“The number one reason for empty pipelines is failure to prospect.”
- Jeb Blount, Fanatical Prospecting
Prospecting is the lifeblood of sales. If there are not new opportunities going into the funnel, sales will dry up. Pipelines become anemic without consistent prospecting. Weak pipelines lead to desperation deals as reps scrape the bottom of the barrel to somehow hit quota. Empty pipelines lead to low morale.
When pipelines are full of opportunities, reps approach deals with more confidence. This maximizes win rates and profits. Morale soars as the sales bell rings consistently throughout the month.
With prospecting being so critical, why does it seem to happen so inconsistently? There is no question that prospecting is hard work. The high percentage of “no’s” combined with the blow offs can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. This leads to call reluctance.
For a moment, let’s set the hard work, emotional exhaustion, and call reluctance aside. Let’s assume we have a motivated, hard-working rep who wants to grow their business. Where are the challenges with prospecting? What could be changed?
Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked as a sales rep, sales manager, and sales trainer, I’ve noticed five key challenges with prospecting. If we can deal with these challenges, we can make prospecting more effective.
1. Not Strategic
Most prospecting is not strategic. When we finally do get around to prospecting (usually after a bad month) we open our CRM and randomly start making calls. This lack of strategy means that we are missing out on huge opportunities because we lack a strategy to systematically cover our target accounts.
Smart prospecting is strategic. You know who your target accounts are. You know which ones have the best near-term opportunities. You know who the decision makers and influencers are. You have a strategy to optimize your business growth.
2. Not Efficient
Most prospecting is wildly inefficient. We sit down and crack open our CRM. Ten minutes later, we decide we should call a specific prospect. We call them and leave a voicemail. Then, we pat ourselves on the back for the initiative we’ve taken. Five minutes later, we find another prospect and decide to compose an email to them, even though we’ve probably written the same email 100 times. Ten minutes later, we stand up to get a cup of coffee. An hour goes by and we’ve maybe reached out to half a dozen people.
Smart sales pros realize that prospecting is a numbers game. If we only hit half a dozen people an hour we could literally spend all day prospecting and only get one or two appointments. Then, how do you do the rest of your job. Prospecting must be more efficiently. We need to find ways to leverage technology to get more done faster. Done correctly, I’ve seen sales professionals make over 30 outbound calls in one hour.
3. Not Effective
Prospecting will always be a numbers game. But like any numbers game, there are things you can do to increase the odds. One way to increase the effectiveness of your prospecting is to make sure you have something useful to share. Unfortunately, most sales reps have very few insights to bring to the table.
Smart sales professionals prospect with insight. They have an understanding of their prospects’ business issues. They know that executives only have a limited amount of time and energy. They focus those resources on their strategic initiatives and solving the problems related to those issues. Smart reps lead with the issues because they know they have a much higher chance of getting attention.
Recently, I was recently doing research in the legal marketplace. Most managing partners of law firms don’t really care about technology - they care about law and the growth of their firms. Research showed the number of billable hours per attorney has decreased over the past decade. That’s a problem.
A smart sales rep won’t lead with technology. Instead, they’ll lead with insights on how to solve the problem of attorney productivity. Of course the solution is technology. But a smart rep realizes that to get the managing partner’s attention, they need to lead with the issues that are top of mind to them.
4. Not Measurable
When I go to the gym I have an app that allows me to track my workouts. It lets me keep track of the number of reps and the weight for each exercise. Over time, I can see progress. Earlier this week a graph popped up at the end of my workout that showed me how many thousands of pounds I’d pushed and that I’d set a record. That keeps me going back.
We want to do things that get results. The problem with prospecting is that most reps don’t truly measure their prospecting activity. As a result, they don’t know what it takes to get an appointment. They have no idea if they’re improving, and they don’t know when they can quit for the week. As a result, reps often end up carrying around a consistent cloud of existential guilt for not prospecting enough.
A smart rep knows how much they need to prospect. They’ve tracked their activities and the results. They know their ratios. They know how many appointments they need each week. They know how many sequences they need to launch to get an appointment. Then they plan their activity appropriately. Smart reps (and managers) deploy technologies that allow them to measure their effort and results. Much like my app at the gym, you can see the trends and plan accordingly.
5. Not Trained
We all need to improve our skills. As a sales rep in today’s world, there is much to learn. In all of the product training, CRM training, and sales training, we cannot neglect prospecting skills. How long has it been since you’ve been trained in the fundamentals of prospecting?
Smart sales reps make it a priority to get better at prospecting. They listen to books like Fanatical Prospecting. They read blogs like this one. They consume podcasts. They practice.
Smart sales managers bring prospecting training to their team. They don’t just complain to their reps about prospecting, they bring skills to their reps in sales meetings. They coach and encourage. Most of all, they measure and track activities and ratios since these are the key leading indicators (KPIs) of what will be on the sales board at the end of the month.
Get Proactive About Prospecting!
Prospecting problems can be solved. You need a strategy that uses technology to enable efficiency, leverages research to create messages that resonate, and coaches skills that equip reps to prospect with confidence. I’ve been thinking a lot about the prospecting problem over the past 8 months. In the process, we’ve developed a strategic prospecting program that’s showing good results. If you’d like to see what our team has come up with, check out this webinar or message me -- I'd love to show you.