Even though both Johnny and Jenny are highly capable salespeople, they continue to coast with minimal prospecting, and their manager continues to be frustrated. The manager isn't concerned much by the fact that J&J are letting down their prospective clients, some of whom need help managing their environment and their current circumstances. But he blames them for not securing the opportunities that his department (and the company) needs.

This manager believes that J&J are responsible for their poor results and their lack of effort. He is only partially correct: as their leader, he shares the blame because he’s not giving them the accountability they need to succeed. But there may be more missing than accountability. To understand why Johnny and Jenny (and Jimmy, Julie, Jake, and Jamie) don't prospect, we have to look at prospecting as a whole.

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Prospecting Structures

Territory and Account Planning

Too many sales leaders and sales managers ask their sales force to prospect without giving them any real direction about which opportunities they want to win. This approach is lacking because it provides nothing more concrete than "do what it takes to hit our aggressive targets," especially when the team missed those targets in the prior year.

A territory and account plan starts with identifying which prospective clients the sales force needs to pursue in their territory. Calling your shots and cherry-picking the clients for whom you create the most value is a good starting point. When you work with the individuals on your team, you increase both their need and ability to prospect. Revenue growth, however, comes from three actions: gaining new clients, raising prices, and growing your existing clients. Account plans help ensure your progress: your sales force already has contacts and contracts, making your existing clients the best prospects you have when it comes to growth.

A sales leader who doesn't prioritize "opportunity creation" isn't going to have enough opportunities to reach their goal. If all you care about is the end of the sales conversation and a signing ceremony, you’ll have precious little to celebrate.

The First Accountability

It's easy to spot a sales manager who is likely to struggle with their team's lack of prospecting—just look at the frequency and nature of their pipeline meetings. We might call this "the rule of first concern." If the pipeline meeting is weekly, only covering new opportunities added to the pipeline and reviewing which deals moved forward, the sales manager is hell-bent on creating and pursuing opportunities. A bi-weekly pipeline meeting indicates that the sales manager doesn't expect a lot of activity between the weeks, perhaps counting on a long sales cycle, but such managers are apparently unaware that the sales cycle starts with a first meeting. A monthly pipeline meeting at the sales manager level is proof positive that they are not engaged with their team around creating opportunities.

There may be weeks where a salesperson fails to schedule a meeting despite their best efforts. That’s not necessarily a problem, but going two weeks with no new meetings is concerning. Three weeks or more means an intervention is necessary and perhaps overdue. The sales manager who prioritizes and holds their team accountable for new opportunities is certain to have a robust pipeline. If you leave your sales force to sink or swim, get used to watching many of them sink.

Accountability isn't only a tool for when someone is failing. It’s what you use to prevent your sales force from failing in the first place.

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Humane Consequences

If there are no consequences for actively avoiding work, then there is no accountability at all—and eventually, no standards. When there is no accountability, your team’s performance will find its way to the lowest common denominator. The few employees who do their work without fail will always produce, but over time, you are likely to see them gravitate towards leaders (and companies) with higher standards, preferring to work with other people who do good work. Autonomy comes with many sales roles, but a lot of people lack the discipline to use that autonomy effectively.

The first consequence for Johnny and Jenny may be nothing more than a serious conversation about the importance of doing the necessary work on time. For example, a ninety-day deal cycle means that the opportunities you create in January close in April. Creating opportunities in March doesn't do anything for April, as those deals are expected in June.

Beyond that first conversation, other consequences might be coaching and an increase in the reporting frequency. J&J will bristle at the prospect of having to account for their time, but there’s no reason to make these conversations more difficult by getting angry. In fact, that will shift the focus to your behavior. Instead, make sure the consequences and the conversations are humane. After this, you may have to get to "the plan." 

Never Give an Inch

The biggest reason J&J don’t prospect is because they don't have to. To protect yourself from that outcome, never, ever let up on the structures that support prospecting and the accountability that creates a standard. Given time and discipline, both elements will make your team the envy of your company. It’s not easy work, but it’s much better than letting things fall apart on your watch.

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Post by Anthony Iannarino on October 25, 2021
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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