Are you prospecting or just making noise?

Last week, as I started writing this article, the telephone rang. It was a sales rep from a fabric manufacturing and dyeing company.


“I was on your website and wondered if you use fabric in your business?” he asked.


This had to be the dumbest opening line I have ever had spun to me. He had just visited the company website and saw what my wife’s business does – design fabric projects.


I tried to engage him in conversation about the business challenges we faced in getting quality fabrics into Australia, getting access to fabric designs before they hit the retail shops – but he was just not interested. He just wanted to dump fabric into a retail shop.


What he could not know is that one of his competitors invested time with our designers and is now selling bolts and bolts of fabric, at excellent margins, to dozens of retailers without even needing to make a sales call. Our company designs products around their fabric and our retailers know they will sell every scrap of the fabric they buy for this pattern.




Prospecting is the key activity driving all sales activity yet it is also the one area salespeople, and indeed everyone, has most difficulty with. What this salesperson thought they were doing was prospecting. What they were really doing was making noise hoping someone would eventually listen.


After 30 years in sales I still find prospecting hard. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go straight to the close?


Prospecting can be easy and highly motivating if you keep yourself focused on these three areas:


1. Set prospecting goals and expectations


Prospecting is all about finding people who will avoid pain or receive gain by using the products or services you sell.


In the story above, the salesperson made a huge assumption that his role was to take orders from retailers. If he really knew his market he would address one of the real pains of being a retailer – dead stock. If he can show why every bolt of fabric he puts on the retailer’s shelf will sell he will have no trouble taking orders. In reality he is just an order taker.


When we have identified an individual that is facing challenges or looking to grow, we have an opportunity to sell. Even if you get a call from someone who seems to be interested in buying your type of product, unless you can identify that what you are selling will remove a problem or help them achieve a goal then they are not a prospect and we need to move on.


Only after we understand the individual’s problems or goals can we start to talk about what we sell. In services or larger projects, selling may not start till you have made five or more calls!


2. Consistency


In my first ‘real’ selling role with Remington Office Equipment they taught the old school of prospecting for business – call on enough people and you get prospects. I would carry a card in my pocket and record every call made; the number of times I made a pitch; and finally how many demonstrations I did. There was a ‘magic’ number or 20:3:1 – and if you were not on target this was the number examined.


In today’s world we invest time in understanding the business needs our products and services overcome and we prospect to the business need.


I have seen many activities organised to help boost prospecting. They all work to some degree. Prospecting, however, is much like investing. Consistent and ongoing prospecting yields full sales funnels.


Many professionals and consultants I have coached tell me that they get too busy in their projects to make prospecting calls – and then complain when they experience the boom and bust syndrome!


Here is my rule of thumb. I never let a business day go by without prospecting someone I have never met before – even if I have to do this in a break during a training course – or after-hours. Fundamental to building a strong sales funnel is finding people with problems your products or services can overcome.


Prospecting takes only a few minutes to determine if the person you are talking to has a problem or challenge you might be able to help address. Just because someone says “That sounds like a good idea” it does not mean they are a prospect. If they are not experiencing challenges or missing their goals, do not waste your time. You can call them again in three months to see if the situation has changed – but we want to speak with people who are experiencing challenges today.


3. Invest in data


Geology was one of my majors at university. I learned a lot about is the high cost of prospecting. Companies don’t just start drilling anywhere; they invest enormous amounts of money understanding the geological formations and predict exactly where a mineral deposit might be, making sure all the conditions are right – but it might still be a dud. There is no telling until you drill down and determine what is there.


The same holds true when prospecting for opportunities. I am consistently surprised by the number of salespeople who prospect without a script and without doing their research.


If you knew that the ‘geology of the company’ showed what you had to offer overcame all the significant challenges an organisation faced, and that there was a potential order that would set your career up for the next five years, how much time would you invest in making sure you got to first base?


The unspoken question


Every time you make a prospecting call the unspoken question is always going to be “What reason do you have for taking up my valuable time?” If you can’t answer that question to your prospects satisfaction before you make an appointment, don’t count on that person being there.


Today’s question and actions


Today, people need to be fully engaged within the first minute (or less) or they will switch off. Witness the “This show is crap” or “The service in this restaurant sucks” syndrome. Before you start prospecting for the day, ask these questions:


  • What are the two main reasons I think this person I am calling will benefit from what I have to offer?
  • Are you ready to listen to what the person says and be flexible in your response?
  • Are you prepared to quickly move on after a ‘No!’? It is not personal, just that they are not in the right frame of mind today.


Sales prospecting done right can have a huge impact on your sales revenue. It does not take an armour suit and great courage to deal with the fear of rejection during prospecting. Just keep an open mind to challenge the old school of sales and the myths of prospecting.


Have a great week!


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