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It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room with regard to prospecting.   For too long every excuse in the world has been used as to why prospecting is so difficult.

The elephant in the room is the environment created by the leadership of the organization. It begins with leadership claiming any shortcoming in prospecting is a result of the sales team failing to engage, and if they would just execute the plan, then everything would be just fine. The elephant in the room IS leadership!

News Flash: The prospecting process is built on the behavior of the leadership. What leadership says and does and, just as important, what leadership does not say or do, impacts how Sales and Marketing deal with prospecting.

When the leadership views prospecting only as a tactical activity to be measured by the number of cycles, touches or any other measurement, then prospecting is doomed to fail. Failure may not come today, tomorrow or even next month, but it will occur, and the problem is leadership will see it too late.

Sales leadership is about viewing the business strategically, looking not at what occurred in the past, but at how things will occur in the future. Salespeople, just like most people, want to be led by leaders who have a vision and the ability to communicate the way to achieve the vision.

Every sales leader knows the importance of spending time with customers, although few actually do it to the level they should. Few leaders realize the importance of spending time with leads and prospects. When a leader spends time with customers, they’re spending time with people who have already validated what is being sold, thus the learning is one-sided.

When a leader spends time with a prospect who knows that they have a need, but knows little about the leader’s company, only then is the leader in a position to uncover real learning.

Even better is when the leader seeks out a cold lead to better understand why that lead went cold or chose to do business with a competitor. Think about the knowledge you would gain if you could have a discussion with a lead who decided to not buy from you but instead from someone else? This is the start of understanding strategically what the prospecting process should look like.

Is it easy for a leader to have a discussion with someone who is buying from a competitor? No, but that’s exactly why it needs to be done. The insights learned will be significant. Not only will the insights help shape changes in the process, but the sales team itself will view their leaders in a much better light.

Let’s not think the only change leaders need to make is merely meeting with leads. No, there is far more that needs to be done. Too many organizations over value the existing customer and in turn salespeople come to believe they need to put all of their efforts against existing customers. This naturally cuts into prospecting time. This is a huge reason I am a strong advocate of splitting a sales team to allow for account managers who tend to existing customers and sales development managers charged with bringing in new customers.

Many times an organization is simply too small to be divided into two teams, but that still doesn’t mean the culture of the company can’t be tilted more toward prospecting.   Easiest way is by having a policy that on certain days of the week or during large blocks of time during a day, time will be spent exclusively on prospecting. The single biggest reason this process would fail is management interrupting the prospecting time with requests to deal with customer issues.

We are all creatures of habit. If we allow an interruption to occur once, we’ll allow it again and again. What continues to surprise me is that this simple activity of having times dedicated 100% to prospecting can do more for improving prospecting results than nearly any other strategy, but the key is it’s not 90% or even 97%. It must be 100%.

Leaders by nature always will be focused on total sales. An important question to consider, though, is this: “Do we hold prospecting to as high a measurement?” Unfortunately, the prospecting measurement tends to be merely total number of leads or some other term that lumps everything into one category. Leads and prospects are as diverse as long-term customers and thus it’s important to segment leads and prospects by behavioral and outcome type.

The tendency to rank prospects only by size potentially misses the entire point of understanding how to truly serve the lead or prospect. This comes back to an item discussed earlier about the need for sales leaders to understand leads by gaining first-hand knowledge.

All of this leads to the need to create a culture that embraces prospecting. It’s not just a sales culture; it’s a prospecting culture. When prospecting is viewed as important as anything else, then the desired results begin to occur.

 

Join me as I discuss this subject in depth October 4 at the Sales Summit, which is part of Dreamforce 2016.

Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter,” is recognized as one of the top 50 most influential sales and marketing leaders in the world. He is author of “High-Profit Selling: Win the Sale Without Compromising on Price” and “High-Profit Prospecting” (to be released September 2016). Mark Hunter not only has expertise in sales, but also knows how to communicate it to others. This is seen best by his travel schedule and the 50+ speaking events he does each year throughout the U.S. and Canada and around the world.

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