Freelancer's guide to sales - ii) plans and prospects
Lisette Howlett, of Sandler London Central
Fed up with never knowing where next month's money is coming from?
Upset at having to reduce your price to 'win' the business?
Convinced that there is a better way?
Planning and prospecting is the theme of our second article on the art and science of selling, and these activities should provide the tools, and answers, you need.
The 4 Ps of marketing are fairly well known - Product, Price, Place and Promotion. There is not such an established formula for sales but, were there one, it would be:
PROSPECT, PROSPECT, PROSPECT
This mantra is particularly relevant to freelancers and indeed any one-person consultancy or services-based company where income is linked to the efforts of the business owner.
Clearly all 4 Ps in the Marketing plan play a part in your sale but the only sure way to ensure a strong sales pipeline is to prospect. 'To prospect' effectively means you need to develop a prospecting habit - i.e you need to ensure that it becomes part of your everyday business life.
Over to the Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP). It says sales promotion "comprises a range of tactical marketing techniques, designed within a strategic marketing framework, to add value to a product or service to achieve specific sales and marketing objectives."
This is an interesting definition, but in many ways is more concerned with marketing than selling. It is based on the premise that in order to sell you need to make your product or service look better than anyone else's. This feeds to more traditional approach to sales which is to sell features, benefits and advantages of buying your product or service. The definition also stems from the concept that you need to promote or push your product or service in order to persuade people that they need to buy it.
At Sandler, we think that this technique is tired, overused and does not best serve you or your potential client. We believe that your job in sales is to properly find out what is needed so that you can fully evaluate, jointly with your prospect, if you should both do business together.
Where the ISP's definition is most correct is when it says sales prospecting needs to be directed (strategic) and multi-faceted. To be directed, you need to have a clear view of what you are trying to sell and who you are trying to sell it to. You should clearly define your ideal client - something I recommended in Part 1. Doing so, helps you focus your limited resources - time, money, energy etc - in the direction that will best serve you.
HOW PROSPECTING INTERACTS WITH CHANNELS TO MARKET
Prospecting is simply the activity of finding 'prospects' - people who need your product or services - who will be hiding in a sea of suspects
So looking at the different channels to market, spelt out in Part 1:
* Selling direct means being responsible for finding prospects yourself
* Using an agency means you need to find (prospect) suitable agencies and cultivate the relationship
* The Associate route means prospecting for suitable companies and selling yourself as an associate
YOUR ONE 'MUST-HAVE' FOR ANY PROSPECTING PLAN
Cold calling. Or cold drop-ins. I am fairly confident that anybody who claims to like making cold calls has not made any. After all, how can anyone like a process that produces an opportunity for so much rejection? When people say they like cold calling, what they actually mean is that they don't mind paying the price to reach their objectives. Cold calling like any other prospecting activity is a selection activity - you are finding and separating out the prospects ( people who need what you do) from the suspects ( people who don't need it or don't wish to benefit from it).
HOT TIP : Develop a prospecting plan - multi-channel, on line and off line - and stick to it monitoring progress as you go
GOLDEN RULE: You never have to like prospecting—you just have to do it.
HOW TO MAKE A GOOD PROSPECTING PLAN
You should not stick with just one approach. Both because this limits your opportunities but also because if you are over-reliant on one sales channel and it dries up, you will have to start again.
To illustrate - if you are trying to
sell direct (rather than via an agency) your prospecting plan may contain the
following - networking, cold calling, e-mails, mail shots and referrals. All of
these will generate sales if undertaken effectively. However, over reliance on one at the expense
of another may not pay long term dividends. Let's take the example of a
freelancer who likes meeting people and socialising so decides that face-to-face
networking will be their main prospecting vehicle. The dedicated networker can
find 6-15 networking events a week to attend.
In the short term this may result in a rush of new introductions and
possibly even some referrals.
But effective networking takes time (you
have to get to know people, they have to get to know you) and there are a
finite people who use networking as a business channel (and an even smaller
number who use it effectively) thus, after a while the referrals will dry up and
you will find that you have spent a lot of money, and even more time on this, at
the expense of other activities.
Networking plays a role in a well thought through and executed prospecting plan but it is not the only element.
THE COST OF PROSPECTING
As with most things there is a balance between time and cost. The more things you do yourself, the lower the cost - but at the same time, everything you do carried an 'opportunity cost' i.e. could your time be better spent doing something else.
Networking is a key element of a successful prospecting plan - and this is online as well as offline. Networks need to be cultivated over time so that you gain trust and credibility.
You also have to give to get - so be generous with your referrals and advice and people will want to do the same for you. But you do need to be very focused and manage your time. It is way too easy to just spend a day chatting with people on the various forums and chat rooms. Do this, and you need to ask yourself - 'Is this taking my business forward, or merely allowing me to avoid the activities I don't like as much, such as cold calling! Even in this digital age, calling is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to build your business - but it takes time (and skill).
MONITOR YOUR PLAN
Every freelancer needs to have a clearly defined prospecting plan which they monitor. Monitoring the success of the different elements will enable you to fine tune the elements and also hone your skills. Ask yourself - 'Why did that one approach work that time, and not the time before?' Work out how much effort you have to put in to achieve the desired results. It is important to separate activity and 'buzz' from effective prospecting; measuring your results is the only effective way to do this.
This is the second in a three-part series on effective selling by Lisette Howlett. Having set out a recommended sales strategy and objectives, and understood the role of prospecting, above; part 3 will reveal the obstacles to selling 100% effectively, 100% of the time.
Want to learn more about prospecting and effective sales techniques?
Contact Lisette or any of the team at
Sandler London Central
, which is running free
business development seminars in November
27th October 2010