Talking to Prospects: What You Need to Know

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How do you talk to prospects? There are several skills involved beyond your ability to speak to someone else. Great prospect conversations require some research, confidence, and focus on building a relationship. Don’t get caught up in making assumptions, hitting all your points, and selling to the prospect.

A few years ago, a salesperson from one of our primary competitors called Kevin, our VP of Sales and Marketing at the time, to sell him on their inside sales software. The young man proceeded to explain how fantastic his company’s product is and how a company like VanillaSoft could benefit from selecting his company’s offering for inside sales.

Kevin asked the salesperson if he knew what company he had just called. The salesperson answered, “VanillaSoft.” Kevin went on to ask if the rep knew anything about VanillaSoft. The salesperson answered that he didn’t have a lot of background information. Next, Kevin broke the embarrassing news to this young go-getter: “you just called the vice president of sales and marketing of one of your competitors.” The salesperson hung up.

I share this story with you to highlight just one of the many ways we have all goofed when talking to prospects – not just this poor guy — when making sales calls. The ability to talk to prospects — including, talking to the right contacts — is an essential sales skill. Below, I’ve outlined several Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to talking to prospects. Let’s dig in.

Talking to Prospect Do's

When Talking to Prospects,

Do . . .

Know Whom You’re Speaking to

As we see with my opening story, speaking to the right prospect is a pretty significant first step. Even with a queue-based sales engagement solution, like VanillaSoft, that routes the next best lead to a rep, the representative still has responsibility for understanding whether or not the contact is the right contact.

Do a little research. Learn more about the company and contact you are about to call. Use tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator, ClearBit, and other solutions to help you quickly identify pertinent details.

With a little preparation, you will have confidence that you are

  1. Not talking to a competitor (d’oh!)
  2. Speaking with the right person or someone who is likely to put you in contact with the decision maker
  3. Addressing a potential pain point the company or person has

Here are a few additional tips to keep in mind when.

  • Research what the prospect’s competitors are doing and how you can help the prospect fill competitive gaps or differentiate themselves by using your product or service.
  • Make a list of areas you want to cover before you get on the call. Better yet, use a sales engagement system that offers scripting to keep your conversation on track.
  • Identify what’s important to the person with whom you speak. Don’t merely focus on the corporate needs your offer can fill. Identify potential opportunities to help the decision maker look like a hero.

Be Confident & Enthusiastic

Let’s face it: selling isn’t for the meek. Yes, you can be an introvert who’s a good salesperson. Neither introversion nor extroversion determines your ability to perform. Your confidence will be a substantial influencing factor in your success. You face rejection daily, and you can’t let that run your confidence and enthusiasm into the ground.

To help you gain and maintain the positivity and tenacity you need in sales, here are a few key areas of focus:

  • Develop your product knowledge. Your customers have likely already researched your product or service. At the point of your call — at least with inbound web leads — they are looking to you to provide additional expertise. They shouldn’t be telling you how the product works.
  • Know your competitors and what they offer. Those customers mentioned in the point above have probably looked into your competition, too. While you won’t be an expert on the alternative options, you should be aware of them and able to speak to the differences. After all, you’re probably going to be asked by new leads to explain how you’re different from your competition.
  • Practice your sales technique. Work with a colleague, manager, or mentor to run through sales scenarios.
    Work on your vocal skills. Unless you use video on your calls, your building rapport entirely through your words, tone, pacing, and inflection. Try listening to recordings of earlier calls. Assess what you could have done differently. Record your role-playing scenarios and evaluate them with your practice partner.
  • Find ways to re-energize yourself after a day of hard calls. Treat yourself to something special. Eliminate the negative self-talk in your head. Remind yourself of why you like selling.

Build a Relationship

Think about all the good relationships in life. What do they entail? Trust, sharing, mutual give and take? Whether it’s with your puppy, kid, wife or next-door neighbor, the good relationships are about more than just you. The same goes when sales reps build relationships with new prospects.

The most successful sales development reps build a bond that establishes trust and often leads to a sale (and recurring sales). While you have to work toward your quota, don’t let each contact become “just another number.”

