Ask any successful sales person and they’ll likely admit to you that one of the cold, hard
facts about this profession is that you can’t sell to everyone. There is always going to
be somebody who, for some reason at some time, either will not or cannot buy from you. That’s
why prospecting is absolutely vital. In fact, it’s the number-one activity that you need
to do daily—and do well—to achieve long-term success as a sales professional.
Prospecting outranks every other skill and every other business habit simply because frankly
you can’t really do much in sales unless you first have people you can sell to. That’s a
fact that remains true no matter how successful you become and no matter how many sales records
you break. And yet prospecting remains one of the most misunderstood aspects of selling.
That’s why I have prepared a list of ten key points that you need to know about this absolute
must-have business habit.
1. It’s more than a part-time job. It’s your livelihood.
One the biggest mistakes that sales people make about prospecting is they think it’s only
something you do aggressively when business is slow. If you’re in sales, prospecting is
not something you do on a part-time basis. Prospecting is your
business. Just as new sales targets are a certainty in your organization, you need to continuously
find more people to sell to. That’s simply not something you can do on an occasional basis.
You have to treat prospecting an activity that is as vital to you as getting paid. Because
without it (and in less time than you think) there might not be any pay anymore. It’s that
simple. The stakes are that high.
2. Prospecting is not about short-term goals.
Another common mistake is to treat prospecting as something that’s really only needed to
be done aggressively when you need to give an extra boost to your sales performance figures
in a particular quarter. The real truth about prospecting is right there in the word itself—it’s
borrowed from the Latin word prospectus, or "distant
view." Prospecting is an activity that serves far more than short-term goals. Think
of it as an investment that helps you shape your future and pays dividends not just in
the next sales quarter but in years ahead as well. By constantly finding and developing
new leads, you ensure that you always have an audience for your product or service—no matter
what kind of market you’re faced with.
3. It’s a discipline.
There are plenty of skilled sales professionals out there who know how to close, who can
navigate past objections, who are adept negotiators and great at networking. And sadly
all of those skills will never really be applied fully unless those same sales people each
possess the discipline to get to their desk everyday and make those prospecting calls.
It’s not enough to just be good at prospecting, you have to be good at being persistent about
4. It takes more than you think to get it right.
During the sales-training and coaching sessions that I conduct, I’m often asked how much
prospecting do people need to be doing to maintain a healthy pace that meets sales targets.
A lot of people are surprised by my answer. Take your sales target and triple
it. You read that right. Your prospecting activities need to exceed by three
times the sales you are expected to produce. If that sounds like it entails a lot
of work, well, that’s because it does. And there’s no getting around it. Sales professionals,
on average, close one-in-three qualified leads that are available to them. This means that
if your target for next year is $100,000 in sales, you need to find a way to manage a funnel
of potential sales of at least $300,000 in value. Any prospecting sum smaller than that
and you’re more likely than not to be the victim of a very sobering statistic: the rate
of missed sales quotas. Consider this: a recent study
by Chief Sales Officer Insights found that while just over 50% of sales people hit
or exceed their quotas every year, the remaining 49% don’t. The
best way to avoid winding up on the wrong end of that statistic is make sure that your
sales funnel is big enough. Size matters. In this case, most definitely.
5. Never lose sight of what needs to be done.
For sales professionals who have enjoyed a string of successfully met sales quotas, it can
be really tempting to forget about prospecting—to see it as nothing but business development
or to start looking disdainfully at cold calling. But the need for prospecting never goes
away. In fact, that need grows just as your sales targets do. So it’s important to never
lose sight of what needs to be done to ensure that your success rate remains constant.
My advice is to put a reminder right there on your desk. Take a martini glass (sure, you
could simply use a plastic funnel, but where would the fun be in that?) and fill it with
small marbles. Each one of those marbles represents a cluster of prospects that you need
to keep in your sales funnel. By keeping this on your desk in a spot where you can see
it, you’ll be able to remain focused on the daily task at hand.
6. Get a handle on the daily time commitment.
Prospecting is a daily commitment. But how much of your time each day should you devote to
this activity? It’s a point of contention among a lot of sales experts. It depends on whether
you track your closing ratio on your calls. If you don’t measure this, plan to be on the
phone prospecting every day for at least two hours. That will yield between 25-40 calls,
out of which you ought to be able to secure one qualified appointment per day. If, on the
other hand, you do measure your closing ratio, make as many calls as you need to so that
you hit your sales targets. Keep in mind that three qualified leads will yield you one
7. If you don’t do it now, it won’t get done.
Much like the discipline that’s behind exercising, if you don’t do your prospecting first
thing every day, chances are good that it won’t get done at all. Sure, you can make excuses
about how you’re going to get it done at lunchtime or late in the day instead, but really—and
be honest with yourself—all you’re doing is procrastinating your way out something that
has to be done. So get it done first, and then move on with your day.
8. Be choosy.
Prospecting is vital and it requires a daily commitment from you to get it right. It’s also
important that you know where to look. As you develop your list of prospects, be sure you
zero-in on those who have the money, the decision-making authority and the desire for your
product or service. It’s not enough to choose two out of three. You need to have all three
for there to be a qualified lead that can be turned into a sale.
9. It’s the easiest of sales skills to master.
If you’re disciplined and persistent at prospecting—making your calls every day at a rate
that is three times that of your sales quota—odds are very good that you’ll master this
skill. The key requirement here is the time you invest in getting the job done. Remember
that in sales, your skills can be mediocre in any aspect of your work other than in prospecting.
10. Prospecting is how you take charge of your success
The more you engage in prospecting, the more leads you have to turn into potential sales.
Through hard work and discipline, you essentially give yourself more opportunities to meet
and exceed your sales targets. It means that you’re in charge of how successful you want
to be. That’s a much better place to be than to just leave things to chance and hope that
business picks up, or that a great sale just wanders in off the street and helps you make
your quota. Be successful on purpose rather than by accident. Take charge. Commit to prospecting
as much and as often as your sales targets demand.