Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Learning to Listen

If I were to ask you about the basic personality type that makes a good sales person, what would you say? How well does that reflect the type of person you are?

It might be that you thought of a good personality match for sales as being someone who is outgoing, well-spoken and who loves interacting with others.

Think of the most outgoing, well-spoken, people-person you know. Is he in sales? Do you like him or not? Why?

It is important to make a distinction here. There is a difference between being a people-person and a me-person. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But sometimes people get confused between liking to be around people and liking people. The best “good-with-people” people have very little to say about themselves and often don’t want to be the center of attention. They’d much rather hear about you and support your good efforts than promote their own agendas. Interesting isn’t it?

What does that have to do with prospecting and sales? Well, Hal Becker puts it this way:

Selling is asking, NOT telling.

Selling is listening, NOT talking.

(Hal Becker, Can I Have 5 Minutes of Your Time, Morgan and James Publishing, 2008, pg. 7)

Let’s make that more specific.

Prospecting is asking, NOT telling.

Prospecting is listening, NOT talking.

The same social skills that apply to developing any relationship definitely apply to prospecting and sales. The people you most want to know may not be the most prominent. They’re the people who make you feel like you matter most and they truly care about your happiness and success.

Prospecting is the same thing. You are looking for relationships, problems you can help the prospect with and expressing genuine concern for their needs and interests. Not trying to get them to care about your need to sell a certain quota or how great you think your product is.

When you’re prospecting call is over your goal is to have a new Highly Qualified Prospect. What makes them highly qualified? They are ready to buy and you can help them solve their problems with your product. You are looking for synergistic relationships and good matches not another sales number.

Before you can get them to listen to you, you’d better have done a significant amount of listening to them.

So, let’s go back to communication 101 and learn about listening.

Shut out distractions and give the prospect your full attention. Do your best to keep things quiet on your end of the line so that both of you can focus better.

If a customer is talking, it’s a time to listen, not plan what you will say next. You already have a planned script to help you with your end of the conversation, concentrate on understanding their side. When we talked about scripting, we talked about planning ahead to direct the conversation. Remember that’s not planning ahead to turn the conversation back to you, but to anticipate what you can ask the prospect that will help you both.

Listen, try to anticipate the direction the speaker is going and use your script to help you quietly direct the conversation.

Don’t interrupt. Don’t finish thoughts or ideas for them. You aren’t a mind reader and you’ll annoy them if you try to act that way.

Ask questions that go beyond “yes” or “no” answers. You may not get the full picture that way. But remember to stay focused on information you need to understand and help them.

Encourage the prospect to talk by using verbal interjections that show you are listening “Yes, I see,” and “Please, go on.”

Don’t act like you understand when you don’t. Verify information or points you may have missed.

Remember, an individual fact may not be as important as the overall message. Do you understand why the prospect is saying something, not just what they may be saying?

Validate what the prospect is saying as important.

Sum things up-- for you, and the prospect. Restate what you have concluded are the most valid points, it sticks in your brain better and gives the prospect a chance to confirm you are understanding their needs.

Remember to record pertinent information in your Marketing and Sales Database while you are talking or very soon after. Don’t let the information get jumbled or forgotten.

The next time you think about the personality and character traits it takes to be a good sales person, remember your goal is to be a people-person, not a me-person and listening to others more than you talk is a great way to show that. Besides, good listening is always a good idea. Thankfully, practice makes perfect. Practice listening more and talking less in every encounter: prospects, coworkers, friends and family. Soon it will become second nature and you’ll become one popular guy. Not because you’ve told people how wonderful you and your product are, but because you’ve made people feel wonderful about themselves.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Objective of Prospect Relationships

Why do you really want additional customers? No, really—I’m serious. What is it that drives you to seek out new prospects and new business opportunities? When was the last time you really thought about your reasons for being in sales?

There are all kinds of reasons, and yes, money is one of them. That can’t be overlooked. But, I’m betting there are other reasons outside of that paycheck which keep you coming back to work and back to nurture your business every day. There are things in this life that are worthwhile to be passionate about and one of those things, I hope, is your business.

Now, turn the tables. What is it that drives a customer to buy your product or service? Why would they choose your company over the next guy’s? Is it about passion for them as well? Probably, just not about the exact same things you are passionate about. The trick is finding out how the two of you fit together. Like any good relationship, a customer relationship can and should be about more than money. It’s about finding a good fit and a synergistic relationship. It’s about respect and value that goes beyond dollar signs.

I talked a little bit about this when I encouraged you to define your ideal client. To be successful, you need a very good understanding of your own drives and motivations and an even better understanding of your prospective client’s drives and motives.

First, let’s realize a general assumption. There are two kinds of prospects: new and seasoned. What do I mean by that? Basically, you will encounter two different types of consumer. The first – new – is a new player. They are new to the need for your type of service. They are start up companies or those who are learning a new way of doing things. (Think Grandma shopping for her first cell phone.) The second – seasoned – have been in the game for a while. They know what their needs are, they know how and what they want to buy, and they’ve done it all before. (Think about the teenage grandson Grandma brought shopping with her who is one his fifth cell phone.)

New and seasoned prospects have to be approached differently but your end goals are the same. You both want a positive outcome to your buying and selling relationship.

I’ll focus for just a minute on the seasoned prospect. Why? It’s a matter of logistics. They’re the ones you’ll encounter most often and the biggest question you’ll have is: are they buying from me or my competition?

