Getting the edge in professional selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

Nowadays, few companies engage in cold calling. In most cases, this strategy fails to provide the necessary results. Most salespeople are encouraged to plan and prepare their sales calls. There is no substitute for a relentless effort to prospect for potential clients and this must be followed by a qualification to ensure that once the salesperson sits in front of the customer, he is speaking with the “right” client who needs the proffered products (or services) and has the financial means to buy!

Targeting the right customers

A few weeks back, I was bemoaning the fact that job applicants nowadays have the resources available (through the Internet) to conduct an extensive investigation of the company they are applying for a job with. So it is with sales executive; there are few companies on this planet that do not pop up in a Google search. In most cases, the information about size, products, services, resources, locations, etc. is extensive.

Armed with this knowledge, there is no reason to cold call. A phone call requesting an appointment will almost always be agree to providing the client has a need for the proffered products and serves. And this is where qualification of the client come into play.

What indicators might be used in coming up with a good list of prospects and what steps might be taken to qualify prospects before setting appointments and attending sales meetings? We are all familiar with photocopiers; we’ll use this as an example to see how prospecting and qualifying might work. Let’s assume for a moment that the average lifespan of a photocopier is five years. And let’s also assume that when a client moves into new, larger offices, they will probably buy new copiers to fulfill additional copying needs. It would seem logical that a company which has not bought new copiers within the last four to five years might be suitable targets. So, too, would companies which are planning to relocate to larger offices.

These two factors (and there may be many more) may be used as indicators that it is worth investing time and effort with a particular client. Similarly, it is probably a waste of time bothering with a client who has recently purchased new copiers or is downsizing. Even if the sales executive secures an appointment (costly in terms of travel and time), he is likely to be told that everything is fine and there is no need for a replacement at the moment. This time would be better spent on those clients who are statistically more likely to buy. 

But, as we have said, replacement is not the only reason why a client might buy. Sometimes there are special copying requirements that need to be fulfilled and this might prompt the need for a new unit. So how does the client find out about this? Restricting calls to clients who have been in a building for four years or more will almost certainly lose the opportunity of selling to clients who have other reasons to buy.

The sales executive (through experience) should know what information he needs. He can drop by offices (“cold calling”) and use the opportunity to glean information from a receptionist or junior employee. He might explain that his company has recently come out with a new range of copiers and he is making brief inquiries (and I mean brief) to find out whether it is worth sending out product information. Now, I have used the term “cold calling” in this paragraph but in actuality, this is qualification. No attempt should be made to sell; only to garner information (unless there is an urgent need!). Four or five questions should enable the sales executive to ascertain if they have copiers, if they happy with them, and whether all of their needs are being currently met with the existing equipment.

The results of this survey can narrow down a list of prospects, allowing the salesperson to target the right clients at the right time. Perhaps this is worth sharing. I recall my brother telling me many years ago that he was inundated with potential clients and he certainly couldn’t see everyone on his list of prospects. He could fill long days seeing many clients and selling little, or he could spend short days prospecting and qualifying the right client, seeing only a handful and bringing in impressive sales results!

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.