You hear the word or term “prospecting” and you probably think of salespeople cold-calling on the phone or by email or heading to Alaska for dig for gold. On the other hand, anyone in business or a profession should prospect. The reason is prospecting is forming the most effective context for your future conversations.
If you function in any capacity where you need to influence others, you must know “where they are coming from.” So, by engaging them in periodic conversations, you can build an accurate context of what their interests, problems, goals and aspirations are. Now, here is the payoff: When you talk to them you know what questions to ask, what news may be of interest or what you or your organization can do to help them achieve their goals.
Here are a few suggestions translated from the sales vernacular to a professional development focus:
Nurture Open and Continuous Dialog
Remain positive and upbeat during your conversations so that you will foster and encourage future conversations. Think of this way: you want to have conversations that last beyond the introductory meeting process. Maintaining an upbeat tone is important. Also, ensure that the questions you ask or the statements you make either open-ended or allow multiple answers, respectively. Some open-ended example question stems might be: How could you …; would something like this help …? What are you top three concerns regarding …now?
An opening question can sometimes set a conversation up for success or failure. Guiding a conversation with the wrong question can end a discussion before it is even started. There may be highly specific questions that you want to ask, but make sure they are strategically positioned in the conversation so you have at least a more general idea of the target’s environment. Then you can structure more specific questions because you know enough to recognize whether they fit or pertain to the concerns of the prospect or not.
So, the big question is, “How do I know when or how to effectively ask questions?” The answer is Active Listening. Before we discuss active listening here is one caveat: Avoid asking the same questions, in the same order, regardless of what you have learned thus far in the conversation. A few tips for
Active Listening includes:
Rephrase (in your normal style) any statement the respondent makes. For example, you said that the market is soft. Could you help me to understand your comparison between this year vs last year?
Comparisons could also be helpful. For example, you said that your employee turnover is too high. Could you give me a comparison your turnover rate vs Smith’s candy Store just next door?
In addition to gathering pertinent information, this provides an opportunity for you to add something of value if you have some statistics, research or information that the respondent may be able to use. Additionally, you are demonstrating that you do not treat every situation the same. This helps to build trust and creates a professional foundation for subsequent contacts.
Build on Previous Knowledge
Active listening helps you to increase you knowledge and understanding of the respondent’s issues and concerns. This suggestion presupposes that you have done some preliminary research about the person business or organization that you are contacting. Initially, the respondent may now be willing to immediately open up to you initiative. This is when you can utilize your preliminary research.
Hopefully, you have some idea of the challenges they have within the company or organization that you can suggest some ideas or possible solution. Or, it could as simple as having read an article that suggest that you or your organization may be able to offer a solution or at least, some suggestions. The idea is to demonstrate how you can provide value based on some prior knowledge about the respondent’s issues and concerns.
Kindness and Respect
Finally, being respectful of your prospects’ or respondent’s time and building a relationship is an important part of the process of building and maintaining the relationship that you hope to build. Your goal is or should be to build rapport with your prospect or respondent to make taking your call as painless as possible. You don’t want to be just another stereotypical cold caller. Maintain a polite and friendly manner, regardless of how the respondent initially reacts to you.
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