TALKING SALES 57: “How to prospect – by one of the masters”



SteveHallSteve Hall is a master at prospecting.

In this interview Steve tells John Smibert how he achieves very high success rates at opening doors to senior executives.

It’s a prospecting lesson for us all. He uses a case study to help us understand how he does it. See the video and the transcript of the interview below.


Steve is a thought leader in sales. He’s an author and writer, most notably for BRW, and his focus is on helping people sell more effectively at higher margins.

See more of the ‘TALKING SALES’ series here


John: Welcome back, Steve!

Steve: Thank you, John!

John: Talking about selling at the executive level and talking about the subjects we covered, like building rapport and asking questions and getting in the customers shoes, the first thing you’ve got to do is get in front of the customer.

Steve: That’s right.

John: The whole prospecting thing. I know you are one of the experts at prospecting, I’ve seen you in play and I’ve seen some of the results you’ve got for some of your customers. Tell me, how do you make it successful? It’s got to be one of the toughest things in sales.

Steve: It is tough, John, and it’s become tougher with voice-mail, particularly executives having PA’s or executive assistants. A lot of people won’t even give out emails these days.

John: That’s true.

Steve: So the question is, how do you get their attention to start with? Some senior executives will get 30, 40, 50 sales calls a day, and some of those…

John: A day?

Steve: They do. In fact, there was one lady at a major airline, who was a CIO, she was getting so many calls that they had to put in an extra assistant just to handle her sales calls.

John: Wow!

Steve: But, the challenge that they have is that: sure, a lot of those are a waste of time, but some of those people she wants to speak to, he or she wants to speak to – because, you know, they do have problems. The question is, which ones? So, if you’re prospecting then your job is to show the people you’re calling why they need to speak to you and why you’re the one they should choose to speak to.

John: Okay, that makes sense. So, how do you do that?

Steve: Well, the first thing you need to do, of course, is to think about what they care about, it comes back to putting yourself in their shoes. Let me give you an example. About 18 months ago we had that was a digital agency, and as a digital agency they did everything. Develop websites, Adwords, shopping baskets – the whole box and dice.

John: Lots of those around.

Steve: And they wanted us to help them get into some large retailers.

John: Right.

Steve: In fact, they chose retailers specifically for this reason.

John: Okay.

Steve: So, we said “Okay. What can these people do that retailers care about?” and what was a big issue at the time was ‘on-line’ competition.

John: Okay.

Steve: So, on their behalf we contacted all the major retailers in our area, and we basically said “We want to schedule a meeting with you to talk about how we can help you compete better with on-line retailers.”

John: Okay.

Steve: And it went gang-busters! You know, we got them 30 senior executive meetings and they brought a substantial amount of business out of that, because we weren’t talking about digital marketing or search engine optimisation, we were talking about something that was top in the mind of the people we were getting through to (how to compete with the emerging on-line retailers).

John: It reminds me a little bit of the old trigger effect, or triggering and prospecting: you identified something that is triggering in their minds at a particular point in time, and you focused on that. So, you’re putting yourself, again, in the shoes of the customer and what their current situation is likely to be and what they’re likely to be facing right now.

Steve: That’s true. That’s important and that’s key, but it’s not the only thing. Because how do you get that message to them? I mean, there are different ways that you can get a message to a senior executive. What can happen when you call a senior executive? There’s only a limited number of things: you get their voice-mail, you get their PA, you get their PA’s voice-mail, if you speak to the PA then the PA’s likely to say “What do you want? Who are you from? What’s it about?” and then say “Send me an email.” So you need to be prepared for all of those eventualities.

John: And then you do send the email?

Steve: You need to know that if you get a voice-mail what message you leave. If you speak to a PA what do you say? If you send an email, what does the email say?

John: So, when you prospect then you should be using all those medium.

Steve: Absolutely.

John: So, social media?

Steve: Social media as well, LinkedIn – absolutely.

John: LinkedIn particularly.

Steve: Yes.

John: Yes. Email, voice, and on the list goes.

Steve: What you’re trying to do is get a consistent, single message. It’s a multi-channel single message, and that single message is that I want to talk to you about helping you to do x, where x is a thing they care about, and you get that message to them via many channels until you get a response.

John: It’s really important that you spot on x.

Steve: Yes, but you need to do your research; absolutely. But let’s not forget, that message is a non-intrusive message, so if you miss out on x then you can always come back in three months’ time with y.

John: Okay. Sounds good! And with that method you get a pretty good hit rate.

Steve: We get an excellent hit rate, we get up to 20-30 percent of the people we’re targeting over a campaign – it’s not just one phone call.

John: And it really goes back to everything we’ve been talking about: putting yourself in the shoes of the customer, identifying how you’re going to bring value to the table, and so on.

Steve: Absolutely.

John: Steve, your advice is wonderful – thank you very much for your time!

Steve: My pleasure, John!

John: Look forward to our next discussion!

Steve: Thank you!


More interviews with Steve Hall:


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John leads three related organisations, Custell, Strategic Selling Group and Sales Masterminds APAC. These help B2B selling organisations, who recognise the need to transform their sales capability, to respond to the tsunami of change that is starting to wash over us all. He works with people who recognise that to survive they must more strategically support their customer in their buying journey - and understand that they must become specialists in the customer's domain in order to be of value to them. He also helps sales teams build differentiated personal brands and leverage the digital and social worlds to engage to create trust and value.

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