My five second rule for prospecting

A LinkedIn Question got me thinking about this, so decided to blog about it. It's about my "secret" to successful sales when I was doing consulting.

In a previous life I did my own independent consulting, doing software, architecture, and strategy for my clients. I sold my own services - no third-parties, no brokers. So I had to be good at creating my own prospect pipeline.

I learned cold-calling, prospecting, and pipeline management while on the job (I did consulting for about eight years before I went to work directly for one of my clients - Whirlpool). It was quickly apparent that the difference between an engaging conversation on a phone call, or a return email/phone call was my ability to communicate to the other person "what's in it for me?" as quickly as possible. If I got the right message across, I was granted more time to give the other party a reason to keep listening. Repeat.

I dubbed this "the 5-second model"... basically you have five seconds to give the other party you are trying to convince a reason to give you five more seconds...until the other party is asking engaging questions. At which point you will have an engaged prospect and you can throw the 5-second rule away and enjoy a normal conversation.

To be clear, the "5-second" internal is a metaphor for being concise and to the point. Your timing will vary.

Your 5-second windows should revolve around the following, and in the following order:

  • What is the prospect's problem that you are trying to solve?

  • (optional) How are you aware of said problem?

  • What can you do to solve it?

  • Why are you credible in solving it?

While this sounds obvious, I see this rule broken all the time, including when people call me. You can't break it, and persistence is not a substitute for the 5-second rule.

So, why does this rule work?

  • People are busy. Duh, right? Unfortunately, a lot of people don't respect the time constraints of others. The 5-second rule respects those constraints.

  • People's cognitive thinking follow the 5-second rule. When confronted with a cold call, people generally ask "what does this person want?", "how did they find me?", "can this benefit me?", "can I trust this person?", "how can I learn more?". The structure above addresses those questions.

What's does this rule mean from a practical standpoint?

  • Research will yield a better result. While you could call lots of people as, say, a divorce attorney hoping to get lucky and stumble upon someone in marital dire straits, you can be more effective if you knew your audience ahead of time. In my case as a software consultant I researched the projects my prospect was working on, the technologies they used, and their current staffing levels and gaps.

  • No chit chat. Not in the first 30 seconds, anyway. Don't ask about their day. Tell them who you are only in the context of it being relevant to their problem. Get to the point!

  • Focus on the prospect's problem, not your solution. It may not be immediately apparent how your solution solves their problem. You can use one of the 5-second slots you've earned to talk about the solution and the fit to the problem.

  • It works regardless of delivery mechanism. Email, phone, brochure, you name it.

Try it. I was successful targeting VPs, GMs, SVPs, and even CXOs using this approach over eight years.

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