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It’s Not My Job To Teach You How To Prospect Me!

by David Brock on November 11th, 2015

Before I start this post, I have a confession.  I’m oddly drawn to really bad prospecting–particularly from companies selling tools or services to help sales people prospect.  Perhaps it’s a deficiency in my character or something wrong in my upbringing, though Mom and Dad did the very best they could with the material they had.

But I’m obsessed by really bad prospecting. Most people would see a bad email title, or read the first couple of sentences of a poorly constructed email and either trash or Spam it.  I do that with the “normal” bad prospecting.  You know the kind, “It’s all about me the sales person, not about you.”

But really bad prospecting sucks me in.  I read the note, or the tweet over and over.  I may visit the site, without triggering any of the tags they embed to show I’ve actually responded.  Or I may get really bad prospecting Tweets, I study their timelines, looking at how many hundreds or thousands of times they’ve sent the exact same bad tweet to someone.

It must be the same mechanism that causes people to slow down, staring at an accident on the side of the road, or that draws some to watch a fire, but I’m captivated by really bad prospecting.

I’ve gotten past the point of trying to correct the person or the company doing the bad prospecting.  Some of my colleagues get engaged in responding to the offending sales person, pointing out how bad the prospecting is.  Suggesting, privately, how they might improve their approach.  I used to do that, usually, it was unappreciated.  The offending sales person, would push back angrily, suggesting I didn’t understand–their reactions always indicated that I really did understand.

Too often though, bad prospecting isn’t the sales person’s fault–they’re just doing what their managers or some marketing person who’s never picked up a phone tells them to do.  With those, you end up just commiserating with the sales person forced to execute a poorly designed program with bad  training and no coaching.

In some sense these truly bad prospectors should be proud, they’ve achieved one objective–they’ve caught my attention.  They’ve captivated me, I invest more time than they intended–but always producing outcomes exactly the opposite of what they intended.  Instead of responding, I critique (yes and ridicule) their approaches.

Twitter has proven to be very fertile ground for some of the worst prospecting.

In some ways it’s a fantastic tool to spread bad prospecting very fast.  Instead of email, which only the recipient (however 10’s of thousands are sent) sees the message, Twitter has a magnifying effect.  Not only do I get subjected to the terrible tweet, but everyone following me gets to see the same terrible prospecting!

I see dozens of these in my tweet stream every day.  Usually, they are directed to some huge name person that I follow, I see someone prospecting that big name person–most of the time I wonder, “Why would that person ever be interested in that?”  But the prospector has caught my attention–99 times out of 100 the prospecting tweets are horrible!  After all, how much can you really accomplish in 140 characters?

But these bad prospectors manage to turn off not only the target person, but all their followers as well.

Today, there was one targeting me (and all the people who follow me).

On it’s surface it was benign, almost unnoticeable:

@davidabrock where can we learn more about yourself? [sic] Would also like to chat with you about ……

I was intrigued.  It had none of the usual links to a company promoting a product.  But the approach was intriguing.  Instead of them doing the research about me, what my interests might be, my goals, challenges and so forth; I was supposed to teach them all of that stuff—presumably so they could sell me something.

My immediate thought was, “It’s not my job to teach you about me and what I need!  I don’t have the time to do that, if you really care and want to earn a response, you’ll have done your homework.”  Afterall, it’s not hard, my Twitter profile has the link to this site, which has links to our corporate sites, LinkedIn and others.  Researching me and my company doesn’t take a lot of time.  Presumably, if your “sweet spot” is professional services companies, you already know enough about the issues we face, so you can makes some educated guesses about me and what I care about.

I should have just left things there–the 30 or so seconds I spent just thinking about the prospecting approach was more than it deserved.

But this crazy obsession took over.  I looked at the offending sender’s tweet stream.  Yes, there were dozens, if not hundreds of similarly worded tweets in their timeline.  They had targeted a lot of influencers (at least they did a little homework), but also a lot of people with pretty small followings and very low twitter activity.

Presumably, they expected all these people to invest their precious time in teaching them how to prospect.

But I was sucked in even further.  I decided to visit their web site.  Imagine my amazement–what they sell is a tool to help sales people prospect more effectively!  (At least through email).

I thought to myself, this method of getting the prospect to do all the work and research must be at the core of their prospecting approach they promote.  Silly me, I always thought it was the sales person’s job to do that.  After all, most people have too much of their own work to do.  They can’t take the time to do the sales person’s job!

But it got even better.  On studying their offering more, I learned “personalization is key.”  Well, I knew that, but their approach to “personalization” was really intriguing.  In the case of their Twitter prospecting, they had an unpersonalized approach–sending roughly the same tweet to dozens or hundreds of people–asking them to invest the time to do the personalization for them.

At one moment, I thought this was brilliant, the unpersonalized approach featuring personalization!  But then, reality came crashing it.  I realized I had wasted far too much time on this.

I come away from this with a lesson learned.  It’s not the prospects job to do your work for you.  They are too busy doing their own jobs, they don’t have the time and shouldn’t care about doing your job.  Yes, personalization in prospecting is very effective.  But you have to do the work to personalize, if you rely on the prospect, they simply won’t do it.

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One Comment
  1. Dave you took us down the rabbit hole and I followed deeper.

    Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

    From my observations, people who use these types of prospecting approaches actually believe their messages are personalized; they include an individual’s name rather than a blanket “Hi,” “Hello” or no salutation at all. I believe this cultural phenomenon is the result of overtasking. Stay with my long, comment, atypical of today’s compressed time.

    People we do business with here and correspond with regularly, rarely begin their emails or phone calls with my name or salutation, no Hi or Hello. They jump right into their note or conversation.

    Every email or letter I write or phone call I make opens with the person’s name and fitting salutation. Regardless of how many times we write back and forth, they correspond without my name or salutation, although they usually sign their name at the close because of their built-in signature. I believe this is a result of time compaction and overtasking. People try to do more in less time than ever before and this seems to be accelerating exponentially. Quality always suffers at the expense of quantity.

    One technology company runs the following ad campaign during football games on how to save keystrokes:

    “On your iPhone, when you get to the end of a sentence, don’t search for the period. Just hit the space bar twice. It inserts a period, space and capitalizes the next word. I just saved you 4-seconds!”

    When I answer inbound calls, more than 90% of the time, callers does not introduce them self and jump right into their question. When my turn to speak comes around, I introduce myself, “This is Gary Hart…” Even still, people rarely reply with their name. Pulling hens teeth is easier. So I added “…and your name is?” (pause) Yes, I wait for their reply. How wasteful I am with time.

    I believe companies who insert your name into a canned tweet, email or letter actually believe they’ve personalized their message. Let’s face it, typing your name is a large investment of “4-seconds.” (You knew I’d come back to that.)

    A good friend of mine, CSO for a midcap company, recently told me of his struggles to get their sales leaders and reps to walk across the building and have face-to-face conversations with colleagues they’re working with on large complex projects. They argue, “I sent an email,” truly believing this is good enough. My friend is not alone in his frustration with his peoples’ not understanding the value of investing a few minutes to get the desired results they want, but are not achieving.

    -How do we teach the value of personal interactions?

    -How do we teach what to invest their time in and where to invest it?

    -How do we reduce workloads and slow down the pace, to create less quantity and higher quality?

    -How do we equip salespeople for high quality, personalized interactions?

    -How do we inspire our people to buck the headwinds from cultural windmills?

    By the way, your parents did an incredible job, in spite of yourself. (sorry Dave, I couldn’t resist)

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