Building a full pipeline is hard work, so many salespeople tend to stop prospecting once they think they have enough business. That’s a more dangerous habit than most salespeople realize—at least until they pay the price. They get too confident that their largest client will be with them forever, that nothing bad will happen in their market, and that simply growing their existing accounts will let them coast to their targets. But what happens when that client moves on—what other opportunities will replace their income?
Essentially, you can choose to prospect from a place of strength or weakness. It is far more difficult to prospect when you are under duress and desperate for a deal. You’re much better off prospecting from a place of strength, in conditions where you’re successfully selling and growing your existing book of business.
From Strength to Weakness
After building a book of business with three very large clients, I was doing everything right: taking care of them, visiting them every day, and collecting my commissions. Things were going well for both me and my clients. One day, I took a call from one of the three. My contact informed me that they were moving their business to another state. I was stunned: I talked to these people every day, and they had never even hinted about a move. Overall, though, I wasn't worried about losing the client, as the other two were still faithfully paying their invoices.
A few months later, the larger of my remaining two giant clients—a governmental entity—made a political change that would eliminate me and my company from working with them. Again, no one suggested that the change was even being considered, and it was always business as usual when I met with my contacts. Suddenly, my solid base of three massive accounts had dwindled to one, and I was not okay.
Don’t Put a Lid on Your Prospecting
It's easy to get comfortable and to stop working hard, and not just when it comes to prospecting. When you’re done making the money you believe you need, the comfort you feel informs you that you have reached your lid—the income you want to live the life you want to live. Occasionally, you will see a very good salesperson, one perched high on the stacked ranking, reach their goal by the end of July and coast the rest of the year, spending time playing golf, watching tennis, or restoring their Mustang Fastback.
Most people let up once they reach their lid, while others decide the lid has been set too low and keep going, setting a new goal or target for themselves. The first group jettisons prospecting not long after they bump their lid, creating a dangerous and stressful situation. When you can keep busy taking care of your existing clients, it’s all too easy to tell yourself that you need not prospect, and even that doing so would take time away from your existing clients.
No one lies to you more often than you do, especially the sweet lies you desperately want to believe are true.
Sustaining Success in Sales
I was baptized in fire after losing my two largest clients, getting religion about the true nature of sales. That experience changed my mind about how to sustain success in sales. For the first time, I recognized just how much the element of time dominates sales success. It had taken me no time at all to win my last remaining large client, but it had taken me years to win the two I lost in the same quarter, something I hadn't considered. But I was young, and like most young people I did not yet appreciate the need to plant in the spring and harvest in Fall. Some part of me, I think, still saw time in middle school terms: each second is an eternity when you’re sitting in class, but summer break zooms by like a rocket.
When you are successful, no one tells you that you need to do more, let alone that you should assume that everything will hit the fan. Instead, they praise you for your excellent results. What kind of a killjoy tells you to go back to grinding out the cold outreach when you are succeeding and exceeding your goals? Easy: the person who understands that you are at risk, and that you have to dig your well before you get thirsty.
Prospecting from a Place of Strength
When you succeed, you can prospect from a place of strength. You already have clients, you are reaching your goals, and you’re collecting your commissions. When you prospect from this position, you make calls with a high level of confidence. And why wouldn't you be confident? Your approach is working, with the clients to prove it, and you have no urgent need to win a deal today. That confidence increases your likelihood of acquiring a new meeting. You sound like a person capable of helping your contact improve their results.
Prospecting from a Place of Weakness
Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. I don’t know if there’s a scientific explanation for it, but I do know that prospective clients can almost smell the desperation in your meeting request. Somehow, when you prospect from a place of weakness, you project a mental state that you need this deal more than your client does—which is often enough for them to reject your request. Perhaps it’s not scientific at all: perhaps the Gods of Prospecting are punishing you for having avoided the work of prospecting.
Every day, you must decide whether to prospect from a place of strength or a place of weakness. You are always better served by doing what needs to be done today, even if that means hedging your bets so you can succeed tomorrow. After all, a single phone call could sink your largest commission—or even two-thirds of your safest clients.