Having completed millions of prospecting activities, we have learned a thing or two from the tens of thousands of sales opportunities we’ve generated at Ekstrom and Associates. Among these things is the fact there is relatively little complete brand loyalty. There can be substantial loyalty to a provider or vendor, but there typically isn’t blind loyalty to the brand as a whole. This is what you need to focus on. A prospect’s loyalty is generally focused on the company, not the brand of the product. Even if it’s there, loyalty to a brand will not stop you from taking business away from the competition.

Prospecting always works, and if you want to go after your competitors’ best clients there isn’t a better tool. What percentage of your existing clients left you and your company in the past five years? It’s likely that your competition suffered the same loss. Your ability to prospect, among other things, allows you the opportunity to learn firsthand, from your competition’s clients themselves, how dissatisfied they are with your competition. Use that knowledge to draw them away from your competition to you.

In order to take opportunities away from the competition you must be willing to step up to the plate where these seasoned buyers are telling you they have dissatisfactions. You need to know your ideal customer: their drives and passions and be willing to foster a relationship based on their needs. You look for additional services to provide that show your company is passionate about they’re needs.

First, you look for and fill an immediate need, then you work to keep these people by building a fortress around your relationship. These efforts: taking the most attractive clients away from your competition, and guiding you in building a fortress around them are what Ekstrom and Associates specializes in.

It can be that simple. Build a stout fortress around your most valuable clients and tear down the fortresses your competitor’s have built. It doesn’t make economic sense to take 10 great clients from your competition and lose 10 great clients in the process. Let them know how much you value their business. If you don’t show them they are a valued customer, they will find a company who will.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More Things to Consider Before You Pick Up the Phone

How the script is delivered (acted out) is just as important as what is said in the script. Your voice and mannerisms need to be just as personable as your words. What can you do to improve your calls outside of the script? Here are a few things to consider.

Ideally, the goal of your script should be to have a conversation. Not a long conversation, but a conversation nonetheless. In the past 20 years we have written hundreds of scripts and delivered them millions of times. Regardless of the script’s subject the most successful scripts are always conversational.

Maximize productivity during your calling time. When you are working efficiently you should be making approximately 30 phone calls per hour. Remember, an average prospecting call should only be a few minutes long, unless the customer initiates a longer conversation.

Here’s another hint. We recommend that you only let the phone ring four times instead of the standard six. That sounds like a strange rule doesn’t it? The reason we make this recommendation is that in most telephone systems, four rings takes a total of 24 seconds. Six takes 36 seconds. The difference between 24 and 36 seconds is just 12 seconds, right? What’s the big deal with 12 seconds? A lot!

On a 30 call per hour project (and most of our projects run 30 to 35 calls per hour) that wastes 12 seconds per call (12 seconds times 30 calls per hour equals 360 seconds). The numbers add up quickly. If you take 360 seconds divided by 60 (the number of seconds in a minute), it equals six minutes. Six minutes is equal to 10% of an hour. How would you like to lose 10% of your productivity, right off the top, because you allowed the phone, if not answered, 12 extra seconds on a call?

Adjusting the amount of times you let the phone ring is one of the most basic things you can do to make your prospecting time more efficient. It can’t get simpler than that.

Remember to utilize some type of a Marketing & Sales Database, to keep your call time and prospecting experiences organized.

Be consistent and diligent. Keep track of what you say when you leave messages for Decision Makers (DM) and call back when you say you will. Don't expect that interested or not, they will return your call.

Have you scheduled prospecting into your day just as you would block out time for a sales meeting? If you do not make time for new prospects you can not expect them to seek you out.

Another thing to consider is the “voice” of the one making the prospecting call. Do all you can to make this voice friendly, polite, and specific to the geographic area you are approaching. I realize you can’t change your voice dramatically, but you can improve diction and vocal mannerisms.

Attitude also makes a big difference- do you expect the DM to take and enjoy your call, or do you see yourself as an inconvenience and interruption to their day? If that is how you feel about your phone call, how can you expect the other person to feel any differently?

What you take into the experience often determines what you can take away from it as well. Sometimes the old adage “Smile before you dial” is overused, but that doesn’t make it less true. When you are happy and excited, the listening ear on the other end of the line can detect that. Don’t be false, but determine your own motives for making a prospecting call, remember the overall goal of getting to know the prospect and enjoy the conversation.

Remember prospecting is not sales: when you talk to a prospect you are looking to see if they have a need you can fill, not telling them what you think they need and how much it will cost them. Get to know them, ask for information about their needs and concerns before you ask for more of their time or money. Most people have their own opinions and feelings so it should not be surprising that they are willing them, even with people they don’t know.

Maintain a policy of honesty and respect. Do not fabricate connections with a prospect or information about your product or service. When you don’t know an answer, admit it, but promise to find out and get back to them.

Be personable. Make a connection to the prospect as a person rather than a number off your list of people to contact. Just as you would want to be treated with high regard, they want that too. Offer, and expect, respect and common courtesy.

Are you taking advantage of opportunities to gather "I know a guy" referrals? Even if a prospect is not a good fit for your company, they may know someone who would be. This concept applies to current clients and those you are seeking to make productive relationships with.

Lastly, be sure you know what the "no" you hear means- there is a big difference between, "No, never" and "No, not right now." Remember the "X" factor. There is an appropriate time for every purchase and if you have an established relationship with the prospect you have more of a chance at being there when their time to purchase arrives.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Creating an Effective Script

Have you ever mentally coached yourself for a conversation or confrontation? There are times when we want to step into a situation knowing exactly what we want to say, how and when. Prospecting is defiantly one of those times.

