Eric Pehrson, account executive for Grand Rapids, MI-based Creative Studio Promotions (asi/170976) and a member of the Board of Directors for the Michigan Promotional Product Professionals Association (MiPPA), shares his expert advice on balancing prospecting and selling, gleaning important information on the front end and avoiding spinning your wheels.
You have to set aside time for prospecting during the week. You should have established clients and be looking to expand, but sometimes it’s hard to shift. There’s Client A right in front of you, and it’s hard to divert attention away to Client B. You don’t want to slight Client A. Still, schedule time for prospecting each week. It might be an hour, or maybe even just 30 minutes. LinkedIn and Google can help with a lot of the research. Make time for it and really focus on it.
I’m a big believer in cold-calling to prospect, but make it targeted. Spending five or 10 minutes researching a company can save you time down the road. Instead of taking a list of 100 prospects and just dialing, do deeper research on 10 of them. You increase your odds. It’s a more precise, scalpel-like operation instead of a shotgun blast. Find out how frequently they use promo. Check out their Facebook page and see if they have staff events, picnics and trade shows. It should give you a good overview. If everyone’s wearing a logoed shirt, that’s a good sign. It’s valuable intelligence. And if they don’t use promo, it’s an opportunity to say they should. Demand for branded apparel is actually much higher among employees than employers would expect.
The devil is in the details. You want clear guidelines for a project, so press for as much information as possible. They may not know the quantities and the exact budget at the time, but make sure to get that information. Ask them about their message. Sometimes they have a few details and you spend time on the presentation, everything is buttoned up, and then they say, “That’s way higher than our budget. We’re looking at $5 a person and this is $20.” Ask questions at the beginning. Of course, their expectations don’t always match up to reality. So, you need to be direct, especially if the back-and-forth isn’t going anywhere.
It can be overwhelming at first for customers because there’s so much cool stuff and they’re proud of their logo and want to put it on everything. But you need to take a step back and focus on what they actually need. If you’re not making headway, tell them, “I need more information to give you better recommendations. So, where’s the disconnect? Is it the budget? The theme? The message?” Don’t just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Ask, “How can I serve you better?” It’s an ongoing conversation, so you want to be as transparent as possible.
If it’s not going the way you thought it would, do a great job anyway and you earn their trust. If the order won’t be a good fit, don’t waste time on it. Just refer them elsewhere. It seems counterintuitive to our sales instincts, but clients are often very appreciative. Of course, give them a source that can get them what they need; don’t just say “No” and slam the door. Be upfront about it and find someone who can help them instead of not being able to get them what they want. It’s still a win-win. Tell them at the start that you can’t do it before you start investing resources. A fail can jeopardize the relationship, like when you have a big event and things don’t work out like you wanted them to, and the client’s upset. Be careful of trust-breakers. You don’t want to say yes and not be able to do it.
If you’ve been cold-calling, emailing and sending gifts and you’re hearing crickets, it might be time to ask for the no. Say to them, “Refer me to someone else in your company or let me know you’re not remotely interested.” It’s better to get a no than not know either way. And they appreciate being asked. Maybe it’s “Try Matt in marketing,” or “We’re completely set with our current provider.” That’s OK. Put it in your calendar to follow up, maybe six months down the line. But it’s good to know. Ask for a no so you’re not your wasting your time on someone who won’t buy.