Prospecting: Referrals and Orphans
If you are waiting on customers to come to you, you are probably waiting a lot. The days of making a good living by standing on the showroom floor or waiting for the phone to ring never really existed. Yes, there are moments – just moments – in most businesses where people are beating your door down, but they are infrequent anomalies and certainly nothing to count on.
And why should you wait on customers to seek you out? These days, opportunities to go out and find them, courtesy of the internet, make sitting around waiting on them seem a little silly, don’t you think? The problem is that salespeople are notoriously – should I say it? – lazy. Without effective and regular motivation, the default mode for most sales folks is to sit around and wait.
A note on the aforementioned regular motivation: Unless you are a real self-starter, which most of us are not, it is sales management that is really charged with lighting a fire under you and the rest of the staff. Unfortunately, sales management is often no better equipped to do this than are the salespeople. We have covered some of the shortcomings of sales management before, so I won’t belabor it, here. The bottom line is, if you are serious about advancing your selling career, you have to take the initiative.
The remedy for this waiting around business is called prospecting. Prospecting is where one actively seeks out potential customers for your products and services. In the long haul it pays huge dividends.
There are many ways to prospect, too. First of all, please make sure that you are staying in regular contact with prospects you already have. I’ve covered this in my articles called “Gathering Contact Information” and “Relationship Selling,” that also appear on this site. Make the best use of your current prospects and customers by asking for referrals. Referred prospects have the advantages of being, to some degree, pre-qualified, they are given to you by someone that already knows you, likes you and trusts you, which puts you miles ahead of the game, and making the initial contact with a referral is often not quite as uncomfortable as it is when making a cold call. They are pre-qualified in the sense that people tend overwhelmingly to associate with those in their own socioeconomic group. For example, it has been said that one can, with precision, determine a person’s economic status by averaging that of their five closest friends. People hang out with people that are like them. If your referring customer can afford to buy your product, it is likely that someone that they have referred can, too. Their needs and tastes are often very similar, as well.
Volumes have been written on the art of referral-gathering, and it is a subject to which you should devote more than a little study. One of the best recent books on the subject is Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into Sales, by Bob Burg. It’s published by McGraw Hill, and you would do well to read it.
Another prospecting technique is to work your company’s orphan customers and prospects. These are folks that have been worked by another salesperson with your firm, but, for one reason or another, now have no one tending to them. There is gold in these hills, because someone else has already done some of the work for you. In the case of orphan customers (those that have bought from your company, before), making contact is easy because it can be done under the guise of a customer service call. They will almost always appreciate hearing from you and be impressed that your company is still interested in them, even if their previous salesperson is no longer with your firm. Simply stay in touch with them and when the time comes for them to buy again, you will be top-of-mind.
Orphan prospects may be a little harder to come by. If your company has a CRM (Customer Relations Management) system, the odds of getting your hands on them improve, dramatically. Again, these people are already aware of your company and have shown some interest in buying what you sell. Call them and introduce yourself. You will be surprised how often they are still in the market and are just waiting on someone to give them a little nudge. Make sure you put them on your schedule for regular contact.
Coming up with orphan owners and prospects is usually as simple as asking your sales manager for them. They will appreciate your initiative and, ultimately, your increased volume.
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by Kevin Connell