Creating a plan to:

(1) Deliver the message you want delivered, and

(2) Obtain the information you require.

Is what scripting is all about. If you are prepared, you can enter each conversation with an increased level of confidence in yourself and in your message.

So, what is a script? It’s an outline for a purposeful conversation. In other words, the script guides or controls the conversation. When you do it right, the prospect won’t even be aware that the conversation is structured. Part of wearing your prospecting hat is to have the script so well practiced that the prospect feels the conversation is spontaneous.

This isn’t as foreign as it might seem. Just as I mentioned, we are all prone to rehearsing our words before we open our mouths at certain times. In fact, most conversations have some sort of script, but it’s often very general and “off the cuff.” Knowing this can give you a distinct advantage. If one of the participants has the whole conversation carefully worked out in advance the dialogue proceeds the way that person wants it to. You can be in control of the conversation.

One of the secrets to guiding the conversation is to create a list of open ended questions which the prospect can answer that takes the script in the direction you want it to take.

With a well-developed script, you can:

Make a great first impression on behalf of your company

Get past the receptionist to the Decision Maker

Determine whether the company or prospect is qualified

Gather relevant marketing information for your Marketing & Sales Database

Prioritize the company’s value as a prospect to your business

Generate sales opportunities

Maximize your productivity during your prospecting time

As you’re crafting the script keep your three over-riding goals in mind:

1. Qualify the Decision Maker

2. Determine the timing of the prospect’s next planned purchase

3. Set up a Next Step, or what is going to happened after this conversation

Beyond the initial greeting, the development of the script depends on the specific project you are creating. Remember, this conversation is about asking questions and listening to what the prospect needs so that you can prioritize your future actions, not delivering a sales pitch.

Here are some general hints on developing questions:

• The script should result in a short conversation; no more than a couple of minutes, unless the decision maker wants to ask questions or talk longer. There are a number of things you could ask that would be helpful, but efficiency is critical. There is a trade-off between information gathering and effective time management.

• The questions you ask should elicit information you need to advance your agenda. Create questions that give you measurable data.

• Try not to start off with open-ended questions such as “Is there anything that you need in your company?” It puts people on the spot, and the answer will probably not have much to do with your specialty anyway.

• Ask questions that move you towards a determination of whether or not this person has a need you can fill.

• Try to ask questions that will give you valuable, actionable information no matter what the answer is. A well-thought out information gathering or yes/no question can give you a lot of data.

• Ask questions that naturally branch. Whichever branch the prospect takes, have back up questions or information for that branch. This is one way you can direct the conversation. These questions might begin with leads such as: “Do you?” “Have you thought of?” and “Are you happy with?”

• Know when to give up. If the QDM is not willing to answer questions, thank him or her, politely terminate the call and go on to the next prospect. Don’t continue to move ahead if clear progress isn’t being made.

It is important to remember that while you are seeking Sales Opportunities, you’re looking for the right kind or fully qualified Sales Opportunities. So, this process is as much about disqualifying, or “weeding out”, as it is about qualifying. The prospect’s qualifications are measured with a tool we call the Willingness Range. This is one of the trickiest parts of the script to write. Without delivering a sales pitch you need to ask questions that will show how ready or willing the QDM is to commit to a sales meeting. The more the prospect is willing to commit to a course of action, the higher the Willingness Range. The higher the Willingness Range, the higher the qualification. The lower the Willingness Range, the lower the qualification.

You want the questions to culminate in a realistic commitment on the part of your prospect. High Willingness Range qualifying questions would be something like: “Would you like to discuss that idea sometime?” “Is there a day that’s better than another to schedule that discussion?” “Would you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment?” All these questions require the prospect to make a commitment.

Don’t be too quick to offer literature. Offering written information requires only low levels of Willingness. It reduces the need for commitment and effectively ends your conversation. Literature plays an important role in the process, and you may want to use it, but most prospects will willingly accept literature as a simple tool to end the conversation.

Remember, writing the script is a process and you should expect to revise and rewrite it several times before you arrive at a final version. A script is a dynamic document, and as the economy changes, as new technologies emerge, and as other conditions change, you will need to revise your script to fit the situation. Paying attention to how prospects respond to and keeping careful records will help you analyze what is working and what is not. Keep the things that work and rework the things that don’t until your prospecting conversation is a pleasant experience for both you and the prospect.

For more insight into prospecting scripts, see: Questions That Can Make You Money

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More Information on CRM Databases

Since we’ve been discussing the importance of knowing:

Your current customers

Who your target audience is for prospecting, and

How you want to organize your information about these groups

The following video seems appropriate

As I previous mentioned there are many, many different database and CRM programs available in the market. That being said, one of the most important things to remember when you begin comparing programs is that none are perfect! What I am trying to say is that they are not written with your unique customer (prospects) needs in mind. The best decisions are made when you take your top customer and prospecting priorities and match them to a program that can best help you meet them.

On May 12, 2009, Selling Power Magazine published an interview with Eric Berridge, CEO of Bluewolf, in their Daily Report a five minute video entitled The Secrets Of Successful CRM. You can view it here or by following the link for yourself to: http://www.sellingpower.com/video/?date=5/12/2009. Eric explains why whatever CRM or database you select you will find it necessary to make compromises in what you’d like to accomplish or be prepared to program the database to meet your unique needs.

