‘Prospect Characteristics Matrix’ Turns Suspects into Prospects
Prospecting for new business works. Even if you only make a semi-good, half-assed attempt at prospecting, it works. It works because prospecting is far superior to doing nothing.
A Russian fellow, gassed and knee-walkin’ drunk on vodka, partying at a disco on International Women’s Day¹ spied a beautiful young woman, sidled up to her and said, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in while.”
She didn’t take the remark well and she grabbed him in a headlock, thrust her right hip and flipped him on his back where he remained unconscious for several hours. Happily, now the couple is married and she has borne six strapping daughters while simultaneously working as Commissarina for Security in her district. Her husband, Jakov, on the other hand, spends his days drinking vodka and peeling potatoes
Most of your lame competitors aren’t even trying to prospect, or if they do try, they toss one pitch, miss the catcher, miss the backstop, hit the large lady in the first row and give up.
Someone famous for saying memorable things, like David Ogilvie the great advertising genius who founded Ogilvie and Mather, said “The more prospects you talk to, the more sales you expose yourself to, the more orders you will get. But never mistake quantity of calls for quality of salesmanship.”
David also said, “If we hire people who are smaller than we are, we will become a company of dwarfs. If we hire people who are larger than we are, we’ll become a company of giants.”
WEEK 1: “SUSPECTS” vs. “PROSPECTS:
Exercise 1 (2 Hours)
The following guidelines outline how to qualify prospects. Use them as discussion points, applying them to your own company.
“Suspects” are buyers you suspect have a need for your services. “Prospects” are suspects whom you have confirmed need what you are offering. Moving a company from suspect status to prospect status involves three steps: identifying the suspect, qualifying the suspect based on ability and willingness to buy what you have to sell, and presenting your offer to the suspect.
Usually, you cannot qualify until you present. If the suspect says, “Our longest run is 3,000.” and you have nothing but high-speed heatset web equipment, your presentation has disqualified the suspect. Qualifying suspects is a skill that can be learned, and it is the salesperson’s ticket to fame and fortune. Here are tips for qualifying suspects:
• Using your company’s equipment list, write down the kinds of graphic arts materials—manuals, internal forms, letterhead, two-color folded brochures, etc.—that are best suited to your equipment, staff and quality level. The list will probably not exceed 20 items.
• Go through at least 50 old job jackets. If your company has since enhanced its capabilities by adding equipment, limit your search to the length of time the new equipment has been installed. Take notes on the kinds of companies and jobs that have been most profitable over the past two to three years.
You should begin to see patterns between the types of jobs your company is well-suited to produce, and the kinds of companies that have used or currently use your services.
• List the names of the companies or agencies that bought these jobs in one column on a sheet of paper. Then, using either general knowledge or a directory, make columns for each company’s sales volume, number of employees, industry, products, locations, buyers’ titles (if available) and dollar amount previously spent on the print jobs. Then fill in the blanks. More detailed patterns should begin to emerge.
You will begin to identify the characteristics of companies that are most likely to buy your most profitable products and/or services. For example, you may find that a high percentage of the companies are in a particular industry. Note additional characteristics, such as sales ranges of the companies and number of employees.
• Think about the buying behavior of companies with these characteristics. Sometimes buyers choose graphic arts salespeople whose companies have behaviors and styles similar to their own. For example, emerging growth companies often buy from emerging growth graphic arts firms, and large companies often buy from large, established printing companies.
• Identify your geographic outreach. How constrained are you by an assigned territory? How far is it economically feasible for you to prospect? Management can help you with this.
Using directories and other resources, start building your database in whatever medium you have chosen: index cards, a loose-leaf notebook, or database software. Though this may appear tedious, it will solidify your thinking as you wade through the task.
• As you begin to make contacts by phone, mail, e-mail and in person, enabling you to begin gathering more direct information from each suspect (and indirect information from secondary sources), you will begin to qualify or disqualify your suspects.
Suspects are disqualified if they:
• Do not need or use your type of services.
• Have printing suppliers that are so firmly entrenched in the suspect’s business that trying to unseat them is not worthwhile.
• Are not creditworthy.
• Do not generate enough business to promise sufficient volume.
• Have buying policies that are too inflexible or demanding.
Disqualified suspects should be moved to an inactive file in your database, which should be reviewed once a year. Companies change and may re-qualify at a later date. Everyone else should be qualified. Qualified suspects become prospects, and move to another section in your database.
PROFILE YOUR BEST PROSPECTS
Exercise 1 (2 Hours)
Use the following material as the basis for this week’s discussion.
For an objective outsider, it is fairly easy to analyze major accounts at a company and find common characteristics among them. As a graphic arts salesperson surrounded by job jackets and client files, it may be extremely difficult to perform the same exercise.
But understanding the kinds of buyers who are most likely to buy your firm’s services, and who are likely to be most profitable for your people and equipment configuration, is a vital step in deciding where to invest your sales time. No two printers have the same equipment lists or set of skills and, therefore, no two graphic arts salespeople can have the same list of prospects.
Fortunately, there is a relatively pain-free way to rank buyers. The “Prospect Characteristics Matrix” is a flexible, meaningful approach to organizing buyers’ characteristics. The matrix format allows you to review all your clients and prospects at a glance, and assess which are the best targets for the majority of your time. Twenty-five salespeople have field-tested the matrix, and, as one put it, “The matrix gives prospecting a sense of direction.”
To create your own “Prospect Characteristics Matrix,” list your prospects vertically on a sheet of paper or file on your computer screen. Across the top, list the characteristics most important to you and your company. The characteristics can be facts about the prospects or their graphic arts needs that apply to your firm’s range of profitable capabilities.
