The One Piece of Sales Prospecting Advice That Changed My Career

ClosingSales Development
sales prospecting tips career success

I’ve been in sales now for nearly ten years. When I first set foot into the role, I panicked at the idea of sales prospecting. How was I going to do cold outreach and convince people to speak with me?

I like to put relationships first, so the thought of picking up the phone or sending an email asking for someone’s time to let me pitch to them was the rudest thing I could imagine.

I started to hit the pavement and had some success, but it never seemed to be with the right targets. The people I wanted to talk to weren’t interested in responding to my emails.

Life was rough…

The Golden Rule of Sales Prospecting

I spent some time with one of my mentors, Jim Durham, who kindly suggested that I scour his LinkedIn for connections. He was then the Chief Marketing Officer of a prominent law firm and was incredibly well connected.

He trusted me to reach out to anyone that I’d love to meet with and mention that we know each other. How could I turn down this generous offer?

What happened next was incredible, and here’s what I learned:

1. Show Me You Know Me – SMYKM.

My team and mentees would tell you that this acronym may eventually be my first tattoo because I think it is the key to sales. This tactic is the heart and soul of how to prospect and runs through every point below.

Here’s the gist: when you’re on the prospect’s side, successful prospecting doesn’t feel like prospecting. It feels like somebody has already done the research about what you need, and has proven quickly that they understand you and they can help you.

2. Your subject line is EVERYTHING.

My first two dozen emails buried the lead, as journalists say. I only mentioned Jim towards the bottom of my email, almost as a footer, rather than making it my headline.

I basically made my pitch and then said, “oh, and by the way, I know Jim.”

As soon as I changed this, the email responses came pouring in. My subject line read, “Account Inquiry, from a friend of Jim Durham’s”

Like many of your target prospects, I receive an average of 100 unsolicited emails a day – yes, every day. The subject line is the first line of evaluation to whether or not I’ll open it.

The unfortunate part here is that I may even be in the market for what many of them are selling, but I need to be convinced to open the email first.

3. Your first sentence is almost as important.

This is a highly underrated sales prospecting tip. Keep in mind that your prospects are reading your emails in one of two places – as a pop up at the bottom hand of their screen, or on their phones.

All they see before they decide if they’re going to delete is the subject line and a hint of the first sentence. Make it meaningful so that they don’t just swipe left and delete you.

4. Not everyone has a Jim in their life.

But what you do have is access to incredible tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google in general. Your success rate of getting a response to an email will be infinitely better if you focus on a SMYKM aspect in the subject line and throughout the text.

5. SMYKM can be achieved in a variety of ways.

The first thing I coach my reps on is to look for a prospect’s previous set of employers. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Did they work at a company that is an existing client of ours and is in good standing? (If so, reference that in the subject line!)
  • Did that prospect attend your alma mater, or go to a school for which you actively cheer?
  • Is that person involved in any activities or charities that are tied to your passions?

If you struggle to find commonalities, also look for awards they’ve won or anything they’ve recently published across social media.

One side tip on that last remark. I once found a great article that a CEO had posted on Twitter and sent it to a former rep on another team. The article was a road map of exactly how to prospect and what not to do to get a C-Suite’s attention.

I sent the article to the rep and noted, “This is gold – use this to reach out to him!” Rather than reading the article, the rep sent it along, mentioned a few things in his email and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, the rep did precisely what the CEO said not to do, and we still haven’t gotten in that particular door. So, take the time to read what you reference.

6. Stretch yourself.

Remember, SDRs at your competitors have access to those same resources, and can do the same research!

Successful sales prospecting requires more work than it used to. Think strategically about the person you’re reaching out to. There is a certain seniority in title that is going to demand that you do more than the status quo.

At my company, one of our dream titles is Director (or above) of Demand Generation. When a rep emails this person, it needs to be SMYKM, but also extremely value driven.

What are the reps saying in those emails that convinces those prospects that they are worthy of their time?

How are they showing value, and displaying a level of intelligence and expertise that will convince someone like that to give them 15 minutes to hear their value proposition? It’s easy to get lazy and send out the same generic messaging while altering your subject line, but you gotta be smart here.

7. Don’t be basic.

Effective sales prospecting requires you to set yourself apart from the hundreds of other companies that are competing for your target customer’s attention. Think strategically about what you can deliver to them that drives value.

Are they responsible for global marketing? Find an article the speaks specifically to how to scale content across a global audience. Find something they’ve posted about a struggle they’ve had or a question they’ve posted on a forum, and answer it with your own data or company’s documentation.

Once you can consistently SMYKM, there is still plenty of room to improve. Continue to stand out from the crowd of basic SDRs by creating systems and processes for scaling your now ultra-effective outreach.

Some ideas to try:

  • A/B test your subject lines and templates to further optimize for reply rates.
  • Test timing of sends on multiple touches.
  • Try reaching out on different channels.

Key Takeaways

  • Show value and that you did your homework. If you don’t show that you put the time in, they won’t be open to giving you their time in the first place.
  • Find commonalities at all costs! Be creative.
  • Show you know them by noting something significant in the subject line.
  • Show you know them in the text of the email by finding another commonality of some kind.
  • Make sure your subject line and the first sentence are always compelling.

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