Remember to allow yourself a learning curve. Don’t expect a perfect match your first time out the door. Prospecting is a dynamic process and so are the tools you’ll use to be effective in your efforts. Do expect you database to provide a set of productive steps forward in meeting your prospecting needs.

Thanks for the great tip Eric Berridge and Selling Power Magazine!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Your Prospect and Client Database

Once you have defined the demographics of your ideal prospect, you go about searching for prospects who fit that description. No matter how you gather your prospect information, it becomes essential that you organize the details in the most efficient manner. You need that information at your fingertips.

A properly maintained Marketing and Sales Database is an indispensable tool that you can sort or mine to concentrate of particular marketing segments. The information can also be copied or exported for a variety of marketing purposes such as a direct mail or any targeted marketing project.

Conversely, a poorly maintained Marketing and Sales Database will only lead to confusion. It is important, therefore, that a concise and well-organized Marketing and Sales Database be a high priority for your sales organization.

There are many, many different database and CRM programs available in the market. Perhaps the most important thing for you to know about any of them is that none is perfect! What ever program you select you will find it necessary to make compromises in what you’d like to accomplish or program them to meet your needs.

Here are some suggestions that may help you in selecting a program. There are a variety of web based programs available today and we recommend you take a close look at those. They offer the advantage of being available anywhere you have access to the internet. If you are a sole practitioner that may not be important to you, but if you have more than one person who will want to use the program, having it available through the web is a great option.

Here is another suggestion. Keep it simple! Buy something inexpensive and begin there. In our experience the chances of you hitting the right program the first or second time are slim to none. As you develop sophistication in using your database or CRM program you will find there are other things you would like it to do for you. So we recommend you let your solution grow with your experience.

Another big topic of conversation is: what information should you house in your database? Again, our recommendation is keep it simple and don’t put anything in your database that won’t make you money, especially if you expect your salespeople to input the data. You will find them motivated to collect and enter data that makes them money, but if it doesn’t do that, don’t expect a high level of compliance.

Most companies today still use either Outlook or Excel, or both, for their database. It’s all a matter of what you want to accomplish and how much you want to spend to accomplish it.

Another big issue that both we and our clients have run into to is the quality of the data entry work. You will find that some of your employees are comfortable with data entry and using a database or CRM package. But you will find others that are not, and often these will be your most senior sales reps. You will also find that many of your sales and customer service reps lack essential data entry skills. For instance, they may not be good spellers, aren’t careful about the accuracy of the data they collect, etc. In our case we found it necessary to have our databases routinely reviewed and corrected by skillful data entry specialists.

To learn more about your available database options just go to your browser and type in “Databases”. You will find thousands of sources of information. There are even magazines devoted to the subject.

No matter which system you employee, the Marketing and Sales Database should be organized and formatted to make the process of prospecting easier and more efficient for you. Your goal is achieving a seamless call flow to ensure maximum calling opportunities. Information properly gathered, maintained, and stored is the key to a functional, accurate database. Over time, your database will prove to be a major business asset.

At a minimum you are going to want your database(s) to help in two broad areas:

(1) Prospecting, and

(2) Working with and selling more to your existing clients.

Because this blog is primarily about prospecting I will outline what we think the essential elements of a prospect database are.

After developing your marketing and sales plan, setting marketing goals and sales objectives is the next step. That process includes deciding what you want to know about your prospects and their need for your product and/or service. That necessitates creating a prospecting script to gather the information you require. If you follow that logic, then you will understand the need to have locations in your database to store the information you collect. Along with gathering information you also need to have some means of measuring and prioritizing it.

I can tell you how we solve these issues for ourselves, but I cannot tell you the best way for you to resolve them. On the other, we would be glad to provide whatever advice we can.

At a minimum you are going to want to be able to separate your suspects from your qualified decision makers and the companies that do not meet your qualifying criteria. You will also find that some portion of your prospect list contains bad telephone numbers and/or mailing addresses. I hope you can see that there is a lot of pre-planning that goes into developing any type of successful database.

I’ve not written any of this to discourage you just to help you understand the complexity of developing a database that will aid you in accomplishing your goals. Every question I have raised has a solution. If we can help, we are prepared to do what we can to point you in the right direction.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Your Prospecting List and List Broker

Once you’ve made up your mind to prospect the first step is determining exactly who you want to contact. As we’ve discussed, a good place to begin putting together a prospect list is deciding what your ideal client looks like.

How many employees do they have?

What are their annual sales?

What industry or industries are they in?

Developing your ideal list criteria is a high leverage activity. Minutes here will save hours and hours of non-productive prospecting later.

One you’ve developed your ideal list criteria, you are ready for the next step, selecting a List Broker. There is no “best” List Broker, but in our opinion, good List Brokers specialize. At Ekstrom & Associates we can offer recommendations for companies with proven track records. We think Farm Market Id has the best agricultural lists available. Dunn and Bradstreet are usually recognized as the List Broker with the best financial information. Suffice it to say that we would be glad to provide whatever insights we can in helping you come up with the ideal List Broker for your needs. You are welcome to leave a comment or email me privately with your questions. If I can’t answer them, I will pass them onto someone who can.

