Use Teleprospecting to Build Targeted Leads

Direct Marketing and, specifically, “teleprospecting” adds substantial value to sales for complex products targeted at enterprise customers.

“Teleprospecting” is a new buzz word with a definition in flux. You can observe some of the ambiguity of the definition of this direct marketing technique in a debate on “Telemarketing vs. Teleprospecting vs. Inside Sales”.

I define teleprospecting as the use of direct telephone contact to individuals within targeted prospect companies to determine organizational structure, decision trees, stake holders, roles, projects, plans and other matters of interest. The collection of information that results from this teleprospecting activity is a very rich resource which a nimble business with a complex product or service can use to develop accurate understanding of the “critical perspective” (Jeff Thull, “Mastering the Complex Sale”, John Wiley & Sons. Second Edition, Page 124) of targeted prospects.

I, myself, have written earlier in this blog about the necessity of developing this precise understanding in a post on why the old adage that a sales person with an address book can be so true, as long as the sales person carries a useful reputation and a prior history of business with his or her contacts.

The fact is that qualifying prospects without recourse to a foundation of knowledge and understanding about the business, roles, etc., can produce unreliable information. Prospects may not open up during untrusted conversations; therefore, an outbound contact effort has to be built on useful business intelligence.

The objective of teleprospecting, as I understand it and as I make use of it is twofold:

  1. to promote conversations with stake holders by scheduling meetings between subject matter experts and prospects and
  2. to create a “map” of targeted prospect businesses complete with roles, decision trees, etc

The objective is not to sell anything. Further, efforts to transform teleprospecting contacts into customers will generally be fruitless. The nature of the conversation in teleprospecting as compared to the nature of a conversation in a selling technique like telemarketing is fundamentally different. The first is exploratory, expansive, intentionally non threatening and clearly a pure information gathering exercise, while the latter is focused, concentrated and clearly intended to accomplish an objective: a sale as well as providing the customer with a desired solution.

So how do we get from teleprospecting to sales? Via the meeting noted in objective number 1 above. These meetings (and it may take several meetings to collect the required information and then modulate from information-gathering to sales) provide the setting for transforming the discussion into a sales campaign.

Try it, I think you’ll like it.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Brief Look At Sales Basics

While I dispute the notion of sales as an “art,” there are, nevertheless, two basic sales techniques that must be prescribed to any sales person:

    1. Listen to what your prospect has to say. In other words, catch any/all expression(s) of interest on the part of a prospect. Make your need to learn the reasons why prospects express interest in your product or service a mandatory requirement of every sales call
    2. Always schedule a meeting of some sort with a prospect to discuss important points/milestones in your sales cycle

Following both of the above techniques will contribute substantially to the success of sales campaigns, especially sales campaigns for complex, enterprise products and services. Here’s why:

1. Structuring a sales meeting around an opportunity to learn, first hand, why a prospect is engaged in a sales process for a product or service requires that a sales person maintain an inquisitive, responsive and flexible posture throughout the meeting. Maintaining such a posture will, in turn, help to ensure that the subject of the meeting (meaning the product or service), itself, is not treated as a commodity by either party (neither the sales person nor the prospect). Consider that once the sales person commits him/herself to the posture just described, the importance (and overstated value) of product presentation will diminish. Once a sales person is listening/responding/flexing around what a prospect has to say, the discussion is elevated to a very specific conversation about the unique needs of a specific prospect. When needs are appreciated as unique they can rarely, if ever, be satisfied by a commodity that is designed to meet mass (and necessarily uniform) needs. By listening, a sales person has successfully elevated the product or service into the realm of custom solution with a demonstrable value to a specific, and unique customer.

2. Maintaining the discipline to discuss critical points in the sales campaign directly with the prospect protects the effort from the risk of self sabotage. In other words, sales personnel must make a rule that any and all discussions about order specifics, pricing, references, delivery, or impressions after a sale must be done in person, either on the telephone or face to face. Communicating a key point in an inappropriate manner can be symptomatic of a sales campaign that has been sabotaged from within itself. There are few problems that will as quickly undermine a sales effort as saying something the wrong way, or even worse, using the written word (in an email message, letter, etc) or a voice message to communicate a point that the prospect must directly understand for the sales campaign to progress.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Fixing Complex Sales Problems

By definition, sales campaigns for complex products targeted at large business enterprises are quite susceptible to problems. To understand this reality one need only consider that these campaigns include many steps as well as a dense set of human contacts who each need to be qualified and managed.

Problems can arise at any moment in a sales campaign for complex products. If a campaign is not carefully managed then problems can compound with the result that repair can be a very difficult task of peeling back layers of ineffective sales effort to expose “root” problems. If the sales team is new to selling complex, enterprise products, then remedies may elude sales management. The end result can be a lot of wasted time and lost opportunity.

One of my clients had a largely ineffective sales effort for a set of complex products specifically targeted to very large financial services businesses. Sales cycles were not only long, but generally unsuccessful. The task of remedying this sales problem required a review of not only the sales process, but also the product marketing process. Specifically, we found that customers and prospects did not maintain a uniform and consistent awareness of the products; in fact, several products seemed to materialize “out of nowhere.” These ethereal offerings, themselves, were legitimate root-level problems requiring swift remediation. We gave shape to the client’s product list by constructing a menu for his complex offerings. The sales team was then instructed to limit proposals to only items included on the menu, thereby giving lending real tangible shape to the client’s market message.

