Was just reading yet another post with “market data” declaring prospecting the most difficult aspect of sales. Thousands of blog posts about both the difficulty and importance of prospecting have been published in the past 5-7 years.
But is it really tougher than anything else in selling or are we just making it much tougher than it need be?
Or possibly our problems are that too many sales people just don’t want to prospect? They want to be handed qualified leads–ideally qualified to the point that all the sales person need to is ask for a PO.
Or possibly we just do a terrible job at prospecting, making it much more difficult than it should be?
Prospecting is the most difficult thing simply because we fail in how we prospect.
We know prospecting is important, but we don’t do it on a regular basis. We, too often, avoid it until we are forced to. We hope others will do the work that we need to do—“It’s marketing’s responsibility to generate demand….. Why aren’t the SDRs doing their jobs generating the right amount of leads….. I’m too busy doing working on qualified deals to take the time to prospect…….”
But then our pipelines empty and we are forced to prospect.
In our panic to find opportunities, we reach out to anyone we can. We contact all our current customers, “Do you need to buy something else?” When that doesn’t work, we reach out to prospects in our ICP, “Do you need these products? Do you know anyone that needs these products?” And then we reach out to arbitrary contacts, people on LinkedIn, we buy lists, we cast wider and wider nets, “Can I talk to you about our products….?”
We send emails to any email address we have. We reach out in that tremendously personalized way, “Dear occupant or current resident…..”
And when that doesn’t work, we just do more and more and more.
And it doesn’t generate anything.
As a result, “Prospecting is the most difficult part of selling….”
But we know what effective prospecting is
We know that regardless of how good our pipelines are, we have to prospect every week, we have to continue to look to adding great opportunities to our pipeline.
We know we produce better results by focusing on our ICP–doing some research on the people within the ICP, and engaging them about things that are important to them. They may be challenges they may be facing, things that are happening in their markets, industries, or with their customers. It is not about our products, but about things they might or should be interested in. We know we have to create a reason they should want to engage–knowing that it will require persistence, multiple touches, with multiple channels–each time with an impactful communication (not “Did you get my last email about our products?”)
We know all the best practices about prospecting, we take training, we read any of the 100’s of books or thousands of blog posts saying the same thing.
We see some people that seem to make prospecting look easy. When we examine what they do, it’s simple—they do the things we are supposed to do, that we know produce results. They focus on the customer and what they customer might want to do. They don’t waste their time outside the ICP. They have a regular prospecting cadence, regardless how healthy their pipeline is.
Prospecting isn’t a problem for them, they just do the work!
I’m really skeptical about the claims that prospecting is the toughest thing in selling. I think too many sales people just don’t want to do the work. I think too many marketing people, sales managers and sales people don’t do prospecting the way it should be done, the way it produces results.
It’s not that customers don’t want to talk to us. It’s that we waste their time with irrelevant, poorly prepared communications. Customers are agnostic about the channel through which they learn, though our bad prospecting practices drive them to avoid sales people. But we know when we do the right things, with the right people, prospecting works.
Prospecting is the most difficult thing in sales simply because we fail in how we prospect. We don’t do what we know we should be doing.
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.