If you enjoy the sales process, then you’re either great at selling or lying about it. It’s okay. No one actually enjoys the sales process. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 39% of salespeople actually intended to go into sales.
The other 61% view sales as necessary evil, best left to the slick-talking boardroom executives. Such sentiments may work in the corporate world, but here, in the Built World, sales people need to be more than slick.
- They need to be proactive.
- They need to be prepared, and, most importantly,
- They need to create winning proposals.
Burdened with the time-consuming task of proposal management, AEC sales professionals must also qualify leads, discover new RFP opportunities, and keep their pipeline full of promising prospects. It’s a tall order. Fortunately, this prospecting strategy guide for AEC firms has everything you need to discover qualified leads, craft the perfect approach and ensure the success of your sales efforts.
AEC Prospecting Strategy Guide: Tips, Techniques and Tools to Succeed
We begin with a scenario that every salesperson will recognize, i.e. a seller doing their best to impress a potential customer, who could care less about the sale, the salesperson or the product. The potential customer cuts the conversation short with a half-hearted promise to look into the product/service, only to disappear into the miasma of gatekeepers, receptionists and office administrators.
The sale is effectively dead. The salesperson? Increasingly frustrated and confused as to why their pitch – so carefully crafted – falls flat everytime they use it. Fortunately, the problem isn’t the pitch or the salesperson. It’s the prospect.
Sales Qualification: How to Identify a Qualified Prospect
If the salesperson had qualified the prospect as someone with a genuine interest in their service, they would have plied their craft on an interested audience, instead of pouring effort into a sale that was never going to happen in the first place.
That’s why sales qualification is so important, because it enables your sales team to identify good-fit customers for your firm. This means prospecting to find leads who truly need your service to solve the challenges they face.
What is Sales Prospecting
Prospecting is a lead qualification process that ensures that every potential customer you approach has a genuine interest in your service or the potential to be a good fit. The goal of the process is to move prospects through the sales funnel until they convert to revenue-generating customers.
Why is Sales Prospecting Important for AEC Firms
Sales prospecting is important to every business, but especially important to AEC firms who use the process to seek out potential opportunities, but also:
- Weed out red flags – by removing unqualified leads from their prospecting list.
- Narrow their focus – so you can concentrate on the leads that show promise.
- Build a rapport – to earn the trust of decisions-makers at large.
At this point, it’s important to note the differences between Leads and Prospects, so that your sales and marketing teams can communicate effectively as they enact your prospecting strategy.
Lead Versus Prospect: What’s the Difference
The primary difference between a lead and a prospect is the value and potential that they provide to your business. Leads are potential customers who’ve expressed interest in your firm through behaviors like:
- visiting a landing page,
- subscribing to a newsletter, or
- signing up for a free trial.
Prospects, on the other hand, are leads that have been qualified and shown to align with your target audience and buyer personas. Though, you won’t know for sure if a prospect is worth your time until you establish a sales qualification process.
It’s important to note that the goal of your nurture process is the same for leads and prospects i.e. nurture both until they become customers. Said nurture process begins the moment you start prospecting and ends the moment you close the deal.
How to Prospect for New AEC Opportunities
Sales prospecting saves time and effort, but only if it’s done correctly. Done wrong, sales prospecting is a time-wasting process that leads your sales team in the wrong direction. So, it’s important to get it right.
Collect Client Data: Research Your Loyal Clients and Their Business
The best place to start prospecting for new customers is, in fact, your existing client database, where you can identify the kinds of patterns and trends that define your ideal client. Start by narrowing down your list of clients to five or ten of your “best” clients, each of whom should share the following characteristics:
- Stability – Will the company be in business for the foreseeable future?
- Loyalty – How long has the business been a client?
- Viability – Does the business comply with your normal sales cycle?
- Productivity – Is the business organized, timely and efficient in how they work?
- Profitability – Is the business likely to generate a high ROI?
Be cautious, however, as data alone cannot provide the full picture. Studies show that half of the prospects in your database (50%) are likely a poor fit for your service. So, don’t assume that just because a company is in your database that they are a good fit for your firm.
Interview Existing Customers: Identify the Problems That You Solve
As you mine your database for client information, you should also interview existing customers to determine their values; what they want from your firm, and why they continue to work with you. To get the most out of your existing client interviews, be sure to create a list of questions that will help you achieve your overarching goal. You should also utilize follow-up questions to clarify important points — especially when something seems unclear or confusing.
Note: Open-ended questions are always better than “yes or no” questions because they allow the interviewee to express themselves fully and explore topics that you may not have thought to discuss.
Sales Qualifying Questions to Identify Top Customers and Worthy Prospects
Here we list a number of useful sales qualifying questions to identify worthy prospects. Once you’ve collected the data and gathered enough testimonies, you can compile that information into a functional client profile.
