Business development: Solve the prospecting problem

Prospecting got a lot harder when COVID reared its head

Sales people’s lives got harder, the day we got locked down. COVID-19 has made many people’s lives more challenging but there has been a very specific impact on sales people.

Not least because of the kinds of characters and individuals that typically pursue a sales career. I should know, I’m married to someone who has been a Global Account Manager in large blue-chip businesses for 10 years.

As Authors’ of ‘Coaching Winning Sales Teams’ Tim Chapman and Lynn Pickford re-iterated to me recently. Sales people are typically ‘people’ orientated – they thrive on the thrill of the chase . They are natural relationship builders and get energy from being with other people. Typical extroverts if you like.

For sales people who sell face-to-face, their modus operandi pre-COVID was pretty clear.

A combination of LinkedIn, email and phone were used to first identify and then engage the people they felt they needed to influence. The ultimate goal was always to book face to face meetings, ideally with C level people in decision making roles.

LinkedIn and Email or any other digital channel for that matter were simply a means to an end, but never the end in itself. Meeting people was how they built the relationship. How they built trust. And ultimately how they made the sale

Face-to-face Sales people are not well equipped to prospect and sell remotely

Cue lock down, and everything changed overnight. No face-to-face. No travel. No meetings. Ok when I say everything changed overnight, that’s not entirely true. The one thing that didn’t change were the targets. They just got a lot harder to achieve.

Many experienced sales people will openly admit that they are not well equipped to suddenly switch to a fully remote and digital way of selling. Their familiar tools have been taken away from them. It’s a little like being asked to ride a horse with your arms tied behind your back. There are Paralympian athletes who are extremely talented at riding with limited arm mobility. But they have to learn a new way of communicating with the horse, using different senses like body weight and sound. They didn’t become Olympians overnight. It’s the same in relationship sales.

Aside from the potential for lots of sales people to simply lose their ‘mojo’ as a result of being at home all the time. 20 years of even the best sales training and coaching has not covered what to do in a global health emergency that prevents you meeting any clients.

How to re-shape intelligent business development in the age of COVID

The approach to business development, prospecting (or indeed Account Management with cross-sell and up-sell targets) has to change, and I don’t mean outsource it to a telemarketing agency.

There is a proven method. We have proven it. And it requires specialist marketers working alongside sales to deliver a highly personalised and integrated process, that cuts through the digital noise and enables sales people to engage at the highest levels of an organisation.

So what is it?

It’s all part of Account Based Marketing (ABM) sales enablement. But we don’t call it that, we call it Intelligent Business Development – because ultimately that’s what matters to the people you are trying to help.

The easiest way for me to describe it to you is to point you unashamedly to this example. When this client approached us to help them prospect into large global telecommunications businesses we created and delivered a very specific process, working hand in hand with their sales team.

In a nutshell, you take detailed industry and account level insights (and marketing teams that have ABM integrated as a strategy can provide deep insight at an account level using specialist ‘intent’ based software). Match those with your own businesses USPs to create an account level proposition. It has to be compelling; we use the Challenger Sale methodology. On the back of that you create highly targeted and personalised content and construct and deliver a planned and integrated sequence of events that builds trust, yet intrigue, with the individuals you are pursuing.

Trust that is based on having shown a genuine understanding of the prospect’s business problem and clear proof of how you can help solve it. Over time, it takes you to the point of ‘hello’ with a C-level contact who is interested in your perspective and has a positive impression of both your business brand and you as an individual sales person.

So why can’t my sales team do that, I hear you asking?!

Well, as the saying goes, the devil really is in the detail.

Here is a list of reasons, shared with me by my husband (who freely admits that sales people like him are simply not well equipped to execute this effectively):

  1. Traditional communication methods are dead! Writing introductory emails to prospects and calling them at offices (that they aren’t in) are communications that fall on deaf ears. Now its 100% digital to gain cut-through, but…
  2. They don’t know how to use digital channels, in the best order nor how to respond in the best way when things don’t go to plan.
  3. They are often not familiar with ABM processes and do it infrequently, and therefore it’s hard to suddenly execute it well.
  4. The reality of customer escalations and management of daily issues means that sometimes new prospect development gets shoehorned in when fires have been put out.
  5. Time – to do it properly, requires dedicated focus and the ability to deliver at speed, which is challenging for a single individual focused on a myriad of priorities and without the technology to automate.
  6. Creating tailored, personalised insight and co-branded collateral that is optimised with industry best practices is not typically in the JD or the skills set of your sales team. Infographics, that concisely capture the understanding of the problem and how your solution can deliver a business outcome to meet that company’s strategic objectives, for example.  It needs to be good enough that the prospect wants to onward share it through their own organisation and digital channels.

So, if you take one thing from this article; let it be this. Life has got harder for your face-to-face sales people. They are not naturally stay-at-home-alone-types who like to be in front of a screen for 8 hours a day. As Tim and Lynn’s coaching for high performance advice reminded me; check in on them, and check in on how you can help them to do their job better in this altered world where face-to-face meetings – at least for the foreseeable – are a rarity.

Covid has condensed a year, yet targets haven’t got any smaller. So, if you take two things, then consider that there is another way. And it is about marketing and sales joining forces to bring the best of each of the discipline’s skills together to define a new way of prospecting. Some call it ABM but we like to call it intelligent business development.

Author: Helen Brown, Director & Co-Founder, Seeblue Marketing

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