Prospecting: a dirty word?

Whenever I’ve trained a group of people on prospecting I’ll ask, “With a show of hands, how many of you think you prospect enough?” It is not unusual, even in large groups, for not one hand to go up. During one such event there was one man, way in the back, that held his hand high. I asked, “Oh, you sir? You believe that you prospect enough?” His reply, “No, I didn’t hear the question the first time you asked…”. Why don’t we? Why don’t we prospect for new business enough? The short answer, we don’t like to do it. Look, we were taught to not talk to strangers when we were younger. It’s embedded in us to avoid people we don’t know. Then, we get approached by horrible salespeople ourselves, and can’t wait to get away from them.

We certainly don’t want to be viewed as pushy, slimy, pressuring or self-serving! For those two reasons alone, we hate prospecting.

We must believe this, however: prospecting is the lifeblood of our organizations. In fact, if we aren’t prospecting, we aren’t growing. Here’s the skinny on why businesses or salespeople fail: lack of prospecting. Meaning, lack of cash-flow. It’s not rocket science. Any company that goes bankrupt or any salesperson that doesn’t meet their goals, it oftentimes comes down to lack of cash flowing into the company or into their own wallets. How to solve that problem?

Get more cash to flow in (duh). How to get that to happen? Back to prospecting. We all know it, but no one does it enough.

There is another concern as well. To no fault of our own if we simply stay with our existing customers, we will lose some along the way. Again, not because we necessarily did anything to deserve it. It could be because they went out of business, moved locations, changed their offerings, were acquired, the decision maker changed, their direction as a company changed and so on. Therefore, if we want to be successful in sales, it is imperative that not only we get better at opening new business, we activate successful strategies in order to do that, and we do it consistently.

Some studies show that the top 5% of salespeople across the country are in front of prospective new business, as well as existing more than 50% of their time. We agree. If at least half of your time is not spent in front of prospects and customers, we question what you’re doing with your time. Said another way, we all work hard. It’s spending most of your time on revenue generating activities that makes the real difference. Unfortunately, many get caught doing things that take their time, but don’t “move the needle”. They allow small things to get in the way of being in front of or on the phone more with those that may buy from them. These things may be:

  1. Answering calls from unrecognized phone numbers, then finding out it was not a priority
  2. Checking e-mail too often during the day, or spending too much time on it
  3. Agreeing to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
  4. Letting people talk to long
  5. Over communicating with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
  6. Not prioritizing tasks toward their goals; everything seems urgent and important
  7. Working on low priority tasks that could be done outside of the hours of 8-5

The list is lengthy and can prevent us from prospecting. There are 168 hours in a week. Take out sleeping (7 hours average) we’re down to 119 hours. It’s what we do with that time that will most impact our results. Whether you’re Richard Branson of Virgin Records, Bill Gates of Microsoft or Jim Smith of ABC Landscaping, they each have the exact same time. So, instead of spending too much time on those things that are on the list, above, here are some suggestions:

  1. Block out prospecting on your calendar daily (or weekly) and treat it like your number one customer; nothing gets in the way.
  2. Spend time on high payoff activity. I.e., “$500/hour activities vs. $15/hour activities”. i.e., visiting with a big prospect vs typing a quote for a small one.
  3. Pick 3-5 methods of prospecting and ride only those horses. Most spend “some” time doing “some” methods of prospecting. Whether it is “drop-ins”, “referral groups”, “networking events” or even “dials from tradeshows”, pick a few methods and do them consistently. Become an expert at them.
  4. Say, “NO” to small things that take up your time, but don’t leave you time to prospect.
  5. Pay yourself first. Prospect at the beginning of the day so nothing comes in later and gets in your way.
  6. Help your mental state and consistency by going after “green light” conversations. That is, instead of shooting for wins, shoot for great conversations. In other words, if you can have two “green light” conversations every day, you’re likely going to keep your pipeline full down the line.
  7. Practice and become an expert at your verbiage. When we’re good at something, we’re more likely to do it.

As said before, prospecting is the lifeblood of sales organizations. Change your thinking from, “I own a landscape organization that needs to prospect” to “I own a sales prospecting organization that happens to do landscaping”. See the difference in emphasis?

In past and future articles, we will share helpful tips in order to prospect more effectively. We will share how to handle objections, how to ask effectively for referrals, how to make a cold call, how to grow your business through networking and even how to “close” more effectively. For the time being, however, simply make it a good practice to constantly prospect. As the season gets longer and we approach fall, it becomes even more important to put prospecting into practice. So, ABP! Or, Always Be Prospecting!