I use prospecting over the telephone, or teleprospecting, to perform a key function within the sales planning process for complex sales to enterprise prospects — test and verify all important assumptions about the prospect. Important assumptions include:
- Who needs the complex product or solution
- Why the need makes sense for the prospect
- When will they need to satisfy this need
- Who will approve the purchase
- Who will use the complex product or solution
- What the final integrated solution should look like, and
- How they plan to get to the final integrated solution
In my experience, acting on untested assumptions, more often than not, results in wasted time and effort for the sales team. Close ratios can be doubled by simply increasing the number of conversations with contacts at the prospect business and verifying that answers to my Who/Why/When/What/How questions, as listed above, are accurate and, therefore, useful.
Examples of untested assumptions include job titles, published prospect initiatives, and planned capital expenditures. The facts are that job titles are often poor indicators of decision-making authority; published initiatives can, and often do change and, finally, budgeted capital expenditures can be preempted. Better to learn what the real drivers are for the prospect and who is leading the charge.
A team of telemarketers who are dedicated entirely to prospecting and gathering specific pieces of information about prospects can be used successfully to test any and all sales campaign assumptions. Candidates for membership in such a team must be able to demonstrate an ability to engage high level individuals in meaningful dialogue crafted to produce required answers. Further, these candidates must demonstrate a thorough understanding of the complex product or solution and a commensurate understanding of how the complex product or solution interconnects with other complex products or solutions already ensconced within the organization or on the schedule to be added within the same time frame envisioned by the sales campaign.
Once the teleprospecting team has been selected, depending upon the size of prospect businesses, this information gathering activity can be ongoing. Be sure not to start validation efforts until the sales team approves public discussion of contacts, prospect plans, etc. This timing requirement is critically important. Keep in mind that the actual names of contacts, and apparent prospect plans, must be topics of discussion within the teleprospecting calls if they are going to produce any useful information. In reciprocal fashion, steps in the sales campaign should be timed correctly so that important meetings transpire after the information collected by the prospecting work has been discussed and plans modified as required to better align with emerging facts about the prospect.
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