There are several reasons that prospecting receives outsized attention, especially on LinkedIn and other social media sites.
1. Writing about cold calling garners a lot of attention. Would-be influencers on LinkedIn publish daily screeds about prospecting strategies or whether cold calling is (yet again) dead.
2. Silicon Valley has convinced a lot of sales organizations that a full-cycle salesperson is wasteful. They use SDRs and BDRs to outsource prospecting to mostly younger and cheaper salespeople, saving their experienced salespeople for "closing deals." That produces more salespeople whose primary role is to make cold calls, so naturally they are interested in how to improve their results.
3. It isn't easy to acquire a meeting, and a phone call is the best way to schedule a meeting with your dream client. What's more difficult is continually scheduling meetings each day. At one point I made cold calls for eight hours a day, every day, for a little over six months, armed only with a phone book and a stack of index cards. Eventually I built a large enough list of known targets that I was able to focus on developing multi-million-dollar deals.
In the twelve years I’ve been publishing daily content here, I’ve produced 34 blog posts that include "cold calling" in the title. That amounts to a little less than three posts a year on cold calling, though I do also talk about the primacy of opportunity creation. Overall, there is an over-emphasis on cold calling and prospecting in sales training and development, often at the expense of the character traits, competencies, and skills necessary for success. Here are five areas that deserve more attention, as they not only drive that first meeting but allow the salesperson to continue the sales conversation with their prospective client.
5 Areas That Deserve More Attention in Sales
Value Creation. The largest obstacle for sales organizations is an inability to create value for their clients in the sales conversation, the only vehicle available to the salesperson. If a meeting doesn’t help your client understand why they are not producing the results they need, show them what they need to do about it, and help equip them to make better choices for their company and their future results, then that meeting was simply a waste of time.
Paradigm Shift. In a modern sales approach, we help the client undergo a paradigm shift: we erase their false or outdated assumptions, address the information disparity that causes them to make mistakes, and provide them with a new reality, one that helps them recognize that they need to change to pursue the better results they need. Anything less than this will find the client unable to distinguish you from the rest of your competitors.
Discovery. Most sales experts agree that deals are won and lost in the discovery phase of the sales conversation. Yet little is written or taught about this stage: while many sales organizations will spend time developing sales scripts for a cold call, you don't see the same emphasis on discovery. Part of the reason for this mismatch is that many sales organizations are still using a completely commoditized version of legacy discovery, one that relies on asking the client to share their problem.
Gaining Commitments. Outside of the commitment for a first meeting, you don't see, hear, or read much about how to successfully ask clients to take the next step. It's a mistake to emphasize only the first meeting, since several equally important commitments must follow. Along with creating enough value to command the next meeting (see Value Creation above), you must be able to explain the value the client will gain from taking the next step. Focusing on talk tracks for a cold call without planning for future conversations is like planning every second of a first date without realizing there’s a whole relationship on the other side.
Presentations and Proposals. Too many formal sales presentations waste the client’s time by rehashing all the reasons that the salesperson's company is the right partner. For one thing, your client has already seen that information, most likely during discovery. But more importantly, making it to the presentation stage is proof positive that they perceive your company as a strong potential partner. Instead of answering "why us" a second or third time, you are better off reminding your client why they need to change, followed by how you will ensure they produce the outcomes they need.
Effectiveness Across the Entire Sales Conversation
If you’ve spent any time in your local gym, you’ve probably seen at least one bodybuilder who has developed a gigantic chest and arms, neglecting to do the same work on their legs. Over-emphasizing cold calling while ignoring the other skills listed here is no different from skipping leg day over and over. While it's important to schedule a meeting with your dream client, turning in a poor performance during your hard-won meeting makes all your cold-call training worthless.
The best approach is a development plan that provides you with the character traits, competencies, and skills necessary to both create and capture opportunities. While training might be part of that development plan, you need to think of it as a longer-term initiative that includes experiential learning and coaching. The end result should be mastery of the sales conversation, including a high-level effectiveness in all six competencies and skills.