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October 17, 2018 | Coach’s Corner | Greg Martinelli

Feed & Fuel Your Prospect Funnel

What is your system for finding and selling prospects?

If you are one of those lucky salespeople that has customers clamoring to buy your products, this article is not for you. Or maybe you’re one of those lucky salespeople who has all the customers they want. If so, this article is not for you. However, if you are like most of us and you need to grow your territory by prospecting, then this article is for you.

Coaching sales people from many different companies, I find prospecting and cold calling as some of the most common areas they struggle with. While it seems intimidating, developing an updated prospect funnel helps break this process down into manageable steps. It also gives you perspective on the task of switching a prospect from a competitor to buying from you. Afterall, there is risk for a prospect to switch from their current (known) supplier to doing business with you (unknown supplier). The funnel process helps reduce that risk and makes the switch easier on both you and the prospect.

Feeding the Funnel

One of the first struggles a salesperson has is developing a system of filling the funnel. This is the first step. The better they are at finding prospects, the better the rest of the funnel will flow. In this stage, we discuss who the ideal prospect is and where to find them. How can this salesperson get in front of a large number of ideal prospects? This is the Awareness Stage.

Awareness: This is getting out into the market and making themselves known. Activities include networking, trade shows, social media connections and contributing to the social media discussions. Speaking at events is a great way to make yourself known and establish some expertise.

Fueling the Funnel

Viewing the funnel as stages is critical to the success at prospecting. Too often, a salesperson will meet a prospect, make a sales pitch, get a rejection and then feel like it’s over.

“I called on him. He’s never going to switch. He loves company XYZ” or “He’s been with company XYZ for 20 years.” Don’t believe these stories no matter how long the prospect has been with your competition or how happy they seem to be. In agribusiness selling, we are dealing with long term sales relationships. So, it’s true that customers will have a certain amount of loyalty to their current salesperson or their current supplier.

It’s unreasonable to think a prospect is going to make a 100% switch on a major part of their operation without building some trust in you and your products. So, don’t get discouraged if it takes weeks, months or even years to move someone through the funnel. At each stage of the process, you need to understand your prospects motivation to move to the next stage. This motivation is the fuel that moves the prospect through the buying process. The salesperson’s role is to first find that motivation and then show the prospect how their product is a fit.

Interest: Developing a prospect’s interest in your products first starts with you taking an interest in his operation. Once you understand how you can help the prospect, then you can present your products and get his interest.

Demo: In this step, we look for a way for our prospect to do a free trial, a demo drive or somehow get a taste of what it’s like to use our products. Put your prospect in the driver’s seat and let them test drive your product.

Small Step: The next rung in the funnel is getting them started. Remember, they have been buying from their current supplier for a long time. In their mind, the easiest and safest thing to do is just keep buying from their current supplier. Give them a small way to begin the customer experience with you and your company.

Organizing the Funnel

The last focus area I review with a salesperson is their organization skills with their prospect funnel. This area is often a struggle. It ranges from no organization to pages in a notebook to more elaborate spread sheets. In rare cases, a salesperson is actually using their CRM program to track prospects. The main point I make with them is first develop a way to manage your list and second, do what is sustainable.

With the ease of using Excel, even the most non-techy person can learn to set up a one-page spreadsheet to track prospects. I like the one-page snapshot so they can easily track dates of contact and dates they will follow up with the prospects on their list. This keeps the salesperson from dropping the ball on getting back to the prospect at the next critical moment in the sales process. To help, a salesperson needs to sort their prospect list down to a manageable level.

As mentioned, it takes time to convert prospects into customers. This requires a salesperson to sort their prospects by interest level. Over time, some prospects will gain interest in buying from you while others will fall out of the funnel. To manage a large diverse group of prospects at various stages of interest, I encourage salespeople to sort their list into three groups: Top 10, Hot and Cold. The top 10 being the most interested and ready to buy.

This group requires daily focus. The hot list is still interested and you want to keep moving them through the funnel. This group can be managed by connecting with them weekly, monthly or at key times in their business. The cold list is not gone forever. They might not have interest now, but the market changes quickly. So, I encourage salespeople to keep prospects on their Cold list or their “Not Now” list.

Prospecting is one of the primary roles of the sales professional. It’s vital over the course of a sales career. Breaking the process down into a series of steps along the buyer’s journey can make it a more manageable process. In most cases, you won’t sell a prospect on the first call. Keep finding prospects to bring on board, adding value to their lives and moving them one step at a time towards becoming a customer.

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