountability and improves the plan.
- Review it regularly: Check your progress on the goals, strategies, and actions you committed yourself to. Make sure you’re spending most of your time on the activities crucial to achieving your goals.
Maintain a Balanced Pipeline
Your pipeline is the accounts you’re working on. Spread your sales efforts over many accounts that are at various stages in the sales process so that hitting your sales goals won’t hinge on one or two accounts that could stall. You should have three types of prospect accounts in your pipeline:
- Targeted accounts are those you’re working on converting to active accounts.
- Active accounts are those where you’ve started a dialogue, and you’re working to convert them into urgent accounts.
- Urgent accounts are those with momentum; you’ve provided a proposal or are about to.
It’s natural to focus on urgent accounts, but you should be working in all categories simultaneously. Allocate about a third of your prospecting time to each.
In addition, make sure all accounts are progressing from one category to the next rather than stagnating.
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Here's what you'll find in our full New Sales Simplified summary:
- A step-by-step plan for strategically selecting sales targets
- How to develop sales weapons
- How to consistently generate new sales