Round Up the Usual Suspects

Scene 1 — a crowded police sta­tion. A crime has been committed and the crusty old sergeant snarls at his team, “Let’s round up all the usual suspects!” The team then disperses in all directions.

Scene 2 — an equally crowded meeting room. Sales are low and the crusty old sales manager snarls at his team, “Let’s get out there and round up some hot prospects!” The team then wanders off to the local coffee shop to complain about the lack of leads.

Sound farfetched? Not as much as you might think. As sales professionals, we sometimes forget that part of our job is to find people to sell to. This means occasionally rounding up “hot prospects.”

Finding Hot Prospects

Potential customers can be divided into three groups: those who already use what you sell (prospects), those who might be able to use what you sell (suspects), and those who wonder what you sell (PWOTs — Potential Waste of Time!).

Let’s better define suspects and prospects:

            • A suspect is a person who doesn’t currently use what you sell yet is in an environment where what you sell is in common use.

            • A prospect is someone who knows what you sell, may already use a similar or competing product/service, and knows how valuable it has been to him.

A “suspect” can be changed into a “prospect” by chatting with him and going through the quick-qualifying process (asking a few key questions to determine the suspect’s needs, wants, and ability to pay).

If the suspect turns out to be a prospect, you then want to turn him into a customer. You do that by further qualifying him and completing the sales process (presenting appropriate benefits and asking for the business).

Talk to Strangers

If you truly believe in the value of what you sell, you’ll have no difficulty in talking with enthusiasm about it to people you come into contact with on a daily basis. Now I don’t mean you should bore people. You spark their interest by mention­ing some of the potential advantages of your product/service.

It’s important that you not only know the various facts and benefits, but you should strive to discover new ones you can share with other sales­people in your company. The more creative you are in finding uses for your products/services, the more successful you will become.

Talk to Customers

One of the best sources for good prospects is your existing customers or even a person who expressed an interest in your offer but didn’t buy for some reason. The usual approach salespeople take is to say, “Do you know anyone who might be interested in what I have?” More often than not, the person will say “no” simply because no one came to mind. You’ll have better luck if you describe a typical prospect to the other person.

Here’s an approach that may work for you, although you’ll have to put it into your own words so you’re comfortable with it.

Getting Referrals

Let’s assume you’re selling cellular phones and you’ve just finished making a presentation to a prospect, Bob Smith. Before you leave, you want to see if you can get some leads from him. Bob is in sales, so you’re going to use this information in your approach.

            “Bob, thanks for the time you’ve given me. I wonder if you would do me a favour? You probably know other successful people like yourself who could benefit from my services. I’m going to describe a typical prospect to you and when a face pops into your mind, please stop me.

            “Bob, I’m looking for someone who has been in outside sales for a few years and knows the value of his or her time. He probably spends most of his time out of the office and he’s probably fairly successful. He already owns an older cell phone. He’s ambitious and wants to get ahead. Has anyone come to mind yet?”

Hopefully at this point Bob will recall someone who fits this general description. If not, you can either go on with the description or simply say, “Why don’t I give you a call next week to see if any names have come to mind.”

Now suppose Bob had thought of someone and stopped you. Here’s one way of handling the situation. Forge ahead with:

            “Great! Who might that be? (And for pete’s sake, be sure to write the name down!) May I use your name when I talk with George?” If you get an affirmative response, you now have a powerful tool to use — the referral opening — when calling George.

Simply say: “Bob Smith suggested I call you. I’m with Star Cellular, my name is Fred Swartz. Bob felt we might have something you’d be interested in.” And now you’re on your way to another sales presenta­tion.

This method almost always works if you take care in describing someone who would be a natural associate of the person you’re talking with. Sometimes no one comes to mind, but this is unusual.

Those who do think of someone usually have no objection to giving the name and other information to you. What other information should you get? At least a phone number or address. Also try to find out where the person works, what he does, how close the friendship is, etc. You should get as much information as you can without appearing nosy or annoying the individual you’re talking with. Again, don’t trust your memory, write it down.

Stay Organized        

There’s a certain wisdom to putting aside a portion of your personal organizer, or whatever you use, to keep a running list of suspects/prospects. They are likely to become your future customers.

So now when your sales manager tells you to “round up some hot prospects,” you’ll be ready to go!