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Is Prospecting Really The Toughest Thing In Sales?

by David Brock on October 12th, 2020

Was just reading yet another post with “market data” declaring prospecting the most difficult aspect of sales. Thousands of blog posts about both the difficulty and importance of prospecting have been published in the past 5-7 years.

But is it really tougher than anything else in selling or are we just making it much tougher than it need be?

Or possibly our problems are that too many sales people just don’t want to prospect? They want to be handed qualified leads–ideally qualified to the point that all the sales person need to is ask for a PO.

Or possibly we just do a terrible job at prospecting, making it much more difficult than it should be?

We know prospecting is important, but we don’t do it on a regular basis. We, too often, avoid it until we are forced to. We hope others will do the work that we need to do—“It’s marketing’s responsibility to generate demand….. Why aren’t the SDRs doing their jobs generating the right amount of leads….. I’m too busy doing working on qualified deals to take the time to prospect…….”

But then our pipelines empty and we are forced to prospect.

In our panic to find opportunities, we reach out to anyone we can. We contact all our current customers, “Do you need to buy something else?” When that doesn’t work, we reach out to prospects in our ICP, “Do you need these products? Do you know anyone that needs these products?” And then we reach out to arbitrary contacts, people on LinkedIn, we buy lists, we cast wider and wider nets, “Can I talk to you about our products….?”

We send emails to any email address we have. We reach out in that tremendously personalized way, “Dear occupant or current resident…..”

And when that doesn’t work, we just do more and more and more.

And it doesn’t generate anything.

As a result, “Prospecting is the most difficult part of selling….”

But we know what effective prospecting is. We know that regardless of how good our pipelines are, we have to prospect every week, we have to continue to look to adding great opportunities to our pipeline.

We know we produce better results by focusing on our ICP–doing some research on the people within the ICP, and engaging them about things that are important to them. They may be challenges they may be facing, things that are happening in their markets, industries, or with their customers. It is not about our products, but about things they might or should be interested in. We know we have to create a reason they should want to engage–knowing that it will require persistence, multiple touches, with multiple channels–each time with an impactful communication (not “Did you get my last email about our products?”)

We know all the best practices about prospecting, we take training, we read any of the 100’s of books or thousands of blog posts saying the same thing.

We see some people that seem to make prospecting look easy. When we examine what they do, it’s simple—they do the things we are supposed to do, that we know produce results. They focus on the customer and what they customer might want to do. They don’t waste their time outside the ICP. They have a regular prospecting cadence, regardless how healthy their pipeline is.

Prospecting isn’t a problem for them, they just do the work!

I’m really skeptical about the claims that prospecting is the toughest thing in selling. I think too many sales people just don’t want to do the work. I think too many marketing people, sales managers and sales people don’t do prospecting the way it should be done, the way it produces results.

It’s not that customers don’t want to talk to us. It’s that we waste their time with irrelevant, poorly prepared communications. Customers are agnostic about the channel through which they learn, though our bad prospecting practices drive them to avoid sales people. But we know when we do the right things, with the right people, prospecting works.

Prospecting is the most difficult thing in sales simply because we fail in how we prospect. We don’t do what we know we should be doing.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

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  1. Norman Roth permalink

    I love prospecting always have over 50 years I loved doing it alone and with the teams I managed individually and as a group. I have met lasting friends and clients prospecting, received more referrals and warm intros than I can list. I have learned and grown every day from prospecting . I still get calls and e mails from team members I managed thanking me for teaching them how to prospect the right way. I also get calls from former and current clients. Prospecting is not hard sometimes we only make it this way

  2. I believe that Prospecting is truly the most difficult or daunting part of the sales process for many sales professionals. However, when you look at the key traits that make an outstanding Sales Pro, does that line up with the key traits of what makes a great Prospector?

    Research, data entry, message building, timing, staying on script, qualifying a checklist, etc. Those don’t sound like key Sales Professional traits to me.

    • Kyle: Thanks for the comment. I think we make great prospecting more difficult than it should be. It is difficult, but I’m not sure it’s the most difficult thing in selling. Some things to think about:

      1. If it were the most difficult thing in selling, why do we put our least experienced people into that role as SDRs?
      2. I’m not sure I totally agree with the characteristics of prospectors, but I think many of the things you identify are critical for sales people and executing deal strategies.
      3. Our data show that sales people who are great in deal execution, are also the most effective prospectors. By contrast, bad sales people are horrible prospectors.

      I think we make prospecting far more difficult than it should be because we do a lousy job at doing the things you outline. What do you think? Regards, Dave

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