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Hiring a Student for your Prospecting?

At this time of year many organizations turn to students to staff their various departments.

While I am never really surprised when a hotel Director of  Sales & Martketing tells me that they are looking to hire a student to help with their prospecting efforts, I do wonder whether they realize what they may be in for.

After all, would a Chef consider hiring a student with no cooking experience to cook up a VIP dinner?  The same might be said for putting an inexperienced individual on the phone to develop new business relationships with prospective clients.

Yet I realize it is often because of budgets that this choice is made -- and often it's because the General Manager or Hotel Controller won't free up the funds. So if you are looking to hire a student to help you with prospecting efforts this summer, I recommend you keep the following in mind:

Be clear on the qualities and characteristics that you are looking for an individual in this capacity.  What makes a good prospector? Someone with the gift of the gab? Or someone with good listening skills? Given a choice between the two, I would argue good listening skills.

While it may be tempting to get an extroverted, fast talking individual, it may be wiser to look for someone who is a bit more reserved, yet inquisitive and focused on finding worthwhile information. After all the relationship building process will fall back to your sales managers. Find someone who loves to uncover information rather than someone who loves to talk.

Provide this new team member with a very clear picture of the information you require and expect from online research or from a phone call. Give them examples of a lead; have them review your target market descriptions, or better yet, work out a Perfect Customer profile with them. Have them understand what customer conditions or needs must exist for a worthwhile business relationship to be undertaken with a meeting professional.

Have them work out a script with you. With the understanding of course that no call will never go according to script. But having prepared questions is essential to successful making calls.

Pay careful attention to their introduction. Make sure that they properly identify themselves and the purpose of their call and ask for permission prior to continuing the conversation. Having the caller recognize upfront that their prospecting call will be an interruption helps ease any potential tension with the prospect. This may sound something like this, "Mr. Planner, my name is Doreen and I'm calling from Greenfield Services. I know you weren't expecting my call. Did I catch you at a bad time?" Having an introduction that decidedly does NOT sound like a telemarketing or prospecting call is another secret to success.

Depending on the data you provide to your student, ensure that they conduct the proper research. If the information comes from your own CRM, they need to know where to find any history or past relationship information so that they can execute the call accordingly.

And if you're having them work from a cold list, teach them how to look up crucial information on a website. If the prospective organizations are associations, most would have some meeting history on their website. If they are a third-party meeting planner, some of that information also may be gleaned from their website. Of course if this is for a corporate organization, the information may not appear anywhere on their website, but it may be in other sources such as LinkedIn Events (look under the “More” section in the LinkedIn tabs). If the information isn’t readily available, you may need to brainstorm with your student and come up with a list of the TYPES of meetings that different corporate organizations could be holding (e.g. pharma accounts will have physician consultation meetings, continuing medical education meetings, etc.).

Outline clear expectations for your student in terms of call volume, call completions, and pace. Since online research may be required, how many calls you expect them to do per hour? How many of those will lead to completions versus voicemail, numbers not in service, and other dead ends? How will they handle gatekeepers? Will they leave messages, and if so will they call back the students or the sales manager?

Call metrics are difficult to establish because they depend on the quality of the data and the market that is being targeted. Under normal circumstances however, a professional prospector may be expected to perform according to the following metrics;

  • Complete an average of 4 to 6 records per hour, assuming up to three attempts per record. This accounts for the need to circumvent voicemail, absences from the office, et cetera.
  • Over the course of the day this may mean an average of 28 to 42 completed records. Of course, since multiple attempts will take place, in the early days of a prospecting campaign, completions will be much lower.  But completions should pick up after the first couple of weeks.
Prospecting is such a grueling task, and that’s why most salespeople hate it.  So how will you supervise this youngest member of your team and keep him/her motivated? Don't forget that their ego may still be fragile depending on the level of experience they have working in this capacity. They may find rejection hard to take; even experienced sales reps have a hard time with rejection (click here for some of our own Greenfield staff tips on keeping a positive focus). How will you make sure that a student is prepared for this?

Hiring a student may be a less expensive option from a monetary standpoint, but be prepared to invest time in their development and ongoing progress. On the upside, with the proper guidance, your student may turn out to be a star performer you would want to hire on your sales team permanently.