Sales and Sales Management Blog

June 4, 2008

“But I’m Always Prospecting”


That was Rachel’s response when we began talking about her failure to generate enough business to make the cut with her broker/dealer.  Rachel is a relatively new salesperson who has been struggling for months and she and her manager have been trying to find a way to get her on track.  Her manager called me in to interview her and to develop a training program for her.

It didn’t take long for the conversation to get around to her activities, in particular her prospecting activities.  She was baffled by her lack of sales success because as she said, she was ‘always prospecting.’

Rachel showed me a list of several hundred names and phone numbers she had on a call list—a few dozen had check marks beside them, even fewer were scratched through.  She showed me the stacks of fliers and letters she had mailed out.  She showed me a list of networking events she had attended over the past couple of months.  She showed me a passel of follow-up emails she had sent out.  She told me that her business card had been added to every corkboard in every restaurant, laundromat, and other business that had a board to display customer’s cards.

Rachel had been busy; there was no doubt about that.  The problem was although she had been busy, she hadn’t been prospecting.  Instead of prospecting, she had been doing ‘things’—creating filers, writing letters and emails, attending non-qualified networking events, making some phone calls.  Like many salespeople, Rachel confused doing preparatory and busy work for prospecting with the activity of prospecting.

Although she spent a great deal of time doing busy work, she spent very little time actually prospecting.  She felt she was always prospecting, but in reality she was always finding ways not to prospect.  She engaged in a great deal of activity, but the activity she engaged in wasn’t the activity that would produce business; instead, it was the activity that made her feel good, made her feel productive, allowed her to convince herself that she was being extremely active.

We salespeople tend to focus on activity—after all, activity is what gets us in the door, gets us the business we must have in order to succeed.  But activity alone is fruitless.  Activity for activity’s sake is just as sure a way to failure as inactivity.

Rachel believed she was highly productive because she felt productive, she was always busy, she was doing more than most of the other salespeople in her office, and her manager was always encouraging her to ‘do even more.’

Prospecting isn’t preparation to prospect; it isn’t finding easy ways to feel like you’re getting your message out; and it isn’t simply being busy all of the time.  Prospecting is a very specific activity—connecting with quality prospects.

If you cold call, that means being on the phone, not getting ready to get on the phone.  If you network, it means actually being in front of and meeting prospects or garnering introductions to prospects from referral partners, not researching events or even spending time at non-qualified events where you’ll meet few, if any, prospects.

Investing time and energy in the wrong activities has killed as many sales careers as inactivity has.  As salespeople we have three very basic duties—finding and connecting with quality prospects, working with those prospects to help them satisfy needs or wants, and insuring that they are taken care of during and after the sale.  Everything else is busy work and busy work doesn’t make a sale, doesn’t generate income, and doesn’t move us toward our sales or income goals.

Before you engage in any activity consider whether that activity is income producing or not.  If it isn’t directly producing income, does it really need to be done?  If not, move on to an activity that will directly lead to a sale.

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3 Comments »

  1. An excellent blog and will really help me with the meetings I attend. There are many points here that makes me think about the sort of questions I should be asking when out there.

    I am a business development executive for a digital agency and I shall now follow your blog with great interest.

    Thank you very much!

    Comment by Graeme Davidson — June 4, 2008 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

  2. Great post Paul,
    I think you really hit the nail on the head. I think for many people, especially those folks trying to build traction in their businesses or sales careers – prospecting feels a lot like “getting ready to prospect” because there is no reference point to what’s working and what’s not. I think that’s really why having a reliable tracking system in place is the most important thing for a new salesperson or marketer to really find traction in their business, and leverage their energy, time, and money. Thanks for the post. ~Jesse

    Comment by networkmarketingleadgeneration — June 6, 2008 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  3. Networkmarketingleadgeneration,

    Right, in order for salespeople to know what’s working and what isn’t, they have to have a reliable tracking system, otherwise they’re simply working off of feelings and feelings can be very deceptive.

    The first chapter in SuperStar Selling: 12 Keys to Becoming a Sales SuperStar walks the reader through how to reconstruct their sales and marketing history and how to construct a simple but effective tracking system so they really do know what’s working for them and where they’re spinning their wheels.

    We salespeople must run our sales business like a business and in order to do so we must have historical documents that give us real feedback about what we are doing right, what we’re doing wrong, where we need to invest our time, and to uncover new opportunities. Those things don’t happen by accident or through gut feelings, they happen by having real, reliable, factual data.

    Few salespeople do this because it isn’t fun, it isn’t easy, and it for most of us, we really don’t want to know the hard facts because we won’t like what we learn. But the more we know about the results of our activities, the more control we have over our business, our success, and our future.

    Comment by Paul McCord — June 7, 2008 @ 6:40 am | Reply


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