Over the years different systems have been developed to group similar types of businesses together. The most popular system is called the Standard Industrial Classification or SIC codes. Don’t be mislead by the word “industrial” in SIC codes. SIC codes contain an entire listing or breakdown of virtually every business type. Everything from wholesalers, to manufacturers, to all types of Federal, State and local government entities, retailers, banks and financial institutions of all types, farmers by crop, contractors by specialty, etc., etc, etc. There are over 12,000 SIC codes and they remind me a bit of the Dewey Decimal System used by libraries. SIC codes move from the general to the specific. It can seem overwhelming, but using these codes can provide greater accuracy in the resulting information. At Ekstrom & Associates we can help you navigate the SIC codes effectively. Again, if you have questions, please email me. I promise to respond in a timely manner.

What information can you expect a List Broker to provide? First, you should expect your List Broker to provide you a count of the number of businesses within the geography you select that match your criteria. This count should be free. Then, depending on their specialty and the criteria you defined, here is a general idea of the information a List Broker should provide:

  • Both company and decision maker names
  • Physical and mailing addresses
  • Telephone numbers
  • Employee sizes
  • Annual sales
  • Email addresses
  • Fax numbers
  • County information, etc.

The vast majority of List Brokers have a minimum order size. Whoever you work with, you want to know up front what their minimum order size is and how they price their lists. If you check around you will find there is little standard pricing among List Brokers. We know of List Brokers that charge less than 10 cents a name while another List Broker charges over 30 cents for exactly the same information. Watch it carefully. Ask questions and do your due diligence.

Also keep in mind that the more specific your list criteria are the smaller and less expensive your list will be. By changing the criteria even slightly you can open up more possibilities and add more names to your list. As you are deciding how many names you want, consider your future needs as well as your current needs. That way you can get a large enough list to draw from as your projects change.

I’m sure you have heard the old adage about measuring twice and cutting once. Putting your list criteria together is a great example of how true that adage is. This is why it is so important to begin your list search with a clear sense of your project purpose and ideal client.

Once that you have your prospect list, you will next want to consider several other essential steps in formatting your Marketing & Sales Database. I’ll talk about these steps in my next blog.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What Are You Really Looking For?

One of the first things you’ll need to do in order to set up an effective prospecting system is clearly identify your goals. When you look for new prospects, exactly who do you want to find? It’s not enough just to find new prospects; they have to be the right kind of prospect. For instance, does the prospect need to be Sales Ready? Efficient prospecting means that based on your criteria, you can:

• find all the qualified prospects in your territory

• prioritize them, based on any criteria you want to select

• introduce your company and your services

• make a great first impression

If you don’t have clearly defined goals when you begin your prospecting activities you’re likely to attract the wrong types of prospects and never develop the contacts that would have been truly valuable. If it isn’t going to expand your business in a high quality manner, if it isn’t going to maximize your income, it simply isn’t worth your time and effort. As Steven Covey would say: begin with the end in mind. (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Steven R. Covey Free Press; 15th Anniversary edition (November 9, 2004) pg. 95)

As I’ve indicated before, one of the best places to start any prospecting effort is from wherever you are right now. It’s that first step beyond the status quo that will determine where you will find yourself 90 days or 90 months from now.

Begin by making sure you deliver the right marketing message. What is your brand? Why should customers do business with you rather than your competition? Make sure you, and everyone else in your company, understand the answers to the “W” and “H” questions your English teacher was so fond of. Can you accurately identify: who you want to attract, what you expect them to buy, why you are the most qualified business to provide this service, the when and where goals of timing, and lastly, how you will present this information to a Highly Qualified Prospect. Remember, part of what creates a Highly Qualified Prospect is the understanding that the client and the business are well-suited to each other and ready to work productively together.

Next, look at your existing clients once again. We have discussed the prospecting efforts you can consider within your known pool of clients that will help generate additional sales revenues and strengthen those relationships. Let’s investigate this even further. What have you learned about your clients? What kind of information do you keep on file about them? If you haven’t done so already, take the time to at least create a complete spreadsheet of your current customer information. You are looking for trends and patterns, both good and bad.

Here are some of the things to consider:


Number of employees

Type of business

Geographic scope of business

Revenue levels

Growth trends

Purchase patterns

Previous sales encounters

Don’t forget to include “Business Friendly” traits such as:

Easy to work with

Pays on time

Amount of credit approved for

Understand and values your services

These may not seem quite so pertinent at the moment, but they make a big difference down the road by creating a productive and satisfying work atmosphere. During this exercise you are likely to discover (or automatically thought of) that one certain customer who, no matter how much you nurture the relationship, makes everyone they deal with in your company miserable. Retaining or attracting clients who do not value you rarely leads to a satisfying end; monetarily or personally. If you can identify the factors surrounding these unfortunate business relationships they are easier to avoid when you are seriously looking for prospects who are true Wanters.

Now, set your parameters. If you could wave a magic wand and produce the ideal client for your business, what would they be like? Take what you know about your business, your goals, and your current client base. Then, don’t be afraid to make concrete statements. You want to clearly understand both angles. Identify what both the client and business will bring to the table. What should ultimately result from your relationship?

Of course, ideal customers do not magically appear. But, when you have defined your parameters, and gauged your prospecting accordingly, you’re on the right track. If you can define the demographics and traits of your “best clients” you can use that information as the criteria for putting your prospect list together. The results of your prospecting efforts are going to be much closer to Prince Charming relationships rather than blind dates worthy of the horror hall of fame.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nurturing Client Relationships

It may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the best places you can start focusing your prospecting efforts is with your existing clients.

Take a serious look at what you are offering to your current clients-- what brought them to you and what it will take to keep them coming back. Consider the following avenues for nurturing and improving client relationships.

