Reverse Prospecting

I’ve just invented a new catch-phrase “Reverse Prospecting” and if you like the concept, you’re welcome to steal it from me.

Anyone who has been in B2B sales for any length of time appreciates the fact that no matter how great your selling skills are, if you don’t have someone to use them on, you don’t make a sale. Duh… talk about a blinding flash of the obvious!

The Good Old Days

Prospecting today is far more challenging than it used to be. Sales managers who are long in the tooth like me will remember the old days when we had to walk two miles to school, barefoot, uphill, both ways. They will also remember how prospecting used to be.

In those days, whenever we finished a call on a company, it was good form to do a cold call on one or two businesses on each side of the company we just had visited. In most cases, but not all, we actually got to talk to someone and often were granted an instant appointment. When the person didn’t have the time to talk right then, most were amenable to setting up a time for you to return.

Man, oh man, how things have changed. It’s almost impossible to do a physical cold call anymore. And trying to get through the technological moat that people throw around their businesses and themselves presents a whole new set of challenges for our salespeople.

I don’t know about you but I’m dragging forty years of sales and sales management baggage behind me and what we face ahead in terms of prospecting is daunting.

Recent Changes

Here’s my take on what’s been happening over the past three to five years. There has been a growing tidal wave of information and technology that is simply overwhelming people.

Look at your own business life:

  • Are you finding that you just don’t have enough time to get things done?
  • Are people becoming an interruption?
  • Are too many people wanting too much of your resources?
  • Are there just too many emails and voice mails needing attention?
  • Are you spending more time fighting the alligators than draining the swamp?

If so, you’re not alone, your prospects feel the same. Compounding the situation, from your salespeople’s perspective, is that they are no longer needed as the primary source of information like they were in the past.

To a great extent, the Internet has replaced the salesperson as a source of technical and sales data. Salespeople can no longer be the exclusive providers of information. They have to find other ways to add value to the relationship.

Basically, we all have become so busy that we no longer have the time to deal with unsolicited personal visits, emails, or voice mails. Our prospects are shouting at the top of their lungs, “Don’t call me; I’ll call you!”

In other words, in today’s new sales world, you have to be findable when the prospect needs to find you. In addition to being findable, you need to be top of mind when the prospect goes looking. Hence, reverse prospecting.

There are two key elements of reverse prospecting:

  1. Be findable
  2. Be top of mind

Be Findable

Being findable means ensuring that your Internet presence is as good as it can be. You need to rank high in organic searches for the keywords that your prospects will use when they go looking for what you offer.

Sometimes, what you sell is just so generic or so competitive that it is all but impossible to rank high in the search engines. In this case, using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising may have merit.

Some companies still use more traditional media such as print and broadcast advertising to get the word out. And more and more companies are availing themselves of the social media platforms such as blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, FaceBook, etc.

While your salespeople are unlikely to impact your findability, they can be instrumental in creating top-of-mind awareness.

Be Top of Mind

It’s important for your salespeople to maintain a presence with your prospects. When a busy prospect comes up for air and is looking for what you offer, you want him to remember you. Reverse prospecting at work.

The key to creating top-of-mind awareness is touch points, more specifically, value-added touch points (VATP).

Value-Added Touch Points

A touch point is any time you come in contact with the prospect, or any time the prospect comes in contact with you. It doesn’t matter who initiated the touch. It only matters that the touch occurred.

A value-added touch point is a bit different. This is where the prospect walks away from the experience with something that she considers of value. It might be something tangible like an article or a sample, etc, or it could be something intangible such as an idea that she feels she can use.

Reverse Prospecting at Work

Here’s a personal example of reverse prospecting at work.

The time has come for me to divest myself of an investment property. For the past number of years, a realtor has been sending me unsolicited quarterly updates of property sales in my investment neighbourhood. I’ve been using these reports to keep an eye on the value of my condo.

Now that it’s time to sell the property, which realtor do you think is going to have first crack at offering me their services? You got it, the one who has been touching me with useful information.

VATP Exercise

Here’s an exercise that will not only get your salespeople thinking about value-added touch points but is likely to produce a list of actionable items for both you and them. At your next sales meeting, explain the VATP concept and then ask your sales team for ideas.

I recently did this exercise with one of my sales management consulting clients. We quickly came up with a list of seventeen touch point ideas, most of which fell into the value-added category, and several that we realized we were already doing.

How many do you think your team could come up with?

The Bottom Line

If you want more prospects, move from cold calling to reverse prospecting. Being findable and getting people to remember to find you “reverse prospecting” is the way to go in today’s busy business world.