Decades ago, I first heard a sales trainer describe the importance of recognizing prospects from the vast field of suspects. The point rang true for me so I've been conscious of it ever since in my own sales and marketing efforts. As a small business consultant, I have trained clients on how vital it is. It's more important than improving your selling technique. In fact, figuring out the difference is part of having great selling techniques.
Small business people, and multilevel marketing reps, often view the entire community as their prospects. That's why so many of them used to run ads in general circulation newspapers and then were surprised at the poor results they were getting.
It's also why sales people become frustrated in their prospecting activities. You waste your time when calling on people with no cars if you are trying to sell them tires. The same is true about everything in life. Most people fall into the category of suspects, even if you think that they should need your products and services.
Lesson Learned the Hard Way about Ideal Prospects versus Suspects
When I owned my small business that did printer maintenance, I wanted to get into higher end fax and multipurpose machines because people bought them with service contracts that covered maintenance and toner. I figured that a showing them the true cost of ownership of a cheap multi-function inkjet would cause prospects to appreciate the benefit of switching.
Things that Would Have Marked Suspects as Prospects
The mistake I made was in considering small business people to be prospects instead of going after larger businesses, large law firms and colleges where at least three factors would have made a big difference.
- More potential products and contracts per sale
- Greater appreciation of the return on investment from a lower cost of ownership
- Understanding of the value of having equipment serviced regularly for fewer problems and greater reliability under heavy workloads
Only later did I realize that I wasted my time. Really small businesses operate on such a financial shoestring that buying an inkjet was better because the price was less up front and there was no contract monthly. Even though the cost of ink cartridges was outrageous in comparison to my offer, they could deal with the purchase when it happened, not now.
This experience happened years ago when my understanding of my ideal customer profile was more intuitive than actually thought out. Today I look more closely at figuring out who my ideal customer is and what they have in common so that I can aim my marketing messages to fit what they are looking for. In other words, my selling technique now involves focusing on real prospects and ignoring the much larger numbers of suspects. I make more sales this way.
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