Cross-selling: If you were an auto dealer and sold someone a car, where would you want them to service that car? Cross-selling is actively looking at a client’s purchasing habits and finding addition products and services that fit their needs. The advantage of this type of activity come is several areas. First, it is the quickest and easiest way available to generate sales opportunities. The clients you are cross-selling to already have a trust relationship with you. They know your organization, their buying power and credit are already established, they know what to expect from the people and products in your company. Additionally, you are forming more ties between your company and your client. The more of their business you acquire, the less likely they are to pull up stakes and look to your competition in the future.

New Products and Services: What do you currently know about your customers? When was the last time you reviewed the services you offer and found something missing? Where did you file that last suggestion from a customer that said, “It would be nice if . . .”

Ekstrom and Associates recommends that you spend some time every three months reviewing the results of your prospecting efforts. Look for feasible, short-term projects that can help fill these types of niches. Plan for larger changes according to your client’s feedback and long-term needs.

Public Relations: If you decide to make a change or offer an additional client benefit, how will you let your clients, and the general public know? Over the years, Ekstrom and Associates has helped with a variety of promotional efforts. We have assisted clients by helping them announce an assortment of events. We’ve also sorted Marketing and Sales Databases, isolating specific groups or types of users to be targeted for a specific model or type of service. We’ve supported customer appreciation barbeques and annual golf events. For one client, we invited his customers to visit one of their locations, see a famous race car and meet the driver. We’ve invited customers and prospects to attend new branch openings and participated in different types of “thank you” campaigns.

Your goal is to establish yourself in the eyes of the public as a company actively trying to serve the needs of its clients. Public relations events are only limited by your imagination and budget.

Brand Recognition: That brings up the subject of brand recognition. Does your name easily come to mind when your customer has a problem, question or purchasing need? Has your company recently changed hands, acquired another company, been acquired, or changed something significant about your product, marketing, focus, or logo? How will you let your clients know how to find you?

I like the word attractive. It probably won’t overcome a down economy, but being attractive does not diminish one’s opportunities. So, how attractive can you become in the market? What can you do to enhance your attractiveness? How good can you get? How good can your employees get? The more attractive you are the more clients you keep and the more you can attract from your competition.

Customer Service: How do your clients perceive their value to you? What can you do to provide that small, unexpected, extra effort? When it comes to all your selling and prospecting efforts, are you seen as the one who honestly wants to make things better for your client, not just increase your own bottom line? This is another very effective way to form tendrils of trust and build protective walls around your clients. If they feel important and valued, they usually do not stray very far.

The last thing you want is to lose a relationship because they were looking for a product or service you didn’t, but could have easily, offered. Nurture your clients until that relationship is fortified enough that they never think to look somewhere else. That is the surest way to retain established relationships, nor will you have to work twice as hard to entice that prospect back at a later time.

Looking for a place to start your prospecting efforts? Get to know your current clients first

Monday, April 6, 2009

Understanding Your Sales Pipeline

Do you remember that old television commercial—the one that said, “And then she’ll tell three people, and they’ll all tell three people,” on and on? Wouldn’t it be nice if actual sales really worked like that? The fact is the commercial never says all those people who got told would actually turn around and buy the product.

That’s the problem really: there’s a vast amount of difference between the hundreds of people who need to find out about your business before a few of those people will actually buy. Think about the number of people you had to tell about your business just to get it up and running. Now that you’re established, your focus has changed to both maintaining and increasing the sales levels you currently enjoy. Although your company was probably originally built up by your prospecting efforts, as a businesses matures the level of prospecting seems to fall by wayside. In today’s changing economy, you need to find the most efficient ways to keep qualified prospects entering your pipeline, nurture those already in process, and provide your salespeople with the candidates who are most willing to buy at the end of the pipeline.

A sales pipeline is a funneling process for sifting through every potential customer in order to find those who will actually buy. As you do this you will typically hear four responses:

“Not interested.”

“I’ll buy – but I’m waiting for budget approval.”

“As soon as the new warehouse is done, I’ll order.”

“I’m ready to buy right now.”

Of course, what we all want to hear is “I’m ready to buy right now.” This is where the first money is made for your business and your salespeople. But, with the funneling perspective of a sales pipeline you will understand that even when your pipeline is filled with highly qualified prospects only 25% of those potential deals will actually follow through to close. What happens to the other 75%? That’s the big question your sales pipeline needs to address.

The important thing to remember about sales pipelines is the “X” percentage factor I talked about in an earlier blog. Even if they didn’t buy from you this year, they might be in line for next year, or the next.

You want to fill your pipeline with the most qualified prospects available so that the highest majority of sales possible can come out the other side. But, you also don’t want to forget about the people still stuck at the beginning and middle of your pipeline. If you nurture those relationships, outside of the pressure of closing, then the majority of them will transition from point to point in your pipeline rather than going somewhere else when their “X” percentage factor for buying comes into effect.

Today’s compensation packages encourage salespeople to put most of their efforts into the end of the sales pipeline. It takes a little retraining to help everyone understand how best to nurture those “not yet” relationships.

