Sales Prospecting Lessons: Building out a Network

So I’ve been thinking about some of the success I had with sales prospecting, and it comes down to two factors: Grit, and Volume.

Let me elaborate on that. Grit is what drives you to continue to refine your process whether that’s identifying potential customers, tweaking your pitch, making one more call despite it being another “no,” and finally your ability to maintain the will to succeed despite all your failures.

Without grit, volume is irrelevant.

So, how do we do this in 2016? The Internet makes it easy to find potential customers, employers, or whatever, and to message/call them to build that relationship from scratch. As someone who’s knocked on doors, I can tell you definitively, that the Internet is an amazing tool to get started on any scale. So here’s some thoughts:

1. Start with LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the best tool to build out your professional network. And if you constantly focus on maintaining the relationships you have in the real world you’ll get the best value out of LinkedIn. I’ve had the opportunity to start important conversations simply because the person I wanted to connect with shared a few of my connections. This is always a great way to break the ice with someone. Reference that connection.

Another great strategy: connect with people within your school’s network. There’s likely a lot, even if the school is only a couple thousand students. People of all generations are on LinkedIn. And there’s a much stronger chance that going through a large list like this you’ll find a few meaningful connections you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Send a connection request first. Write a message thanking them after they accept.

2. Be helpful, don’t try to sell anything

I’m in sales. I never respond to sales inquiries. If however you have a product that can make an immediate impact on workflow, income, or otherwise, this doesn’t apply. Then by all means, tell me how you can help. For me though, I’m not in a position to buy a lot of products/services, and I’m not going to get back to you if we have no connection. Sucks right? So, I assume if I don’t like it, that there’s a chance that starting with a sales pitch isn’t going to work for me either. When I reach out to people I opt to do something entirely different. If there’s a chance this person could be a customer some day, I let them know “Hey, been following your work – loved this project or article you wrote” or whatever, “and wanted to get connected to get more familiar with your company.” My follow up is, “are you working on anything now?”

This usually gets a response like “Yeah, thanks for connecting, we focus on…”, “We have an upcoming project…” and sometimes it even results in a conversation on phone or Skype. But it’s a nice way to ease into the conversation.

3. Set a context for staying connected

You know relatively quickly when you’re connected with someone how many opportunities you’ll have with them, so it’s important to set a follow up. Sometimes that’s a phone call, sometimes that’s just following their content, their blog, their LinkedIn, and engaging them, and sometimes if you’re lucky it’s “let’s talk about this project this date/time.” Either way you need to set the expectation that you’re reaching out because their work is exciting and you want to support them however you can.