I can make the strong case that a large percentage of the underperforming salespeople and sales teams I work with struggle because of lack of activity — specifically, lack of face-time and meaningful dialogue with the right contacts at strategic target prospects. There is nothing controversial about that statement, and I bet most gurus, executives and sales leaders would concur. That’s part of the reason why so much of New Sales. Simplified. – The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development is dedicated to helping sales hunters get in front of the right prospective clients/customers and then conduct great sales calls.
Yet even though there is little argument against my point above, I still hear so much talk about the importance of strictly qualifying prospects before pursuing them further. I regularly read or hear loud voices confidently proclaiming that it’s silly to chase to a prospect before it’s time, before they’re ready, willing and able to talk substantively about a specific opportunity, before they’ve already defined their requirements, budget and needs, etc.
I don’t care if I’m the last person on earth challenging that mentality; I remain a proud contrarian on this critical topic. In my observations of companies very large and very small, and sales teams in all variety of industries, here’s what I see:
For every one salesperson failing from too much time wasted in dialogue with unqualified prospects, there are 1000 failing from lack of activity and lack of meaningful conversations with strategic target prospects.
The key phrase in my declaration above is strategic target prospects. “Strategic” means that some thought went into who’s on the list. We’re not talking about dialing for dollars out of the phone book here (remember phone books?). It means that management and the salesperson/sales team put energy, time and brain power into defining an ideal customer profile and deciding which prospects should end up on the target list.
My blunt point when coaching sales organizations: If the prospect made its way onto your strategic target list then it’s there for a reason. The salesperson’s job then becomes very simple. Do what’s necessary to secure the meaningful conversation or face-to-face meeting. I don’t want the salesperson deciding on the fly, in the heat of the prospecting moment, whether that potential client is fully qualified. In my opinion, because they’re on the list, the strategic decision has already been made that we want to meet with them. We do. Period.
In my own career as a top sales hunter, some of my best, longest-term, favorite, largest and most profitable clients were not qualified when I first pursued them. Please read that last sentence again. They were not shopping. There may not have been budget. They may not have even known there were better alternatives or another provider (me) that could deliver significantly more value. But because they looked, smelled and felt like my best clients, and because I was convinced I could improve their condition (and make money while doing it), I pursued them with great resolve. Isn’t that what true sales hunters do? Don’t we want our new business development salespeople out identifying and creating opportunities?
As opposed to those in the “strictly qualify” camp, I exhort sales hunters to get into target prospects early. I want to be first, not last, to an opportunity. I want my client salespeople leading, not following their prospects. I want to be in position A when that prospect decides it’s time to look at potential solutions. Let the competitor’s sales team spend their energy over-qualifying and over-analyzing their lists. And then let them become column fodder, or even better, forced to respond to the RFP that you helped craft because you were first; you were the value-creator.