How to Get a Prospect on the Line
(Blog #10 in the ongoing series derived from a book Harris DeWese wrote several years ago—“A Year of Selling Profitably.” The book was written for printers to use as a guide in training their sales teams through a series of two-hour sessions over 48 weeks.)
Printing companies are like thumbprints—no two are alike, ever. This applies to equipment, staffing, financing and certainly to selling.
Salespeople try new account development with very different efforts. Some work on new accounts several hours every day. Others might invest half of a day one day each week.
Prospecting differs depending on the type of company that you represent. Obviously, new account development will be much different if you sell for a small sheetfed company whose average sale is in the $1,000 to $5,000 range. Observation tells you there are far more print buyers in this small buyer category than in the $25,000 to $100,000 range. Buyers in that range are likely buying long-run web jobs.
It’s up to you to create a work schedule that fits the prospects for your company.
Fundamentally, you should be investing a minimum of 30 percent of your time building a prospect database, updating your prospect intelligence, conceiving strategies to penetrate the prospect account and implementing your strategies.
Call when buyers are most likely to be reached. Monday mornings and Friday afternoons are probably the worst times. Lunch hours—from noon until about 2 p.m.—are also poor times. Try reserving a block of time specifically for making calls; for example, calling in the morning from say, 8:30 a.m. until noon.
Have a reason to call other than, “I want your graphic arts business.” That is probably what your competitors said the last time they called the buyer. You want to sound different. Having a specific topic to discuss or question to ask will give you a competitive edge by making you more memorable.
If you have been canvassing and collecting samples, refer to one of the buyer’s samples in your call. If you have obtained a “loose” referral, name the person who referred you. (A loose, or indirect, referral occurs when someone says something like, “Why don’t you call on Charlie at Suspect Manufacturing and use my name.” A tight, or direct, referral is one where the referrer speaks to the prospect on your behalf.)
Mention the sample specifically to the buyer. Start with, “I’m calling about your product catalog.” Depending on the size of the print-buying company, its catalog may be of major importance to the sales manager, marketing director or CEO. The person who most relies on the item is the one you want to reach.
If you cannot get past the receptionist, state who you are and why you are calling. Ask the receptionist, “If you were in my shoes, how would you get an appointment with Ms. Prospect? We are doing good things for companies like yours, and some of our ideas may work for your company.”
Pause for a few seconds. You have now asked another human being for advice, and since receptionists are not usually called on for advice, many will be flattered by your candor. This conversation can take many twists. You will know you are on the right track if you get information about your prospect’s work, buying and/or appointment habits. You may learn that your contact has no authority to buy graphic arts; and you may even get the name of the right person.
If you have no luck during you calls to prospects, try calling the sales manager. Even though the sales manager may have nothing to do with buying graphic arts, you can say that your “market research” has indicated that this company is an ideal candidate for your company’s mix of equipment, creativity and expertise.
Proceed to tell the sales manager that so far you have been unsuccessful in getting your foot in the door, then say, “We really have something to offer your company. If you were in my shoes, how would you proceed?” This works almost every time.
As a rule, sales managers (or any other sales professionals) enjoy dispensing advice. They know their companies inside and out, and can influence others within their organizations. An introduction from the sales manager to the graphics buyer is your ticket to an appointment.
Of course, you might be told that the print-buying company has all the graphic arts suppliers it needs, or is satisfied with its suppliers and has no intention of changing. There is still hope, however, if you are willing to be creative and tenacious. You can disqualify some companies because they are “married’ to another supplier that may be a brother-in-law, longtime friend, or just a good and valued vendor. Some of those relationships cannot be cracked with a sledge hammer.
Remember, prospecting is a numbers game—if you call on as many buyers as possible, you are sure to get through some of them.
When you talk with senior-level managers in suspect companies, remember that they are responsible for profit and loss for the company, or for various departments or divisions. Speak with them in crisp, short sentences using bottom-line oriented language. They will generally be interested in dollars and cents. Avoid platitudes or trite phrases. Help them to view your services as an “investment” in attaining their objectives, rather than a “cost” of doing business.
Recognize that companies and the people in them have buying behaviors that vary widely. Some are formal buyers who want all the facts and are slow to come to a decision. Others pride themselves on being able to make quick decisions. And there are many shades in between.
The exercise for this session is another brainstorming exercise. Lock yourself away with a pad of paper or a laptop. Invest two hours in listing all the special reasons you can conceive of to call prospects.
This is an exercise in creativity! No matter how bizarre, curious, unusual, peculiar, weird, wacky, extraordinary or odd—write it down. You might not use a weird idea, but it could lead to a better idea or series of ideas that work.
Several years ago, I was bored and decided to list all the reasons I could think of to phone, fax (this was the dark ages), e-mail or write (as in write a letter) a prospect. I came up with 101 reasons in less than two hours.
By the way, keep those recordings and videos coming in. Five of you are going to win one of my paintings. See the previous blog for details.
But, above all, never forget to get out there and sell something!
A Year of Selling Profitably
By Harris M. DeWese with Jerry Bray
Employ techniques and tools that turn weekly sales meetings into energetic learning experiences, resulting in a more enthusiastic, more motivated, and more effective sales force. Understand how these techniques and tools required to build successful marketing, sales and, ultimately, profits, will help you achieve “A Year of Selling Profitably.” Click to order a copy.
Harris DeWese is the author of "Now Get Out There and Sell Something." He is chairman/CEO at Compass Capital Partners and an author of the annual "Compass Report," the definitive source of info regarding printing industry M&A activity. DeWese has completed 100-plus printing company transactions and is viewed as the preeminent deal maker in the industry. He specializes in investment banking, M&A, sales, marketing and management services to printers.