For example, say your company has one or two small sheefted presses, as well as limited finishing capabilities and an art department. If the art department is more profitable than the others, you want to pursue buyers who always use the art department, as well as the other services. List “use art department” on the horizontal axis.
IF you work for a large web printer that has exotic scenting, gluing or specialized in-line capabilities, you want to pursue buyer who need those specialties, along with everything else you have to offer. Then you would list “specialized in-line capabilities” across the top of the matrix.
You probably have a good feel for the level of sales revenue that constitutes a major account at your firm. Create a table heading reflecting the minimum acceptable sales volume that would qualify as a major account—those are the accounts you want to pursue.
Other characteristics to consider listing across the top of the matrix:
• Full web
• Half web
• Special folding needs
• Special binding needs
• Pleasing color
• Long run
• Short run
• Art and design
• Buyer’s number of employees
• Sophisticated buyer
• Unsophisticated buyer
• Decision maker
The list could go on, so try to limit yours to less than 10 items across the top. For each prospect, make a check mark beneath each category on the horizontal axis for which that prospect qualifies. The idea is to create a visual means of determining which potential buyers you should spend your time on.
Figure 1 shows a matrix created by a graphic arts salesperson. The salesperson has listed seven prospect characteristics across the top of the matrix. As you can see, this salesperson prefers selling to buyers with an understanding of the printing process (hence the second characteristic, “educated customer”) and with annual billings of $250,000.
Work with your sales team to develop a matrix for your most profitable prospects. Then ask the salespeople to create a matrix and check the appropriate characteristics for their present list of prospects.
Figure 1. Sample Prospect Characteristics Matrix
WEEK 3: SALESPERSON AS INFORMATION MAVEN
Exercise 1 (1 Hour)
Professional graphic arts prospectors are constantly scouring sources for new suspects to add to their databases. They are also looking for information on suspects who have moved into the prospect category. And they never stop gleaning more information on their existing accounts.
Why? Because he who controls the information, controls!
This statement is the most irrefutable and valid precept in all of selling. What’s more, it grows in importance as technology allows more people to have access to more information.
Though having access to the Internet helps, acquiring information about your prospects can also be as easy as a trip to the library. Among the sources you can use to gain an information-based competitive edge are:
• Association directories. Just about every library has a directory containing listings of associations, which (for a modest fee) can often provide you with membership directories.
• Chamber of Commerce directories. Most chambers publish a low-cost directory of all the employers in their area. They may even be able to provide you with a listing of new companies in their areas.
• State industrial directories.
• Business directories publish by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Dun & Bradstreet, Dow Jones, and Standard and Poors.
• Telephone directories.
• List brokers.
• Specialized lists from the Superintendent of the Documents in Washington, DC.
• Trade journals. In addition to offering valuable buyer information, these publications often sell or rent their subscriber lists.
• Local, regional, and national business publications.
During your research, look for such information as new incorporations, new buildings (new tenants often have greater graphic arts needs), new product announcements, newspaper business sections, and annual reports.
At the end of the discussion, ask the group to name the publications they have found most useful. Ask for specific examples of how information gleaned from the sources have been used to turn a suspect into a prospect, and a prospect into a client. Finally, ask the salespeople for the kind of information they look for when locating suspects and prospects.
Exercise 2 (1 Hour)
Write a plan for developing your prospect database. Each plan should cover sources of information, characteristics of suspects, qualification criteria and a timetable for building the database.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Exercise 1 (1 Hour)
Use the following material to lead a discussion.
Whether you use index cards, a three-ring binder or database software, your prospecting database should be divided into three sections: suspects, prospects and clients (often collectively referred to as “buyers” throughout this book). Some salespeople include a fourth section called “major accounts,” which contains the company’s most profitable clients.
You will constantly be moving cards or data files from suspect to prospect to client during the qualification process. Some of the ways to organize your database are by:
• Contact name
• Company name
• Standard Industry Classification
• Type of company
• Printing needs
• Date of last contact
• Result of last contact
• Next step
• Date for next step
• Probability that suspect or prospect will become a client
You might even create a field called “remarks,” in which you can enter narrative notes to yourself about your account strategy
Consider creating a field called “referrals,” so you can analyze the origin of your accounts to see if they come from one or two specific areas. Referrals are the most valuable tool in the prospector’s arsenal. A $2 million printing salesperson parlayed one contact at a corporation into more than one hundred as a result of referrals, and today estimates that 95 percent of her new work is obtained from networking and referrals—leaving her no time for cold-calling.
Indeed, nothing beats being introduced to a suspect by a satisfied client, friend, or business associate. Some of the sources you should cultivate to increase your chances of obtaining referrals are:
• Existing clients
• Other prospects and suspects
• Business networks
• Vendors and suppliers
• Binders and other trade shops
• Ad agencies
• Graphic design agencies
• Sales and social clubs
• Church members
• Country club members
Now, it’s time to get out there and sell something! You salesmen, just don’t pass out on a Russian bar room floor. You could wind up peeling potatoes.
I’m not worried about the saleswomen. You have already gotten more new accounts than the men.
¹Every 8 March (Восьмое марта Vosmoe marta), the United Nations declares this day as the International Women’s Day to celebrate women and the accomplishments they have made to society. Other than in the former Soviet republics, it is not celebrated much throughout the world. It is traditional on this holiday to present women with gifts and flowers to express appreciation for their work, love and devotion. It can be regarded as the equivalent of Mother’s Day combined with some aspects of Valentine’s Day. Thus, nowadays Russian women hardly ever recollect that this holiday originated as a day of rebellion of women struggling for equal rights with men. This day was very special to the Russians in the 1940s.
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.