Ekstrom & Associates specializes in helping you understand how to fill your pipeline with the most highly qualified prospects and creating nurturing relationship with the prospects already in your sales pipeline. When a prospect is ready to make his purchase, he is released to the salespeople. Until then, the prospect is nurtured without closing pressure.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Separating Sales and Prospecting

Prospecting and selling are certainly related, but they require different mind and skill sets. They are two different and distinct activities. You will only be effective in your prospecting efforts if you successfully differentiate the two activities. With the right training salespeople can make excellent prospectors, but they need to take their sales hat off and put their prospecting hat on when they are prospecting for Wanters (qualified prospects who are ready and willing to buy).

Although there are notable exceptions, without the right training most salespeople are not efficient or effective at prospecting.

Why is that you ask. There are two reasons. The majority of salespeople receive some type of base pay, plus benefits, sales commission, and often a bonus for achieving their sales quotas. The net result is salespeople naturally focus their energies and efforts on closing sales deals, because that’s where the money is. That’s highly motivating and a great process for driving sales, but it has an unintended and seriously negative impact on both prospecting and establishing relationships with prospects that are not ready to close—especially when industry research and experience shows that there’s only a 25 to 33% chance of closing those deals anyway.

The second reason is that salespeople have been falsely taught that the primary purpose of prospecting is to generate an appointment. Sorry, that is simply not true. The primary purpose of prospecting is to qualify a “suspect” company. Do they or do they not use the products and services you provide. After that the second prospecting objective is to gather relevant marketing and sales information prospect (business or needs). The third step is determine their Willingness To Buy. There is usually a big difference between a prospect’s use of your products and services and the immediacy of his need for more of them, now. In another blog I’ll have much more to say about generating appointments. Here is a teaser in the meantime. Prospectors have virtually no control over whether a prospect is in the market for his products and services.

Salespeople, even those who are very good at what they do, typically don’t work at anywhere near their maximum effectiveness. Five years ago, the average sales professional spent over 30% of her time in a face-to-face selling situation. Today, that number is 19%. (CSO Insights 2008 Survey Results and Analysis) It may not be the only way, but better prospecting is certainly one way of increasing face-to-face selling time.

There’s never been a greater need for effective prospecting than there is today. High quality prospecting programs make it possible for salespeople to do what they do best. Your prospecting program should be designed to work symbiotically with your sales process, not disrupt it any way. Its main goal is to produce more sales, but prospecting is not selling. Prospecting is making connections, gathering information, and building trust that in turn results in to high quality sales opportunities.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Prospecting Always Works

Ekstrom & Associates was founded on the recognition that closing sales starts with buyers who are in the market and ready to buy. If you want to increase your sales, you need to maximize your opportunities with the best qualified prospects. It’s only common sense, but the difficulty comes in finding qualified prospects. At Ekstrom & Associates, we call qualified prospects that are in ready to buy, Wanters. A Wanter is simply that: special prospect that is ready and willing to buy. They want something. They are going to buy that something from someone. Getting in front of qualified prospects with a high degree of willingness to buy is what prospecting is all about.

Think of it this way. For every 100 sales that close, deduct the number you closed and subtract that from 100. The resulting number is the number that your competition got. How many do you want them too get, because every one you don‘t get, they get? At Ekstrom & Associates our motto is simple and straight forward, “Prospecting Always Works.”

Prospecting always works because:

It gets you in front of the right prospects. It provides a steady stream of qualified prospects And, it maximizes the chances of connecting with the right prospects at the right times.

It is important to distinguish prospecting from sales. They are two separate and distinct activities. In prospecting you are searching for different kinds of information, the more accurate the information you gather, the richer your resulting sales stream will be. Sales is about closing deals. Therefore, prospecting is the dynamic process of streamlining your efforts to find those Wanters who are actually ready and willing to buy exactly what you have to offer. It’s a series of related activities that result in both sales leads and valuable marketing information. This marketing information can then be used to generate additional sales opportunities for your sales staff and profit for you business.

Prospecting isn’t like mans nylon stocking where one size fits all. If you want prospecting to work for your company, you must design a system that unique to your company’s circumstances, a system that is efficient and effective, and a way to ensure it stays that way.

Regardless of the economy or world events, a reasonable percentage of qualified prospects, or Wanters, are always in the market. And once you have a client you can cross sell to him. Done right prospecting is the gift that just keeps giving.

There is no mystery to prospecting; when done correctly it always works.

“X” Percentage: The Foundation Element of Prospecting

There are many ingredients that go into producing a successful prospecting system. Perhaps the most fundamental is an element that The Prospecting People at Ekstrom & Associates have dubbed, “X” Percentage. Understanding this one concept can give you the motivation to do the few simple things to increase sales revenues and drive greater profits to your bottom line. When you understand the “X” Percentage you can begin to realize the full potential of your business.

“X” Percentage is a simple and basic thought process:

Whatever product or service you represent some percentage of your prospects, or “X” Percentage, will buy this year. It doesn’t matter what you sell, it doesn’t matter the times or the economy, the fact is there will always be some percentage (“X Percentage”) of prospects ready to buy, or in the market place at any given time. It might be insurance, software, houses, cars, envelopes, furniture, tractors, whatever. “X” Percentage of the prospects within your sales territory will buy this year. It is a wonderful concept, one that will make you rich if you truly understand and use it. As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “Here is the rest of the story!”

“X” Percentage will also buy next year and the year after, and the year after that. “X” Percentage is perpetual and self-renewing. It’s just a fact. In times of expanding economies prospect buy more. In times of contracting economies prospects buy less, but on average “X” Percentage will always be ready to buy.

Armed with that knowledge you can get rich. Here’s how.

What portion of the X Percentage would you like to sell? Grab a piece of paper and write down answers to the following questions.