- What business problems do you solve with our service?
- What prompted you to do something about it now?
- What prevented you from addressing the issue before?
- Have you tried to solve this problem before? Why did that solution not work?
- Do you have a budget allocated for this project? If not, when do you expect to have one?
- What happens if you do nothing about the problem?
- How would the decision process work with an offering like this? What would be your role in the process, and the roles of others on the decision team?
- What hurdles could crop up and derail this project?
- What does success look like to you, both in terms of qualitative and quantitative results?
- Based on what you’ve seen so far, do you think our offering could be a viable solution for your problem?
Create an Ideal Customer Profile with Pain Points and Solutions
The next step in the process is to create an ideal client profile, populated with the pertinent information you collected in the previous step. Here is where you apply what you learned from your top existing customers to determine what your ideal new customer will look like.
Don’t forget to identify the pain points that your ideal customers may have and, most importantly, how your service solves them.
How to Create an Ideal Client Profile
For your ideal client profile to be effective, it should be divided in five sections, including the professional background and motivations of important decision-makers, as well as the needs and background of the companies themselves.
Step One: Create Professional Profile
As you will be communicating directly with decision-makers, it’s important to understand as much as possible about them, including:
- The role they fill,
- The skills they need,
- The tools they use,
- The responsibilities they manage,
- The KPIs that they measure, and
- The goals they aim to achieve.
Step Two: Determine How Your Ideal Customer Consumes Content
To ensure that your content marketing strategy aligns with your prospecting strategy, you need to determine how these decision-makers consume content, especially:
- The websites they visit,
- The publications they read,
- The professional associations they belong to,
- The conferences they attend,
- The social networks they use, and
- The influencers that they follow.
Step Three: Collect Company Information
As well as identifying the background and behavior of decision-makers, you need to discuss the company itself, like:
- Revenue, and
Step Four: Uncover Pain Points and Solutions
This section is where you can draw heavily on the interviews and secondary research you conducted, as these activities will have given you a lot of insight into the problems that your ideal clients face. Remember, pain points are often categorized into four areas:
- Support, and
Step Five: Establish Personal Characteristics
It’s a lot easier to collaborate with clients that you enjoy working with. It’s helpful, therefore, to identify certain customer characteristics, such as:
- Their values,
- Their personal attributes, and
- What excites you about working with them.
This last step may sound trivial, but if you are able to attract clients with whom you can build positive working relationships, then they are far more likely to become repeat clients and continue to generate revenue in the long term.
Prioritize Prospects By Viability and Likelihood of Success
At this stage in the prospecting process, you should have an ideal client profile and enough information about your existing customers, their pain points and why they value your service to prioritize your prospects based on their likelihood of becoming a customer.
Prioritizing prospects is a valuable practice because it enables you to dedicate your strongest efforts to prospects that are most likely to become customers. Note that levels of prioritization will vary between different types of organizations. Though, your main focus should be to create multiple prospect categories based on their likelihood to buy.
How to Assign Value to Prospects: Add Qualifying Dimensions
Fortunately, there is an equation to help you add qualifying dimensions to your prospects and prioritize them based on their importance to the sales process. Let’s say, for example, that the size of the opportunity is more important than timing in terms of closing a deal, therefore, it receives a 70% whereas timing would receive a 5%.
Prospect’s Value X Dimension’s Weight
Now you can assign a value between 1 and 100 to these dimensions for each prospect in your list. The next step is to multiply each prospect’s value by the percentage weight you gave to the dimension. Add up these dimension scores until each prospect has a total score. Your entire prospect list should now have a ranking in terms of priority.
Craft Your Approach: Align Sales and Marketing
With your ideal client profile and prospect list in hand, it’s time to craft a personalized pitch for each prospect. Fortunately, you should already have all of the information you need to personalize your outreach, align your sales and marketing efforts, and help your AEC firm when new business.
Iterate on Your Prospecting Process
Now it’s time to iterate on your prospecting process to make it easier in the future. It’s best to keep detailed notes throughout the process to assess what activities generated value for the salesperson and which wasted their time. After each contact with a prospect, assess how well you:
- Discovered challenges,
- Created well-defined goals,
- Confirmed availability of budget,
- Understood the decision-making process,
- Determined consequences of inaction, and
- Identified potential results of success.
The last thing left to do is to pull what you learned together into a central, easy-to-read document to serve as a reference point for all of your sales efforts, marketing materials and campaigns. A digital asset management system, like OpenAsset, can help you do that and much, much more.
Equip Your Firm with the Tech They Need to Build Leads and Relationships
Designed specifically for firms in the built world, OpenAsset makes it easier to share and manage the multitude of digital assets needed to not only create winning proposals, but manage and share the sales collateral you need to close deals and win more business.