Turning Over New Leaves (Issue 481)

In which we discuss strategies to reduce rejection (and feeling down about it) in prospecting.

Imagine that you spent that next day on your knees on the lawn, lifting and turning over one leaf and then the next looking for the earring and that, on the 500th leaf, you found it. 499 leaves that didn’t pay off. 15 seconds per leaf, four per minute, 240 per hour, about two hours work. Would you be tired? Yes. Bored? Probably. Resentful? Possibly.

Would you feel rejected after turning over 499 leaves? Are you nuts? Leaves are just leaves. So, why do we feel rejected when 499 prospects say “no” or “not now?”

The most frequently requested topic I receive for this column and for our sales training is “prospecting” or developing new business. Sometimes, I sense that the requestors are asking for a magic twist that will transform their new business development activities so that prospects will arrive, swooning, at their doorsteps, a variation on the “one day my prince/princess will come” story, and that they will never again need to face “rejection.”

My extensive research on the subject has led to the following conclusions:

1) There is no such magic prospecting pill, wand, potion, dance, chant, phone script, mailer, or love potion.

2) We can’t make people be prospects if they don’t want to be.

3) The best business-to-business new client attractors have developed and use several techniques that DO work for most people, most of the time, to reduce rejection.

1. FOCUS: Think of this as “diamond earring under a leaf.” Very clear focus. The best new business developers we know can tell us exactly what “good prospects” look like, and they don’t fool around with companies or individuals that don’t fit the profile. This also means that they can train their referral sources to send prospective clients who will be good prospects.

2. REASONS TO CALL: When we approach prospects for appointments, we need better reasons than “you’re next on my list of 200 names.” While that may be true, we need another reason — some danger that’s coming, some benefit that’s emerging, a new idea, a market trend, an introduction, a possibility to consider. The idea is to connect with people on the issues about which they’re thinking to, to attract them to us with value or opportunity.

We can make it specific to a company or a moment in time, based on our research (e.g. “we expect the price of oil to increase 50% by next fall so we’re calling to….”) or general, related to the benefits our products or services generate

3. REFERRALS: The best new business developers typically make very few cold calls. They have developed reciprocal referral relationships that provide most of their new connections. The referrals can come from “centers of influence” (typically 3 – 5 of them) or clients and friends. By the way, referrals from clients are a LOT easier to ask for and receive if we are brilliantly serving them.

4. GROOVE UP SLOWLY: Pouncing suddenly from the weeds on unsuspecting prey (i.e. cold calling) is good sport, but it’s a lousy new business development strategy for most people. The best new business developers we know develop relationships and network relentlessly in a community (however they define it). They put themselves in places and activities in which their prospects or referral sources congregate. Instead of pouncing from the bushes, they gain peoples’ confidence over a period of time, then ask questions that open conversations leading to business discussion. It’s a very natural process, part of a 24 x 7 job.

5. REPETITION: Back to the leaves on the lawn on our knees. If we can’t reach our prospects (the diamond earrings) through referrals (e.g. specific directions to the location of the earrings on the lawn), we’re going to be turning over leaves until we encounter prospects who are interested in our messages.

Boring? Yes, it could be. The best new business developers see it more like a good game of cat-and-mouse. The fun is in the hunt, trying different approaches, ideas, and messages They decide the frequency, whether it’s once a year, four times a year, or eight times a year and touch them with messages that inform, connect, or refresh prospects’ memories about the value the sellers provide.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. 498 leaves to go. No rejection. They’re just leaves.

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