Before you ever pick up the phone for prospecting, you have to determine whether the person you’re calling fits your ideal prospect profile.

To understand your target audience, you must know your company’s value offering like the back of your hand. It’s very difficult to sell a product that you don’t understand or truly believe in. Furthermore, if you don’t understand your own company, this will be evident to your prospects the instant you open your mouth.

Let’s assume you fully understand your business’ value proposition and can succinctly explain it. That’s not enough -- the other side of the equation is understanding your prospects. You need to know their background and what makes them tick. You need to gather quite a bit of information to determine whether your prospect fits your buyer persona.

Here are some of the guiding questions I use.

1) How senior is your prospect?

I despise overgeneralizations, but when youre dealing with prospects you don't know, you need to make some assumptions so you’re prepared to handle their objections effectively.

I find that senior executives tend to be very set in their ways, having successfully navigated the business world for years. On the other hand, junior employees are often more receptive to new technologies, strategies, and ideas.

In addition, make sure you’re speaking to someone who possesses an adequate amount of authority to consider your product. Don’t waste time engaging someone who can’t at least advance the sales process in some way.

I prefer a top-down approach to prospecting. Even if a C-level executive won’t agree to a call with you, a warm handoff to someone on their team is gold.

Also take into consideration the prospect’s familiarity with their industry and level of education. Education is important because you need to address your prospects properly. For example, I wouldn’t advice calling Dr. Robert Sacamano “Bob.”

2) Who do they typically report to?

Determine early on if you’ll have to get your prospect’s manager’s approval as well as their own. Engaging all relevant stakeholders from the beginning of the sales process is critical.

If you can’t determine this information on your own, do a little digging once you get your prospect on the phone. Here are two questions that reveal all the stakeholders:

  1. It sounds like you’re an ideal fit for our product. Who else would need to be involved in evaluating our solution?
  2. We typically schedule a consultative team conversation to get all stakeholders on the same page. Do you have access to your colleagues’ calendars?

3) Do they manage their budget?

Be sure to find out who controls budget. If your contact doesn’t control the purse strings, leverage your relationship to loop in the key decision makers that do.

4) Are you selling directly to your prospect or trying to get your foot in the door?

Never pick up the phone until you’ve established your goal. If you’re speaking directly to the decision maker, you’ll want to position yourself differently than if you’re warming up an influencer or champion. Get clear on who you’re talking to and what you hope to get out of the relationship before you kick off the conversation.

5) Can your prospect act as an internal champion for you?

An internal champion is someone at a target account who strongly believes in your offering and will help you navigate the inner workings of their company’s decision making process. It goes without saying that having a champion in your corner is incredibly valuable to a salesperson.

But to establish this kind of relationship, you’ll need to show an internal champion what they can get out of providing you internal information. Will your product make their job easier, help them get promoted, save the company money, drive efficiencies, etc.?

Before picking up the phone, ask yourself this question: “Why would this person take time out of their busy day to speak to me?” If you can’t think of a concrete reason or benefit, formulate one before engaging.

6) How long has your prospect held their position?

I’ve noticed business leaders new to their roles, whether through an internal promotion or external hire, are far more likely to implement a new solution or strategy in comparison to executives that have held their position for several years.

I find that new executives are usually looking to make a splash, and maintaining the status quo won’t get them the satisfaction or prestige they’re seeking.

Of course, this behavior depends on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to. Take note of the trends you observe among your target buyers.

7) Are they respected internally? Do they have pull?

The downside of talking with a relatively new and open-minded employee is that they may have little or no influence within the organization yet. And a prospect with no pull won’t get you very far in the sales process.

Strive to strike a balance between receptiveness and authority. Once you find a contact who falls into that sweet spot, add them to your target account list and continue to educate them until they’re willing to connect.

Every company has a different value proposition and targets different prospects. But no matter what, you must understand the background of your prospects, learn their hot buttons, and discover what incentivizes them to make decisions.

While you’ll discover some of this information through talking to your contact, you should also research them with these questions in mind before you reach for the phone. This way, you can tailor your conversation in a way that will best resonate with your prospect and drive the sale toward a close.

What do you make sure to find out before you call a prospect? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Originally published Sep 1, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

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Call Prospecting