Get On Track

From the very beginning of sales careers, reps learn that if they play the numbers game, eventually they'll make the sales. It's true, and the most successful people - no matter what they're selling - live, sleep, and eat prospecting. 
But they should also know it's the quality of the time they spend prospecting that makes the difference - that it's not just the numbers that count. It's how they show qualified prospects the value they bring. 

Here are five ways they can do it: 

Realize that gatekeepers are golden. Sometimes the best way to storm the gate is to make friends with the gatekeeper. The decision-maker's assistant or secretary can be your greatest ally. When an assistant has been helpful to me, I call the receptionist to get the person's full name and address. Then I find a card to thank the person for his or her time, handwrite a line or two inside, insert my business card, and mail it immediately. That small step makes an amazing difference. 

Sell from the top down. One of the biggest mistakes a salesperson can make is to contact the wrong person or company. Later, it's hard to go over his or her head to the real decision-maker. 

Start the sales process with the head of the company. Even if you aren't able to speak with that person, you'll probably get his or her assistant, who can usually give you pertinent information about the company. Speak with the person who handles the purchase of your type of product or service, and note that you were referred to him or her by the president's office. If you reach the president, conducting business may be easier than you think. This executive earned the top spot by taking tough calls - and understands the tough call you've just made. 

Call during off hours. The best time to contact a key person is when the workplace is quiet - from 7:30 to 8 a.m. or 5:30 to 6 p.m. Call the Friday before holiday weekends when most people are in a good mood or already out of the office. Call Saturday mornings. Many high-level executives go into the office when it's empty to get work done, so they'll be more apt to speak with you if you're the only one calling. Plus, they'll see you're working hard and will likely continue to do so after you sell them something. 

Cultivate creativity. One of the most successful real estate agents I even met got most of her business through a gas station. She made friends with the attendant at the station she patronized and gave him her business card. The station was the first one off the highway in an area where many new homes were being built, so she asked the attendant to give her card to anyone who stopped to ask for directions or where to find a real estate agent. She made many new contacts this way. Remember this fortune saying: "Those who have a thing to sell and go and whisper in a well aren't so apt to get the dollars as one who climbs a tree and hollers."

Be tenacious. Try new ways to get accounts. Send prospects new and updated information that may be valuable to them. Or send them a chocolate sneaker with a card that says, "Now that I've got one foot in the door, I'll follow up with you soon to find out how we can help your organization." When the time comes to buy, it's your name, creativity, and tenacity they'll remember. 

Great salespeople have many traits in common. They ask smart questions, know how to close a deal, and have excellent follow-through. But the one trait they demonstrate more consistently than any other is constant prospecting, enhanced by creative approaches that build value and relationships. They see opportunities everywhere, and they know it's not just the numbers - but the numbers are what count. 

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