Sales people don’t spend enough time effectively prospecting: when I have stated this contention to sales leaders, I can’t think of a single occasion in over 15 years of consulting in sales effectiveness where there has been any disagreement.
This is the case from desk based transactional sales work to managing global accounts. Desk based telesales people who find every excuse under the sun not to pick up the phone and make an out-bound call, to the Global Account Manager who is in a comfort zone with the relationships and the product and service set coverage they have in the account they are managing. Most would agree that there is a reluctance to own the prospecting part of the sales process or to be as proactive in it as is necessary. I have attempted to answer why and to offer some remedies.
The prospecting part of the sales job is tough for psychological reasons. Experience, anecdotes and hard data inform us that it is the part of the job that is fraught with rejection and being totally ignored (prospects having the temerity to ignore our emails and calls completely!) This can be challenging to de-personalise, and here is why.
In evolutionary psychology terms dating back to the early history of our species being shunned, ignored and ostracised from ‘the group’ could lead to a lack of food, drink, shelter and in extremes death. Obviously this is not the case in a sales situation! However it still triggers the same mental defensive mechanisms (the limbic system) in our brain (in evolutionary terms the time between our ancestors and the present day is negligible and the affect we feel is the same today in the 21st century as it was then). Our subliminal defence mechanism is not to put ourselves in a situation where a vast % of the time will be spent being ignored or rejected.
Just the awareness of this and building the ability to stand aside and be the observer of our thoughts and not be a victim of them is life changing. This combined with a focus on ‘the process’ of prospecting not ‘the product’ will increase effectiveness. The product is the end results (a new business lead) and the process the optimal set of activities that will afford (the product) the best chance of happening. This is true in life in general but is key to being able to successfully step-up to the responsibility to own your part of the prospecting work.
The suggestion is to go into a prospecting session armed with data that can inform a perspective on the process work required: how much time spent or activities made (number of calls, e mails made) is needed for a lead to be generated. One can view it as just a process and the job is to just run the process not to be emotionally attached to the results. Rejection or being ignored is never or very rarely about us as individuals but due to the reasons mentioned previously it has a propensity to feels like it.
The best method to manage prospecting is, as I have already mentioned, to manage it as a process – a set of activities that will lead to success happening as a natural byproduct of the quantity and quality of the work put in. Knowing this as a psychological backdrop is beneficial but other practical issues come into play, such as a lack of planning to prospect or not executing against the plan.
I therefore recommend the following 4 Step Prospecting Plan/Template:
Step 1 Research: Evaluate the most effective prospecting activities you can allocate your time to. This will obviously depend on the dynamic of your role, sector and target market. These activities will range from high to low leverage. Recognise that these wont necessarily directly aligned to those tasks on an easy to hard scale. However plan your high leverage activities as a priority irrespective where they sit on the easy to hard scale.
Step 2 Plan: Have a weekly time management meeting (with yourself). Build the prospecting activities in your schedule as if they were a customer meeting (don’t put them on to a to do list) Suggestion: plan the prospecting activities in the morning when will power is at it’s highest!
Step 3 Execution: Work on your prospecting activities in 45 min focused bursts. Manage distractions turn off e-mails and incoming mobile calls / messages/ alerts if they are not germane to the planned activities. Give yourself 10-15 min break between sessions.
Step 4 Measure and Monitor: Don’t beat yourself up over the results. Bring a scientific method to analysing what is working and what is not.
In Conclusion: Recognise that very few people like the prospecting part of the any sales job. Lean into this and embrace any discomfort you feel, then feel the discomfort and do it anyway. If you regularly plan and execute prospecting this will afford success the greatest opportunity of becoming a natural output of the work you put in. This will prevent roller coaster and inconsistent sales performance and thin sales pipelines. The psychological effect is profound -you can sit back with pride and reflect, knowing that you have done your bit in allocating time to and executing the activities that most in the sales profession struggle with.