Originally our IT Sales Playbook was going to be three installments, but the actual concept of converting leads into clients needed a little more attention, so we’ve decided to devote a little more time to Part Two. If you need to catch up, you can find the first two installments in this series here and here.

When it comes to sales prospecting, most sales coaches and trainers classify potential clients in four stages. The first stage is a suspect. A suspect is someone about whom you know very little (or nothing).  Imagine opening the phone book and pointing to a random company – that is a suspect.  If you operate in a specific vertical, then a suspect can be defined as anyone in your target market, industry, or vertical.

Next is the prospect.  A prospect is a person or organization that used to be a suspect until you learned a little about their organization and possibly what IT challenges they are facing.  A prospect has indicated an interest in your offering in some way.  You meet with the prospect and learn that they will be soliciting proposals for an IT services contract.  Now they are a lead.  They have a need or interest that you may be able to address and you have both agreed to continue building a relationship based on that need or interest.  Win the business and they are a client or customer.

Our playbook uses an analogy that is familiar to many people: romance.

Sales funnel suspect and prospect

A typical sales funnel. What does it mean?
Image courtesy of Cowan Creek

Suspects:  Suspects are everyone in your target market. Let’s say you are a twenty-five year old female hoping to marry someone of the opposite sex and start a family. In your case, your suspects are adult, unattached men. All of them.

Prospects: Prospects are the men that you might connect with who may also desire marriage and having a family.

Leads:  Leads are all the men you meet that have enough commonality (attraction, interests, morals and beliefs, etc.) to move forward in an actionable way.

Client: In business you can have many clients, but for the purposes of your romantic endeavor and desire to wed and have a family, we’ll presume you can only have one. Client = Husband. The analogy should be easy to understand. You start with a pool of suspects, which narrows to prospects, then leads, then an eventual client through a series of actions.

We’ve already covered the suspect portion of the process, since everyone you encounter is a potential client.   But the next stage is where things get a little fuzzy. Why? Because when most people in business talk about “lead generation,” they are really talking about prospecting.  Using the analogy above, going on dates is often a fun experience. Meeting other people for the first time, however, can feel complicated and awkward for many of us.   It’s the same in business: working with leads can be exhilarating, while actually finding prospects can feel complicated and awkward. If you look at your own process for adding clients and generating more revenue, the place you likely need help isn’t in courting leads but rather in having enough prospects to engage with in the first place. Rarely do you hear someone say, “All of these great leads are bringing me down!” Just as you almost never hear someone complain, “I have way too many great people to go on dates with!”

Unfortunately, dating websites work substantially better than lead generation websites.  Finding IT sales prospects is much more like “meeting someone” before the internet began. While we have covered a number of ways to get your message out so prospects can find you, most of your effective prospecting is going to come through your own networking.  You are going to have to start the conversation, just like you were trying to find a date.

Thankfully, these conversations are simple to start!  You only have to do three things.

1. Ask Questions. There will be absolutely no discussion of your company, your offerings, or your services.  You are only interested in the other person. People love to talk about themselves and the things they find interesting. Your role in the conversation is to get them talking.

2. Demonstrate Authority. If you are forced to talk because the other person has asked you a direct question, your answer should demonstrate authority, but be succinct enough to put the attention back on to them.

3. Keep the conversation from ending. Whether you ask for their business card or schedule a meeting over coffee the next morning, you want an avenue for this conversation to continue.

Casual conversation.

Turning suspects to prospects is simple.
Image courtesy of Dawn Lennon.

That’s it!  Turning suspects to prospects is that easy.  Turning a suspect (anyone around you) into a prospect (possible leads) is a matter of listening and learning and nothing else. But what questions should you ask? And how do you demonstrate authority? Here’s an example of a conversation that might take place at a networking event between Stan, the owner of an IT Managed Services company, and Mary, a partner in a CPA firm.

STAN: “Hi, I’m Stan. I don’t believe we’ve met. What’s your name?”

MARY: “I’m Mary.”

S: “It’s nice to meet you Mary. What organization are you with?”

M: “I’m a partner at Smith, Jones, and Lions…we’re a CPA firm.”

S: “Interesting, I’m not familiar with your practice. Tell me more about it…”

M: “Well, we work primarily with businesses for returns and filings…everything from payroll taxes to quarterly filings.”

S: “I see. Do you work primarily with large companies or small businesses?”

M: “Primarily small businesses.”

S: “How long has the practice been in business?”

M: “About 8 years.”

S: “Wow, that’s amazing.  We work with a number of CPAs and tax attorneys and it’s a competitive sector.  Thriving for eight years is impressive.”

M: “Really? What do you mean you ‘work with a number of CPA’s?’ What do you do for them?”

S: “We provide security for their non-public client data. Everything from electronic copies of client returns to helping maintain Quickbooks and Peachtree databases.”

M: “We have a server in house and handle all the data backups ourselves.”

S: “Good! Having backups is key. A client’s office flooded last year and it wiped out their server.  Thankfully we were keeping their data safe in another location, so getting back up and running was a breeze. You are keeping your backups off-site, aren’t you?”

M: “Well…we usually keep our data on an attached drive there in the office. I’d never thought about something happening in the building.”

S: “Do you have a card?  If you’re interested, I’d be glad to make some suggestions on how to make it even more reliable and secure. No charge for that, I’m just interested in learning more about how you are using technology and it’s always nice to be familiar with other businesses in the community.”

Always ask for contact info or a business card

Always keep the conversation going.
Image courtesy of Bryce Beamer

Stan has turned a suspect into a prospect.  It’s possible he will never bring Mary on as a client, but the short conversation they just had has moved her CPA firm from a completely unknown quantity to a prospect in a few short minutes. Stan learned about how her business was using technology (in-house server, remote attached storage) and demonstrated authority (discussing bookkeeping software, referring to his other CPA clients). It is early in their relationship, but Mary is likely to think of Stan as a knowledgable resource more than a pushy salesperson. Stan now can stay in touch with Mary and begin building the trust necessary to factor in to her IT decisions in the future. Maybe Smith, Jones, and Lions will quickly contract with Stan to handle their storage needs. Or maybe nothing will come of it at all.  But either way, Stan now has a prospect to work with.

Stay tuned for part four in our series, and click here to learn more about Mosaic NetworX authority when it comes to data centers, network services, and communications.