For more than a decade now, many in sales have been neglecting what may the single most crucial activity necessary for producing sales results. That activity is prospecting, and it is what is required to open new relationships and create new opportunities. No deal is closed without first being opened, and I have written here that “opening is the new closing,” to make the point that it is now what is critical to success. If you want success, you need to build the prospecting habit.
How did we get to a place where salespeople don’t spend their time prospecting? The reasons are many and varied, but two stand out above the many others, and they deserve much of the blame.
How Prospecting Was Lost
First, sales managers have not held their salespeople accountable for prospecting. In many cases, sales managers know that poor sales managers focus only on activity, and many of them have worked for managers who wanted only more activity. Because they don’t want to be that manager, they don’t hold their salespeople accountable for prospecting. Others don’t believe they should have to talk about activity at all.
Second, and something that made the lack of accountability and an even larger problem was the concept once called “social selling” by its proponents. The chattering class on LinkedIn sold the idea that inbound was greater than outbound, that the world had changed, and that only Neanderthals used the telephone. This anti-cold calling fever laid waste to a generation of salespeople, all who believed the lie that they could create more opportunities with less effort if they spend enough time on the social channels.
Those of us who knew better pushed back against the seductive lies of con artists, picks and shovel dealers (those who would sell you the tools you need to succeed in the gold mine, and who are also the only ones getting rich while you spend your time in an empty mine), and charlatans. As we predicted, social lost its allure, its results being far less than promised. We are still working on bringing accountability back into fashion.
How You Build the Prospecting Habit
If you want to create more—and better—opportunities, you need to prospect. Your willingness to be proactive and professionally persistent in the pursuit of your dream clients is the determining factor when it comes to your sales results.
The following steps will help you develop the prospecting habit.
- Make Prospecting Primary: Selling is made up of two major outcomes: 1) Opportunity Creation, and 2) Opportunity Capture. If you are going to capture opportunities, you must first create them, as natural a law as the one requiring you plant in spring if you would reap a harvest in fall. Because Opportunity Creation is the critical first step in sales results, it has to be your primary focus. Prospecting has to dominate your time and your energy.
- Block Time: If you don’t make time to prospect, other tasks, projects, and distractions will consume your time. The best way to ensure you have time to prospect is to block time on your calendar and hold it sacred. The more time you spend prospecting, the more opportunities you will create, and the more opportunities you create, the more you will win (all things being equal). Blocking time to prospect on your calendar is a commitment you make to yourself—and your future self. You should treat the commitment to prospecting as sacred as a commitment you make to meet with a prospective client—as it is what allows you to schedule those meetings in the first place.
- Get Past the First 10 Calls: The first cold you make is always the hardest. The second call is easier to make, even if only slightly so. But once you have gotten into the rhythm, it gets easier. That usually happens after about ten calls, eight of which are going to be voice mail. The eleventh call is when you start to get into your groove, but you can’t get there if you don’t keep dialing. After number eleven, calling turns into nothing more than a game, and your resistance will subside.
- Use Prospecting Cadence: The phone is the single best and most effective medium for scheduling appointments, but it isn’t the only tool available to you. You can follow up with an email, and if you share something useful, you can begin to be known as a value creator. Just don’t ask for an appointment over email; instead, tell your dream client you will try them back. You can also connect on LinkedIn, as long as you don’t pitch the client. Instead, give them your number and tell them they can call you should they ever need anything (you are going to call them again later anyway. As you string these touches together, you are professionally persistent in your persist. A cadence keeps your activity high and focused, improving your results.
- Keep a Scorecard: Track your habit by keeping score. When I started in sales, I tracked a few metrics. I tracked how much time I spent on the telephone pursuing meetings. I tracked how many dials I made, even though I didn’t have anyone to report them to (my efficiency). I captured how many times I had a conversation where I asked for a meeting and how many meetings I booked (my effectiveness). By keeping score, you hold yourself accountable. If you want success, hold yourself accountable for your results so no one else will ever have to.
Selling, in large part, is about prospecting, the creation of new opportunities. Those who believe and behave as if sales is what happens after you create an opportunity are mistaken. The sooner you develop the prospecting habit, the sooner you will produce better sales results.