Over the years I’ve spoken to salesperson after salesperson who is frustrated, angry, and depressed because although they’ve invested heavily in trying to make their sales career a success, all they have to show for their efforts are little to nothing—and often a pink slip from their employer.
It usually doesn’t take long for these conversations to get around to the particulars of their activities, in particular their prospecting activities. They are baffled by their lack of sales success because they insist that they are ‘always prospecting.’
Almost all of them can produce lists of prospects , some of which they’ve called; they can show where they’ve sent out a ton of letters and emails; they can give receipts for advertising they’ve bought; they can produce filers that they’ve plastered all over town.
Most have been busy; there is little doubt about that. The problem is that although they have been busy, they haven’t been prospecting. Instead of prospecting, they’ve been doing ‘things’—creating filers, writing letters and emails, attending non-qualified networking events, constructing call lists–and on occasion actually making a few phone calls. Like many salespeople, they’ve confused doing preparatory and busy work getting ready to prospect with the activity of prospecting.
Although they have spent a great deal of time doing busy work, they have spent very little time actually prospecting. They think they are always prospecting, but in reality they find ways not to prospect. They engage in a great deal of activity, but the activity engaged in isn’t the activity that would produce business; instead, it is the activity that made them feel good, that made them feel productive, allowed them to convince themselves that they were 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.
The salespeople above believed they were highly productive because they felt productive.
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. Nor is it easy but very low return lead generation such as plastering the Wal-Mart parking lot with fliers or sending out thousands of SPAM emails. Those may be easy, non-threatening activities, but they are also career killers.
Prospecting is a very specific activity—connecting with decision makers who you can help in one way or another and that requires a physical connection.
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. It means connecting with quality prospects through highly targeted and personal letter and email communications, not sending out thousands of pieces of SPAM hoping that someone will read and respond. It means creating a highly targeted and well researched direct mail campaign, not just sending letters to a purchased list.
Yet even in the above prospecting activities, the prep and research time is NOT prospecting time and should be done only during non productive prospecting hours.
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 to solve real issues, 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.