One of the biggest challanges that salespeople face is building and maintaining sufficient opportunities in their pipeline so they can meet their quotas. When pipelines are inadequate, many salespeople are subjected to intense pressure—whether imposed internally (by their own desire to excel) or externally (by their manager [or spouse]). In many cases, salespeople fail because they are unable to generate interest, and thereby do not initiate buying cycles with buyers. Once in the door, they can do a creditable job; they’re just inept at opening the door.
Prospecting is an activity that many organizations do exactly wrong. Many companies ask their brand new salespeople to cut their teeth on the prospecting of new territories. As they progress—assuming they survive—more and more of their work consists of servicing continuing customer accounts. Their prospecting responsibilities, therefore, either decrease or disappear entirely. The salesperson gets the idea (sometimes from his or her sponsoring organization) that prospecting is somehow beneath his or her dignity.
In fact, the vast majority of salespeople would consider the world a better place to live if they never had to take responsibility for uncovering new opportunities. Given a choice of 4 hours of cold telephone prospecting or having a root canal, many experienced salespeople would opt for the latter. But this is shortsighted. First, they’ve already demonstrated that they have some talent at prospecting; otherwise, they would have been long gone. The company needs ongoing utilization of those skills. And second, at least as we see it, a salesperson’s overall skills erode if he or she loses the ability to generate interest from strangers. Third, our def-inition of prospecting is causing buyers (including existing customers) who weren’t looking to change, to look.
In this chapter, we’ll look at the different ways that salespeople drum up prospects—including telemarketing, referrals, and written communications—and suggest techniques for making the prospecting process more customer-focused, and therefore more successful.