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I Hate Prospecting!

by David Brock on June 17th, 2019

I know how unfashionable it is to say this, but I hate prospecting. We’re supposed to love it. According to many pundits/sales experts, it is the secret to sales success. We are supposed to love and revel in prospecting.

I get it, if our pipelines are empty, we have to find new opportunities and we do this through prospecting. But my news feeds are dominated with things like “the Joy of Prospecting…” There are battles about which prospecting techniques are alive or dead, which is best. Is it social media where all the cool prospectors hang out, is it hitting the phones, is it email, or even door to door–which one of my B2B clients exploits very well?

I suppose I am violating some secret code of “sales bloggers,” but I hate prospecting. I just can’t excited about all the stuff I read, even from close friends.

But since I have to do it, I set about trying to figure out how to do the least amount of prospecting possible–yet still make my numbers.

To figure this out, I had to start at the bottom of the pipeline–actually with my wins and losses. I had to focus on, who, where how I won and what types of situations to avoid so I didn’t lose.

This led me into analyzing what I do during the buying process and how to maximize our wins in that process. I figured, if I doubled my win rate, I would only have to prospect half the opportunities I’d normally have to do to hit my numbers. As a result, I really tuned what we do in managing opportunities in the pipeline. One of the biggest levers in that was to do a better job of disqualification.

Just by doing this, I could significantly cut down on my prospecting.

But that wasn’t enough, remember I really hate prospecting. I decided, “What if I double the size of our average sale?” That meant, I would only have to chase half the number of opportunities, yet still make my number. And again, it meant that I would have to prospect 50% less to find the opportunities necessary to make my number.

So let’s reflect on it. If right now I have to prospect 100 people/companies to make my numbers, and my goal is to reduce that as much as possible:

  • If I double my average sale, I only have to find 50 qualified people to make my numbers. That would substantially reduce my prospecting. That’s a big improvement!
  • If I increase my win rate, let’s say I double it (yeah I know that’s hard, but it makes the math easy), again, I have to find fewer qualified opportunities, only 25, which further reduces my prospecting. I’ve reduced both the number of deals I have to chase to make my numbers by 75 people!!!!! This means I have to prospect much less.
  • Then I looked at, “How many prospects do I have to contact to find a Qualified opportunity?” I focused on better defining my ICP, narrowing my focus actually produced more qualified opportunities in fewer calls. I reduced the number by 50%!
  • Interestingly, by doing this, I free up a lot of time so that I can actually improve my win rate–doing a better job with those opportunities I have qualified, or get more (higher sales) from those.

Bottom line, if I get much better with selecting the right opportunities and managing them very well, I can hit my numbers and reduce what I hate the most in selling–prospecting! I still have to do it, but I can hit my goals and do much less.

As I reflected on this, getting much more effective in managing the opportunities I do qualify, winning more, freeing up lots of time because I don’t have to prospect as much, I got greedy. I realized I could overachieve my number. I might not have to prospect as much as I do now, but I could close a lot more business.

In the end, my greed won out, I actually chose to keep up with the same amount of prospecting, but am selling a hell of a lot more! That’s a personal choice.

OK, it’s time for me to come clean. I’ve been fooling you. I actually like prospecting, I’m curious, I love talking to people and seeing how I might help them.

But I wanted to make a point that I think is missed in 90% of the “You must prospect” conversations I read. We don’t prospect just for the sake of prospecting and it’s the current hot topic among all the “sales gurus.” We prospect to find enough opportunities to win to make our numbers.

But we are squandering our prospecting results, if we don’t, at the same time, get much better at handling the prospects we do qualify.

The goal is not really more prospects, the goal is making the most of every prospect we get, enabling us to achieve our numbers.

Whether you like prospecting or not, try this exercise. Figure out what it takes to reduce your prospecting to the absolute minimum–yet still make your numbers.

Go through the analysis of what it takes to be better at all aspects of selling, not just prospecting. Once you’ve done that, and mastered the practice of that, you have choices–you can do the minimum and make your numbers, or you can do more, growing your numbers. But at least then you are making the most of every prospect you touch.

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  1. Another way to do this is to find something enjoyable about prospecting each of the 100 people, even if it doesn’t lead to a sale.

    Enjoyable conversations are an intrinsic good.

    • Joel Lyles permalink

      Strong agree. Sales is at its most fun when it’s personal.

  2. Joel Lyles permalink

    I think that the dislike of prospecting has to come with a high-volume approach that is all of the rage in sales, especially with startups. I actually liked cold-calling when I had to think of a personalized agenda for the 20-35 people I had to call daily. It gave me time to research them, learn about their company, and even about their coworkers. Even if they didn’t buy from me or agree to a meeting, I felt happy that I at least shared something useful that could help them, even if it wasn’t related to what I was selling.

    I’m an SDR and this approach had a really high meetings scheduled rate. I was routinely at the bottom of the rankings for dialed yet exceeded my quota. Lately, though, they’re mandating 100+ dials a day to the point where if you miss it twice, you’re on a PIP. This, of course, means that I can’t send out the personalized e-mails that I used to. Even worse, I’m encouraged to deliberately dial just to dial even if I don’t think the person would be a good fit. “Hey, you never know.” My numbers have slipped but I’m still making quota… so… hooray?

    Now I can see why a lot of sales reps despise prospecting.

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