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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Three Essential Actions in Approaching a Whale of a Prospect


Today we have a guest post from Sherrie Roberts. Sherrie has been crushing sales goals and breaking records for over 20 years from local broadcast to national networks and rep firms. Serving in roles as salesperson, sales manager, General Manager and Founder.

It’s tempting to approach all prospects with the same strategies and tactics—it’s much easier and quicker to use a “one-size-fits-all” approach. But no two prospects are the same, especially the big ones. 

I’ve had several opportunities to earn the business of “whales.” Two of those were company record breakers, and a few were against all odds. These experiences had three common traits that stood apart from the rest. 

1. Knowledge

Certainly there are best practices that will always hold true. The truest of them all is to know your prospect and know your product—well. Very well. This might seem like common sense, but, too often, salespeople blow opportunities with self-driven, and sometimes quota-driven, overzealousness. This often leads to pulling the trigger prematurely and being ill prepared.

Preparation is paramount. If you go in cold, it will show. There’s a reason prospecting is often referred to as “cold calling.” 

The preparation comes by researching the prospect thoroughly. You can’t simply breeze through a website or search social media and find what you need to know. Spend ample time studying the prospect’s website. Also, research the industry and the competition. If at all possible, talk to others in the prospect’s organization. 

And as far as your own product, research within your own company case studies. Talk with your peers about any similar experiences within the prospect category. Anticipate questions the prospect may ask about how your product may serve them based upon your research.

Now you are prepared and can enter into more discussions that will allow you to listen and engage with confidence. After all, it’s the information you glean directly from the prospect that is the most valuable. Ask a lot of questions based upon the prospect’s feedback. Sticking too closely to processes and tactics communicates to all clients, large or small, that you’re not listening and that you’re more concerned with the steps and how you’re communicating them rather than actually engaging. 

With high potential prospects especially, you must kick listening up a notch and also be observant. Participating in a call several years back with a colleague, we encountered a prospect that was not engaging. I noticed an item in the office of something I had in common with the prospect. By appropriately making reference to the common ground, it instantly broke the ice. When we left the meeting, my colleague asked, “How did you know that?” Simple observation.

Students that do their homework and study are most likely to get an “A.” One of the highlights of my career was being stopped mid-presentation by a “whale” to thank me because I had just described their business better than they could. 

2. Authenticity

The two basic truths of knowing your prospect and knowing your product will allow authenticity to shine through. Authenticity is crucial in overcoming the barriers that prospects often have when interfacing with salespeople. Prospects approached by salespeople only because they are short on sales numbers or call quota, will most likely remain a prospect. Besides, prospects can usually tell when a salesperson is disingenuous.

I recall training a brand new salesperson that asked me if I had a script to use for contacting prospects. Now, scripts may be useful for products that are more transactional, one size fits all but generally ineffective with larger, more complex products. Furthermore, when distracted by adhering to a script, it becomes challenging to actively listen. In fact, you’ll have made it quite clear that the call is more about you than the prospect. Be natural. It opens lots of doors. 

This same principle holds true with proposals. If you’re using a plug and play proposal that looks like very little thought and planning (or listening) occurred, it communicates lack of engagement and authenticity.

Elevator pitches are a different story—being able to succinctly explain your offerings and what you do when asked. It’s always wise to map that out as long as you know and understand it so well that you can adapt on the fly to meet the needs of your audience. Furthermore, it is indeed wise to know your objectives prior to making any prospect call.

Regardless of price point or client involvement, however, people appreciate being heard, engaged with and being taken care of generously. 

Early in my sales career, I received a complex RFP from a sizeable prospect. I was somewhat shocked at having even received it, given the required parameters competitively put me in sixth place. I could see opportunity and gave it my all. I vividly recall the day the client called me and asked if I was sitting down before proceeding to tell me that I had earned 100% of the project’s budget. Obviously it was not because my product was the number one choice. The client specifically told me it was because I was the only rep that listened. Apparently my competitors decided to use plug and play proposals that barely addressed any of the requests outlined in the RFP.

Listen and you will not just learn you will earn. Earn is a key word. You earn a client or you land a sale.

3. Supplementation

Perhaps this can be a new buzzword, or maybe there’s a better one. I’m open to suggestions. It truly has been an important part of my personal sales philosophy. Dictionaries define supplementation as something that completes or enhances something else.

I often tell my boys and have certainly witnessed it in managing salespeople—there are two types of people in this world: consumers and contributors. We all obviously must consume a certain amount from life for survival. But some are more inward focused than others. Those that lean heavy on making contributions are not only the most successful but also the happiest. Are you consuming more from your prospects than you are contributing? Are you a supplement to their business or are they to yours?

When earning the business of a “whale,” be willing and eager to dig deep and get involved. The larger the prospect and the larger the sale, the less transactional it will be. Each and every time with the whale accounts I earned, I did far more than just dip my toes in the water. I dove into the deep. In the cases of my record-breaking accounts, I took on aspects of account management that were well beyond my job description. I was a resource. I was a trusted partner. I supplemented their business beyond the solution offered through the company I represented.

One prospect that became a client had more than 500 franchisees. It was important to give the franchisees a voice. Helping this prospect quickly and succinctly gather valuable input from them made an enormous difference in this prospect becoming a whale of a client. 

As you continue to gain knowledge throughout the business relationship (this never stops, by the way), look for and seize opportunities to supplement your prospects/clients business. Make it a part of every prospect call to find ways to contribute to that person’s day. You’ll be amazed at the mutually beneficial results.

Fear is the most common thing that stands in the way of landing not the just the whale but many prospects. When solid knowledge and understanding of both the prospect and your product are in place, fear should diminish significantly. Furthermore, when your authenticity shows complete confidence that the product you represent will provide results and solutions for your prospect—they will mostly likely become a client. And again, fear diminishes. As you contribute and become an invaluable supplement, there is not only no fear, you become enthusiastically eager. Eager for each day to earn whales.

Sales Accelerator 

Topics: Sales