During the past year, many people’s financial situations have changed dramatically. Cutbacks, downsizing and a need to do more with fewer resources dominate today’s economic climate. As a result, many networkers and salespeople are either getting more “no’s” or they’re getting no response at all from prospects.

The more “no’s” we hear, the more we tend to develop a fear of rejection and to dread prospecting in general. That’s when prospecting procrastination sets in: we’d rather spend our time answering e-mails and tweaking sales flyers than spend face time with potential customers.

To counter this problem, many sales training programs tout a “secret formula” that will make prospecting easier. They teach how to lead prospects, how to counter objections and how to close the sale. The problem is that all those suggestions are focused on the salesperson and not on the one person who matters the most in the interaction—the prospect.

To be great at prospecting when economic times are unstable, you need to reach beyond yourself and your fears and focus on the prospect. Here are some suggestions to help you revitalize your prospecting efforts.

1. Shift Your Internal Dialogue

What usually stops us in our tracks from performing is our internal dialogue. You know the messages:

“Why should I bother? He’s just going to tell me ‘no.’”

“She’s probably satisfied with her current situation, so why waste my time?”

“The last ten people told me ‘no,’ so why should this prospecting call be any different?”

Such internal messages are called negative projection. Realize that whenever you approach a prospect and believe he or she is going to blow you off or tell you “no,” that’s exactly the result you’ll get. People pick up on what you’re projecting and will respond accordingly.

So what’s the solution? Set positive expectations. When you have a genuinely positive thought about someone and believe your interaction will work out well, then you can’t fail. Even if the prospect doesn’t want to take your help, that’s okay; his or her reply has nothing to do with you. As long as you believe that the call will go well and you think well of the other person, you’ll no longer fear the actual act of prospecting—and that’s the main objective.

To put it another way, if you think you’re going to be rejected, you’re already in the experience of being rejected, which is what you’ll ultimately end up with. But if you expect a positive outcome, you’re creating the experience of success. Shift your internal dialogue to create the kind of experiences you want to have.

2. Make Selling about Your Prospects

In sales, you get paid in proportion to the number of people you serve and the degree to which you serve them. Therefore, the more you focus on your prospects and make the interaction about them, the higher your chances for success. Unfortunately, many salespeople are confused about what this means. They’ll open conversations by saying, “Hey, how’s it going? I’d like to tell you about a cutting-edge natural vitamin drink that can boost your energy while helping you lose weight.” While on the surface, such an approach might seem like it’s focused on the prospect, prospects know it for exactly what it is: a sales pitch, which is precisely what they don’t want to hear.

What do prospects want? They want to feel respected. They don’t want salespeople to begin a presentation with their own agenda. The first way to respect a prospect is to respect his or her time. A better way to open the prospecting call or visit is to simply ask, “Would it be okay if I asked you a question?” or “Is this a good time for us to meet?” Respecting your prospect from the first contact sets the stage for success. Therefore, always give a respectful introduction and make the initial contact about the person in front of you.

3. Listen to Validate

Good salespeople listen more than they talk, especially in the beginning of a presentation. Great salespeople take it a step further and practice what’s known as “listening validation.” In addition to simply listening to the prospect, they feed her back what she just said in a way that makes her feel understood. When you listen to validate, you listen for the feelings behind the prospects’ words—the intent and the motivation—and then replay the emotions back to the speaker.

Here’s an example of how listening validation works. Suppose you’re meeting with a couple in their home and you’ve just discussed your company’s new water filtering system. Your prospect says, “So we’re really looking for three things: one, price—we want a high-performing water filter that is competitively priced; two, reliability—we look for a company and representative we can trust; and three, a strong money-back guarantee—we can’t afford risk right now.”

If you were employing listening validation, your response would be, “I heard you say that price, reliability and warranty are important, Mr. Prospect. But what I’m sensing from you—and please correct me if I’m wrong—is that based on what you’ve shared, your family is going through some financial changes, so getting the best price and having that twelve-month money-back guarantee would really help you feel like you’re being taken care of. Am I catching that right?”

Everyone wants to be understood; it’s a basic human need. When you show understanding and care about your prospect’s situation, you build trust, which is the foundation of any sale.

Successful prospecting in today’s economy requires that salespeople make a paradigm shift in their way of thinking. This shift happens when you release your fear of rejection and satisfy your security instincts by putting your thoughts solely on the best intentions for your prospects. Only then will you be at ease when prospecting, and being at ease is a powerful—and profitable—place to be.

STEVE McCANN is a sales trainer and consultant
committed to redefining the link between prospecting and profitability.
He is founder of McCann Research Corporation, a company that
helps individuals increase sales motivation and maximize selling activities.