How much time do you spend prospecting for leads? Try to estimate roughly how many hours per week you invest in sales prospecting activities. Now eliminate all activities that don't include getting in touch with a lead and trying to get an appointment. Reviewing lead lists, composing scripts and emails, planning events, etc. are all great and useful activities, but they aren't prospecting activities—they're pre-prospecting activities. If you eliminate those hours from your estimate, that's how many hours you've actually spent prospecting. And if you're like most salespeople, that revised number is pretty small.
Creating a Pipeline
Prospecting for leads is the first step in your sales process. A sales pipeline is shaped more like a funnel than a pipe: it's widest at the beginning of the sales process when you first start contacting leads and then narrows down as potential customers drop out of the running in every stage of the process. So if you don't keep your prospecting activities on the high side, then by the end of the process you'll be awfully short of potential sales.
Because you've got to reach out to so many leads just to keep your sales flowing, efficiency and using your time wisely are more important when prospecting than in any other stage of the sales cycle. That means ruthlessly trimming out any activity that isn't getting results. If you spend hours printing up flyers and sticking them on car windshields and never get a single response, then that particular activity is worthless—spend your valuable time pursuing an approach that repays you with results.
Getting good leads is one crucial step to making your prospecting more efficient. If you're cold calling a lead list where 50% of the leads are not qualified for your product, you've just wasted half your time. Find a better source of leads, be it through networking, buying a list from a lead broker, or doing some serious research on your own.
Setting the Appointment
Once you have your list in front of you, you've got to have something valuable to say to them to move those leads on to the next stage of the sales cycle. At this point, you don't need to sell them on your product—that will come later. For now, you need to sell your prospects on the value of talking with you at greater length. Your goal while prospecting is to sell the appointment and to do that you need the same kind of tools you'll use to sell your product—a good offer, some benefits to tempt the prospect, and the skills to present them in a way that will intrigue your prospects.
Ways to Generate Prospects
Cold calling over the phone, email prospecting, door-to-door visits, and even snail mail are all potential prospecting avenues. You need to spend plenty of time doing one or more of these activities to get results. Usually, the most effective approach is to use multiple sales channels to reach your leads since individual prospects will respond better to different channels. For example, if you've tried three times to reach a decision maker by phone and she's never there, then firing off an email might be the best way to catch her attention.
The other common prospecting mistake is giving up too quickly. Most prospects will require several contacts before they'll agree to an appointment. Again, alternating your contact attempts (a phone call followed by an email or vice versa) keeps the prospect from getting annoyed by your persistence, yet gives you additional opportunities to nail down that appointment.