Especially smaller companies where less than three people are dedicated to driving the revenue growth, there is often a strong need to achieve results very fast. When these businesses do not necessarily have the resources to start investing and expecting growth via inbound sales methods (e.g. content marketing), the time and money that remains available are invested into the strongest value-generating activities. This is often where the traditional outbound sales efforts come into play.

In this post, I briefly discuss how to start achieving results quickly without wasting the precious time.

This topic is especially valid for companies that are trying to venture into new fields of business, enter new markets or launch new products. This time I'm concentrating particularly on prospecting, where targeting the right customers, assessing their potential and ensuring a steady volume of activities are most important.

Self-explanatory: Define your customer

Just like in marketing, without having a clear picture of your ideal customer, the various buyer personas or your target market, no sales efforts should ever be started.

As an additional note, I think it is important to spend some time to familiarize with what your company represents, what the product or service does and preferably even experience it yourself. Without knowing what you are talking about (and that happens too), having those initial discussions may be extremely tough.

Pre-assessing the customer potential

When starting to prospect your possible customers, I recommend looking at each one of them as you go and try to consider the customer's potential to you.

  • Is it a large possible customer?
  • What is the amount of revenue this client could bring to us?
  • Could the customer be a great reference for our business?
  • Is there a chance this customer could open an important network for us?
  • How useful our product or service could be to this customer?
  • Could they be a source of stable and recurring revenue for our business?

It is important to not spend more than a minute thinking about these not-so-concrete questions.

The point to remember and the main outcome of this assessment is that you will now be able to define how much time you will use and how you will start approaching this prospect.

Spreadsheets, e-mail, mobile phone, and a browser have usually gotten me quite far. CRM's and other tools of course help with ramping up the efforts. (Helsinki, 2016)

What I call the "priority groups":

So far I have settled with four buckets or groups that I think of when sorting my prospects.

  1. Lowest Priority / Small Potential: Call the customer without too much research. Get hold of the name and number of the customer and prepare for a possible open-ended discussion. This is all about the volume and optimization towards finding the bits of interest among the wider prospect-base.

  2. Mid-Low Priority / Small Potential: Spend time on minimal research. Go to the customer website, take a look at their blog and publications. Find out the basic financials such as turnover, profit, and the recent history. This is a more solid approach and the customer's increased fit justifies spending the little time on tailoring your approach.

  3. Mid-High Priority / High Potential: Here the time for doing in-depth research and preparing for a multi-level approach is justified. In addition to the basic information above, talking to outside networks, approaching various personas in the prospect company and a more solid understanding of their business should be utilized in order to increase the chance of success and eventually continue the discussions.

  4. High-Priority / Very High Potential: Usually I reserve this group for complex deals where multiple parties are involved. These can be and often are various construction/development projects or initiatives. Here I often use pen and paper to draw a map of parties involved and try to understand the project more deeply. These are often the prospects that you really want to get, and sometimes are even too important to lose.

Group Focus Time to spend*
1. Mid-Low Priority / Small Potential Volume Under 5 min.
2. Mid-High Priority / High Potential Volume 10 - 15 min.
3. Mid-High Priority / High Potential Converting 15 - 40 min.
4. High-Priority / Very High Potential Strategic 40 min. - 1,5 hrs

(*)On planning until initial contact and placing into the sales funnel.

Regarding the highest priority prospecting targets, the fourth priority group, I will try to write separate posts about the related techniques of influence mapping, inter-relationships and finding out the decision-making/signing authority. Let me know in the comments if you would like to see such things discussed in more detail in some later posts.

Regarding highest potential prospects I cannot overstate the importance of good old pen and paper.

Ensuring an optimal mix of activities

Based on the abovementioned approach of grouping customers, it makes perfect sense to not only concentrate on just one of the prospect types.

Various prospect groups complement one another and enable to work on bigger and more strategic cases while on the other hand filling in and capturing the possible opportunities in groups with lower but existing potential.

I recommend adjusting the mix as you see fit but a day consisting of two hours work with lower potential prospects and three to four hours of more strategic cases can be a good point to start from.

Results: Spending the time where it matters

This approach will help you to spend less of your time on prospects with non-existing or low potential. It sets the priorities and lets you focus on reaching the targets that matter the most. This is exactly what your organization needs and doing your work efficiently will eventually demonstrate your value to the company.

Of course, this is just a small and practical tip based on my own previous experience and your mileage may vary. If you would like to add your thoughts I welcome you to send me a comment or two in the section below!

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