Is there anything worse than spending your week doing email prospecting and not setting any appointments?  Pretty much that’s always our prospecting goal, getting in front of a qualified buyer. I’ve written it here myself many times.  But what if instead of a trickle of “yeah, we are shopping for that right now, come by on Wednesday,” you hear crickets chirping.  That’s a sign that your prospecting “ask” is overshooting the mark.  There is some work that needs to be done ahead of the appointment ask in order for it to work.  

There’s a natural progression to the psychology of buying which includes first having the notion that you want it.  If your prospecting email is getting way ahead of that progression, by moving the target too quickly through that progression, they’ll probably just hit delete.  You may have inadvertently provoked the prospecting equivalent of “buy me a drink first.”  It comes off sort of inappropriate to ask if someone wants a meeting or a pilot when they aren’t totally clear what the heck your service is.   

While we’d love it if everyone just instantly “got us” and was enthralled with the idea of implementing our solution in their schools.  But 99 times out of 100, they don’t.  Buyers try not to talk to salespeople until their interest is stimulated through other means. In B2E that’s usually low level marketing, seeing a trade journal mention, hearing about it during a conference presentation, or a word of mouth reference.  The prospect who has all that going for you is in the handful that will read your email, and might even give you a meeting.  But he’s in the 1%.  Congratulations, you found him.  You can do better.

I realize I just gave you an insurmountable chicken and the egg problem:  Buyers won’t talk to you unless they already want your service, but you can’t get them to want your service without talking to them.  One solution is to exclusively work qualified leads that have already had their interest stimulated through marketing or a chance encounter like the one percenter above.  Fine for some, but not most of us.  More likely, B2E reps have to work the part of the sales pipeline that marketing usually owns exclusively, turning a cold prospect into a lead.  Recognize that the 1% guy is a different breed of prospect, let’s just calm him a warm prospect, and let’s work on how to deal with the other 99%, cold prospects.

Read some of your prospecting emails, and picture a recipient way to the left on your pipeline, a cold prospect who likely has never heard of your product and may not know how or why it is used.  Is the “ask” of that email too soon?  If your prospect is truly cold, the odds of closing a meeting, for example, are slim.  Your ask needs to scale back to something more appropriate for the coldness of the relationship. In doing that, you will likely see an uptick in response. 

Here are some “asks” that might start things off a little less abruptly

  1. Can you refer me to the person in charge of “x” in your school or district? How can a person refuse this ask.  If you didn’t clutter up the message with 100 words on your company, and stuck to just the main subject area, they might consider emailing you back the best person to talk to about your area.  Now guess what?  You get to write that person and say Bob Jones just referred you…put his name in the subject line. So particularly if it’s a high reaching contact, this is a pretty good ask.  It’s also a good one around a conference.  Write high up to find out who from the district is attending.  Then contact them to say good old Bob Jones mentioned you’d be attending ISTE and you’d like to invite them to have coffee during the break on Thursday morning.
  2. I invite you to use my resource. Got a company blog? Survey results? White paper? Video?  Recorded webinar?  This is a natural first step to a relationship, and while it’s often a marketing responsibility to draw attention to these resources, it can’t hurt to double efforts by personally inviting someone to follow the link.  You should also get a pingback through your marketing tools so you can track if the links were followed, and then you can thank them for checking it out and ask them if additional support in the area of [your value proposition] would be helpful at this time.  Word of caution:  Links in emails can trigger SPAM block. Use sparingly, and consider describing the resource instead of including a link, or spell out the “dot” as in dot com. 
  3. Ask your neighboring district about us. This is a great ask when you have a nearby reference.  You can include a paragraph describing the implementation, plus contact info if you have permission to use it.  This is hard for startups to pull off, so I’ll give you a couple more ideas…
  4. Connect on LinkedIn. This ask is less stalkery than it once was perceived.  If they open the invite, they might look at your profile.  That’s a first step to understanding your company.  If they accept your offer, you just turned on the marketing floodgate. Now, all of your LinkedIn updates will be in their feeds.  No telling how much influence those have, but it works for the active LinkedIn user.  Full disclosure, I don’t think LinkedIn is the social media platform of choice for Education.  So even though technically not an “ask,” follow your targets on Twitter.  They might follow you back, and again, that gives you a marketing floodgate where you can develop that low level persistent marketing message.  When the time is ripe, DM!
  5. Choose a free offer. This is an alternate if you have samples or a pilot, or other freebie to offer.  I know I said to avoid giving a prospect lots of choices, but I meant avoid lots of choices about how to respond to your email.  This is just a binary choice on one offer, as in, do you want the free Math or the Language Arts workbook?  A 2-week pilot or month-long pilot?  Would you like a red t-shirt or green one?  I’m grasping a bit, but it’s a long-standing belief that this technique of “assumptive close” shifts the decision from “am I interested?” to “do I want green or red?”  It might get you better response than a simple will you meet with me?

Apart from wanting to be “appropriate” in your sales prospecting to increase response rate, there’s another really important reason to scale back your email “asks” with cold prospects.  If you limit your conversations to qualified leads, the ones that marketing finds you or the ones you bump into because they are the only people responding to your higher level “asks,” you are going to be dealing with a person whose interest has already been stimulated.  Uh oh, what if it was stimulated by a competitor and now their idea of how to buy your category of service is biased toward another solution?  Or they are just giving you a chance to price compare?  Prospecting to cold leads, and doing so in a way that they’ll give you more than a 10 second glance before trashing your email, will put you in the enviable position of a person with the chance of instigating a target’s interest in your category of service.  You’ll be there first, and if you keep working that lead the right way, you’ll lock out your competition!

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