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.