1. Whatever product or service you represent, how many units were sold last year? You don’t have to 100% accurate for this to be a valuable exercise. You can refine your answer to whatever degree of accuracy you want later. For now, just go ahead and jot down your answer and label it number 1.

2. Of the amount you wrote down and labeled number 1, how many unites did you or your organization sell? Write down that number and label it number 2. By performing a little simple arithmetic can calculate your market share.

3. Subtract number 2 from number 1. The resulting number represents the number of units your competition sold. Write that number down and label it number 3.

Now, what was your closing ratio? If you got in front of 100 prospects and sold 25, you have a 25% closing ratio. Write the amount of your closing ratio down and label that as number 4.

4. Divide the number of units your organization sold (number 2) by your closing ratio (number 3). The resulting number represents the number of prospects you got in front of last year. Write that number down and label it number 5.

5 Subtract number 5 from number 1. The result represents the number of deals you did not get in front of last year. Write that number down and label it number 6.

6 Multiple number 6, the number of deals you did not get in front of last year by number 4. The result represents the number of additional unites you would have sold had you gotten in front of the prospects you didn’t get in front of.

Prospecting is the key to getting in front of the prospects you didn’t get in front of last year.

More sales are lost because of failure to prospect than through the failure of any other step in the sales process. By failing to optimize prospecting … businesses and the salespeople that work for them deny themselves the sales opportunities … sales revenues and profits that would have otherwise resulted. We unconditionally guarantee that a failure to optimize prospecting needs never be an obstacle to you in growing your business and increasing market share again.

“X” Percentage, and what you can do with it, can begin to answer a lot of prioritizing and prospecting questions for you. Decide what your final number is worth to your organization and set your sites accordingly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Questions that can make you money

When prospecting, it’s vital that the person doing the prospecting has the right script, featuring the right questions, to produce the greatest return on your prospecting investment. Ekstrom and Associates can help!

First, your prospector must make a great first impression. Often this is your prospects first contact on behalf of your company. Then the prospector needs to be able to get past the receptionist to the decision maker (DM). By asking the right questions, the prospector can determine whether the company is qualified, gather relevant marketing information, and depending on the prospect’s Willingness To Buy generate fully qualified sales opportunities.

But what are these questions? And how does your prospector direct the conversation to obtain these goals?

Keep in mind that the goal of your prospector is two-fold: To qualify the prospect company and gather critical marketing intelligence you can later use to generate additional revenues from this prospect. Unless you can make money on the information you are gathering, it’s not worth asking the questions.

Step One: Initiating Activity with the Receptionist. Your prospector first needs to be trained to get past the receptionist. You’ll need two versions of questions: one for when the Project Manager knows the name of the DM, and one for when he doesn’t.

If the DM’s name isn’t known, the script should go something like, “Hello, my name is __(prospector’s Name)_ … and I’m hoping you can help me. Can you tell me who’s responsible for ____ at your location?

If the DM’s name is known, the script will go something like, a. “Hello. My name is, _(prospetors name )_. If __(First Name)_’s there, _(First) __ _(Last Name)____, I need to speak with him / her please.”

Step Two: Initiating Activity with the Decision Maker. Once your prospector gets to the person he is trying to speak to (DM), she needs to accomplish three things: Introduce himself, explain who he represents, and what his company does. Think of it as
“My name is…..”
“My company is….”
“We do….”

Step Three: The Transition Question. Immediately after the initiating activity, create a transition question to get the prospect talking about your subject. For example: “I understand you’re the person who is responsible for purchasing _____ there … is that correct?”

By asking this question, you have just qualified your Decision Maker (QDM) and quite likely the prospect’s company as well. If he says yes to this question, the prospector knows he is speaking the correct person. Second, he has set the direction for where the rest of the conversation will go.

Question Four: The Prioritizing Process. At this point in the questioning, you want to gather sufficient information to determine how much time and effort you want to devote to this particular organization. You are trying to determine how many, how big, or how much. For example, if your prospect has a number of large warehouses and you have a door-maintenance business, you might ask: “How many doors does your warehouse have?” This is a “how much” question. Then, you can follow up with: “Are the doors left open in the summer?” This is a “how often” question.

Step Five: Gathering Marketing Information. Following our previous example, ask this question: “Do you repair your own doors or does someone outside your company do that for you?”

Step Six: Determining Willingness To Buy, or “weeding out”.
For example: “Do you plan to add, replace or upgrade any of your warehouse doors, dock equipment this year?” This question allows you to refine information about the prospect and determine if he going to be is in the market this year.

For more in-depth information on how to develop questions that will make your company money, contact us here.

In a later blog post, we’ll talk more about creating a well-developed script.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

About Ekstrom & Associates


Our wish for your business is the same as yours. We want your business to prosper, to become increasingly more profitable, and to be the dominate business of its type in your sales territory.

Ekstrom & Associates provides professional, business-to-business prospecting. We are the prospecting people and prospecting always works! We are expert at assembling focused prospecting lists. We know…

  • How to contact
  • How to get past the attack receptionist to the right decision maker
  • How to make a great first impression
  • How to get answers to the questions you want asked

With our service, you will know which prospects are active in the market, what their purchase plans are and what their timing is. We have been helping businesses grow their profits for almost 20 years and we know how and what to do to help you realize your growth objectives. If you really want to grow your business, why not talk with us about it.

To have that discussion all you need to do is click here right now and complete the form you will find there.