Prospecting for new business – whether you’re making cold calls or networking for referrals – is a critical phase of the sales process that’s especially vulnerable to time-eroding detours. If you’re not reaching the right people efficiently and qualifying them promptly, you’re liable to end up like the college student who got four Fs and a D because he spent too much time on one subject.
As a producer you need to make constant decisions about how and where to allocate your time and focus energy. Here are three major time traps and essential strategies for avoiding them:
Not qualifying prospects early enough
Using compiled telemarketing lists lets you “pre-qualify” targets according to company size, industry group, geographic location and other criteria. But compiled data is frequently incorrect (most list companies will credit you for more than 15% inaccurate records), so confirming these details on the phone is critical.
Since it almost always takes multiple attempts to reach key people at most businesses, before you invest valuable prospecting time tracking decision makers to see if you can schedule a meeting, you want to be sure the businesses themselves match your target criteria. The right time to determine if a prospect meets your threshold for account revenue is before you’ve set an appointment with them – not after.
Failing to disqualify time wasters and tire-kickers
Dealing effectively with tire-kickers and window shoppers is a challenge that warrants at least one complete chapter in the prospecting bible. Have you ever called the same person multiple times over many months and found him receptive and friendly every time but always in the middle of something and too busy to really talk? Have you resisted asking if he was actually open to meeting with you because you wanted to keep the vibe friendly and not come off too pushy? When you look at your call logs and email history, are you surprised at how much time you’re spending on these phantom prospects?
The trick is to stay focused on the goal – finding real sales prospects. A salesman I know used to judge a prospect’s value by how long they spent on the phone with him. The longer the call, the stronger the possibilities, he thought. But sadly that’s not the case at all. Many people like to talk and will use up your time doing that unless you assert yourself and keep the conversation on point.
Falling prey to mindless habits of repetition
When activities like dialing a phone number (or pulling the handle on a slot machine) pay off occasionally but not consistently, we can develop habits, due to this random reinforcement, that are hard to eliminate (and often very unproductive). Random reinforcement is intrinsic to the sales process. You can’t eliminate it. So it’s really important to see how it conditions us to repeat activities – often past the point of effectiveness.
Once you understand how you get stuck repeating activities that don’t produce results you can let your critical judgment trump habit and do what works instead of what worked.
The effort you invest in connecting with any target company — the number of attempted calls, emails and so forth — should be guided by considerations like the value of the account and sales intelligence gathered about the company’s buying process, rather than by hard-to-extinguish habits formed by past reward patterns. Poker players talk about knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. That knowing is what makes the winners in any game.