Sales secrets: How to cherry pick your prospects

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Many of us spend our time painstakingly researching who to ring in the cold calling process, only to 'filter' through them just as we're about to make the crucial call. Sales performance expert Andy Preston explains the underlying causes of this 'cherry picking' behavior, suggesting that sometimes the most unlikely call could be the one which results in big business.

It is not unusual to find people beginning the cold calling process by trawling through their list of prospects, evaluating who to call and who to avoid. So, why is it that so many of us spend our time painstakingly researching who to ring only to 'filter' through them just as we're about to make the crucial call?

Having worked with thousands of salespeople and business owners, I find that time and time again calls to prospects are too easily put off due to reasons of convenience, such as "he won't be in today, I'll call him next week"; "He's just back from holiday, better not disturb him yet, he'll be busy"; "Hmmm, that would be some good business for me but I'm not ready to ring them yet, I'll make a coffee first" and so on.

Whilst the excuses for postponing a call are endless, there really are only a handful of reasons why this procrastination in the cold calling process occurs:

1. Lack of confidence in your cold calling abilities - how do you feel when you know you're about to pick up the phone? Ideally you should be feeling enthusiastic and motivated, but more often than not you are probably feeling nervous and afraid.

2. A poor prospect list - you've got hold of the 'data' somewhere, but there's been no research done into the company or any initial call to find out the name of the decision maker, let alone any idea if this company is even a prospect for what you offer.

3. A poor call to that person previously - the last call to this prospect went really badly and it's been in your call-back list for ages. As a result you continually move it back in your diary because you remember how the prospect treated your call last time and you'd hate to go through that again.

4. You've already 'decided' that the call is going to be terrible! - you're worried about this call and you're imagining it's going to go very badly. Perhaps due to one of the above reasons, or it might also be that the prospect would represent a very good deal for you and you're frightened of messing it up if you don't do it properly?

Mental rehearsal

Successful athletes talk about the value of 'visualization' or 'mental rehearsal' - a process where they visualize the event happening in their mind before it actually takes place and 'see' it happening exactly as they want it. This enables them to remain positive and focused on the task in hand.

What we tend to do when it comes to cold calling (or even warm calling!) is in fact 'negative visualization' - we see the event happening, but always predict the result to be terrible! Negative outcomes to the call include not getting through to the prospect, them not seeing value in what you offer, having the phone put down on you and so on.

The challenge is - when we 'cherry pick' prospects, we're usually only making the 'easy' calls, the ones where we feel most comfortable with the person on the other end of the phone! In fact, we've probably got a few favorite clients - the ones we can call for a 'chat' so we can feel like we're doing something to develop our business, rather than avoiding calling - but they never seem to buy any more from us?

This is exactly the same as field-sales people doing what I call the 'Tea and Biscuit Tour' - calling on existing clients or prospect they get on well with (usually for a drink and a chat) in order to avoid walking into potential new clients or trying to win new business!

The fundamental rule for successful cold calling - or any kind of calling for that matter - is about energy, keeping up the energy and enthusiasm from one call to another. Which means you have to make call after call after call so you're in the 'flow' or the 'zone' as an athlete would call it.

Top tips for keeping the energy up when cold calling:

1. Don't take a break between calls.
Don't waste time between calls by talking to colleagues, looking for more prospects, making a drink or other unnecessary tasks. The key is to make call, after call, after call to keep the energy up.

2. Give yourself a target to aim at.
Start your calling sessions with a target number of calls or appointments to make. This gives you something to aim for and makes it that more tougher to give up half way through!

3. Stay focused.
Don't allow yourself to get distracted during calling sessions. Turn off your e-mail, don't let colleagues interrupt you and don't take incoming calls!

The key to successful cold calling is to keep up the momentum and avoid distractions. Spending time 'cherry picking' your prospects only leads to wasted time, energy and opens the door for the competition to come in and close the deal ahead of you!

by Andy Preston, director of training company Outstanding Results, for our sister site,

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