Problems were found within the sales process itself. For example, we discovered that sales opportunities developed around prospects that did not fit the correct profile–a potentially fatal flaw that we remedied from within the lead development process, a step before leads were released to field sales staff. Once leads were communicated to field sales staff, sales personnel neglected to play assigned roles. Qualifying product-specific technical information about the prospect was intended to be the role of industry professionals, but this important step in the prospect qualification process had been usurped by Client Relationship Managers (CRMs) who lacked the technical understanding to obtain the correct information from the prospect. Neither were these sales personnel strong enough to keep campaigns moving forward. We recast the sales roles by having the sales staff discuss the facts among themselves. With everyone aligned around a natural interest in landing sales, the teams came naturally, to a “right” conclusion. Roles were recast in a more useful manner. Sales campaigns got back on track.

Once problems are palpable they must be remedied. As already mentioned, ineffective sales campaigns can sink a business. The threat of these dangers should provide all the impetus required to stimulate a thorough review of marketing and sales and, ultimately, the implementation of an effective remedy.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Industry Professionals May Not Deliver as Sales Personnel

A common misconception in “professional” consulting is that ONLY licensed industry professionals can manage enterprise sales. This misconception supports the erroneous notion that it makes sense to train licensed professionals in the “art” of sales. Fact is that most sales personnel are born “that way” and sales is anything but an “art”. Eons have been wasted trying to transform CPAs, Attorneys, Pharmacists, Doctors, etc into sales people. Yes, a CPA may be a great sales person, but one thing doesn’t have anything, necessarily, to do with the other.

Top consulting firms are often known for their sales development programs for professional staff. But how effective are these programs? One could argue that the effort only makes sense where the “raw material,” meaning a staff member, demonstrates an innate sales ability that warrants the effort. Therefore, the real work for these top consulting firms is to identify talented professionals who have that “sales edge” within their recruitment efforts.

The difficulty of transforming licensed professionals into sales personnel is exacerbated by the natural tendency of some licensed professionals to eschew sales as something demeaning and, potentially, manipulative of others. The thought here is that professional ethics require an approach to interacting with one’s peers and colleagues that does not include selling them anything, or, if a sale must be made, that colleagues be insulated from the reality that they have been purposefully used to make the sale. Once an individual becomes a believer in these professional ethics, it will be next to impossible to get meaningful results from his/her selling efforts.

Better to find real sales people and include them within the sales team. A perfect role for real sales people within enterprise sales is management of the customer relationship. The actual project work can be lead by a licensed industry professional, but someone with real sales acumen must manage the customer through the interaction. Consulting firms that understand this requirement and staff their project teams accordingly are more likely to succeed. In fact, (regardless of specific project objectives and methods) the task of persuading an enterprise customer to purchase one’s products or services and managing the enterprise customer (and the project team) through successful completion of the project is consistent and uniform once the peculiar realities of complex, enterprises sales have been digested and addressed by the sales plan. Training time will be better spent inculcating a sensitivity for complex, enterprise sales realities within the customer relationship managers of the project team.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved


Outer Limits: Optimum Management for Enterprise Sales

Unmanaged sales efforts for enterprise and similar complex sales prospects will rarely, if ever, succeed.

Here’s why:

Each enterprise prospect may include several important contacts who will each play a role in a purchase decision. A successful sales campaign for this type of prospect must include a serious qualification for each of these important contacts in three critically important areas. Specifically, the sales team that will win the prospect’s business will exhibit:

  • Deep knowledge of the prospect’s rationale for the purchase decision, which rationale has resulted from discussions and deliberations amongst the contacts.
  • Clear understanding of the role that each contact plays within the purchase decision and
  • Clear understanding how all of the contacts work together in day to day business operations for the business

To simply win the business without prior mastery of what the prospect has decided to purchase; why the prospect decided a purchase was required; who had to participate in the purchase decision; and how the participants in the decision work together within the enterprise would be pure luck.

Managing enterprise sales requires an understanding of what it takes to arrive at correct answers to each of our What?/Why?/Who?/How? questions as well as a thorough familiarity with long sales cycles that may encompass several years of careful development. Long sales cycles are typically required to ensure that, for example, the winning solution is as far from a commodity as possible and as close as possible to the unique offering of the winning sales team.

A successful sales manager for enterprise sales knows how to use a sales team to win this type of business. The sales team will often include a sales person with an address book to substantially enhance the prospect’s level of comfort with the sales process; one or more industry experts to architect the winning technical solution; and a managing sales person who can lead the team to winning the business from the prospect. There may be opportunities to repurpose the same personnel for multiple roles within the campaign; for example, an industry expert or a sales person with an address book may prove to have the skills to fulfill the role of the managing sales person. However, omitting any one of the three roles will result in a very difficult campaign that may result in a failure to win the business.

Further, our successful sales manager must select the right personnel for each role. Consider that a sales person with an address book must be a trusted confidant of at least one of the contacts within the prospect’s decisioning team. Simply knowing folks at a prospect cannot be interpreted as the equivalent of being regarded as a trusted confidant at the prospect. If the sales objective is promising enough, then the time should and must be spent to select just the right personnel for the sales team. It is very hard to cobble together a substitute. Better not to try.

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2011 All Rights Reserved