Remember to:

  • Be cordial and take a genuine interest in the person.
  • Ask questions to uncover customer needs and LISTEN to the answers they provide. Too often we ask a question only to begin thinking about what we will say next while the prospect is still talking. Not only does it signal how little you care about the customer, but it also makes you miss out on the potentially critical information you need to move the deal along.
  • Thank the person for the time he or she sent speaking with you.
  • Ask before talking to someone else or going over the person’s head. Check out how sales expert Jill Konrath botched a big sale by going around her contact to the CEO. Sure, there may be valid reasons you need to go around your contact. Just be sure to follow Jill’s advice when you take that step, so you don’t burn any bridges.

Talking to prospect don'tsWhen Talking to Prospects, Don’t . . .

Make Assumptions

If you read the post by Jill Konrath mentioned above, you’ll see how her assumptions led her to mess up a great sales opportunity. Keep in mind that your assumptions about a company or prospect may not match reality.

  • Sometimes the person you speak to doesn’t have to be an executive to make a decision. Learn more about the company’s process before you dismiss the person you contact as an “underling.”
  • Not everyone you want to call — even the “next best lead” — will need your product or service. Before pushing hard to set the next appointment or close the deal, ask questions to ensure this is a good fit.
  • Not everyone you don’t want to call is a wrong fit. With a typical CRM platform, reps have to hunt and find the leads they want to call, often leading to cherry picking. That sweet, sweet lead may not be the right fit. Don’t be dazzled by big names and shiny logos all of the time. Sometimes a lesser known company could become one of your best customers.

Be Too Focused on Hitting All of Your Points

Scripts and talking points are great tools when used skillfully. If you’re focusing on hitting every single feature and benefit ever uttered about your product, you probably aren’t listening to the needs and concerns of the prospect.

This point ties in with what we discussed in the relationship building section except, in this case, you aren’t necessarily self-centered. You’re just focusing on the wrong things or are distracted by all the possibilities.

  • Read what your prospects say on their inbound web forms. That’s a place to start paring down your talking points.
  • Prepare questions to ask at the beginning of the call — or even before the call — to help you focus your time to the prospect’s most important issues and concerns.
  • Think about current customers in the same industry or similar product lines. What do they have in common with the prospect that can help you tailor your discussion?
  • Take a breath and let the prospect talk, too. When you are talking, you aren’t listening.

Get Preoccupied

There are so many ways to get distracted these days: text and instant messages, email, social media, coworkers. The list goes on and on. Don’t let these distractions cause you to become preoccupied and lose focus while speaking to a prospect.

  • While on a call or in a meeting,
  • Put your cell phone away
  • Close your email
  • Turn off your IM client
  • Close unnecessary computer programs and browser tabs

These little distractions can cause salespeople to procrastinate as well as create friction between the rep and the prospect.

Sell to Them

Prospects don’t want to be sold to; they want to buy from you. They are looking to you to help them make an important purchase decision. Use all of the skills we covered above to help transform yourself from seller to trusted advisor.

Thinking about Kevin’s experience getting that competitor’s sales call . . . I wonder where our colleague from a certain inside sales software company is today? Do you think he stuck with selling? I hope so. We all make mistakes when talking to prospects; however, these goofs can teach us valuable lessons and make us better for the next sales conversation. What other do’s and don’ts do you have to share? Add them in the comments section below.


Scott Amerson

As Vice President of Sales, Scott is responsible for leading our global sales team. He is a results-driven professional who brings more than 25 years of sales and executive-management experience to VanillaSoft. He is a proven veteran at building scalable infrastructure for inside sales and call center teams by defining key performance indicators, sales process, and training programs. In his previous role as Director of Sales at BenefitMall, Scott built and launched their inside sales team. In this position, he created and delivered policies and procedures, strategic planning, and technology integration leading to a 42% decrease in their sales cycle, and 30% increase in revenue per sale. Scott has also held prestigious positions at multi-million-dollar companies, including Capital One, where he overhauled the entire sales and training processes to drive goal-surpassing revenue from $300 million to $900 million. Scott holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Marketing from Nicholls State University.

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