By: Mark Wolters, Co-President & Co-Founder, SalesEvolve
Prospecting is one of the key stages of the sales process where companies are often hesitant to make an investment.
Why is an investment in prospecting worthwhile?
I’ll get right to the punchline. A prospects journey to understanding that they need something new in their life starts a LONG time prior to their first conversation with your team to see if you can help.
I highlight this because there is a frequent and genuine misunderstanding of where a sales process starts, and as result, some unhealthy reactions to investing either the time or money it takes to build a healthy pipeline of prospective customers.
Common symptoms of those who believe sales start at the first conversation
If you are one of the leaders who believe that sales start when an interested party begins to make active inquiries—it likely means you are managing your team, your expectations, and/or your investments to support only part of the sales cycle.
Here are some common ‘symptoms’ I see for those who operate this way:
- Feeling frustrated by a lack of pipeline
- Irritated at your sales team who never seem to have enough business to close
- Annoyed by the lack of visibility you have to your pipeline 6 months from now
- A revolving door of salespeople who fail to perform as you expect
- Missed revenue targets
- A high dependence on revenue from existing clients (by necessity, not choice)
- A loyal customer base, but finding new clients is a challenge
I get it. We don’t need ‘pipelines’ to grow our business, we need closed sales. As a result we invest heavily in tools and staff that ensure we have closed as many as we can.
However, this focus on the end of the buying cycle means we are frequently ‘blind’ to what is coming next.
Make an investment in educating your target prospects
I propose to you that you need to invest in educating your target prospects with the products/services that you offer well before they become motivated to engage in an active buying decision. For many companies, this is called ‘marketing’ & ‘prospecting’.
If you offer something new and innovating, a target prospect has no idea you can make their world better until after you introduce yourself to them. Once you make them aware, it will still take time for them to shift into an active ‘buying cycle’.
If you offer something that takes away pain, you will need to wait until they are motivated to solve that pain before you can make the sale. Which means assigning resources to maintaining an active relationship with them until that moment happens.
In both cases, we have to pace ourselves to match the timing it will take for them to shift into an active ‘buying cycle’. By dedicating the time and energy it takes to support those who are in the ‘awakening’ stage of their buying cycle, you will be well positioned to finally present your full solution.
There are no guarantees, but you will keep at the top of their list
Of course, doing this does not guarantee a sale. They are human, they will still search online for their options and still ask their colleagues or friends. They will also still phone their parents or speak with their children. BUT they will also keep you at their top of that list. In a world that is so full of competitors, getting ‘invited to the table’ is a big step towards winning new business.
Prospecting takes time, skill, patience and dedication
While prospecting can feel like a waste of time for many, in my experience, it is one of the most critical investments you can make in growing your business, stabilizing your pipeline, and smoothing out the ‘swings’ in your quarterly revenue.
With that being said, before making the investment, it is important to understand a few key points:
- It takes time. While your team might uncover someone who is actively looking to solve a problem when they call – the chances of that are slim. Instead, their investment of time and energy is to should be designed to ensure that your company is there when they are ready to proceed with an active buying cycle. How much something costs, how disruptive it will be, how many people need to be involved in the decision, etc., all influence how long that prospecting cycle will be for your company. It can take months or even years of dedicated effort.
- It takes unique skills. Sales professionals are rarely good at both growing existing accounts and finding new ones because they require different skills. Most companies hire ‘sales people’ with the belief that it is the same job. However, this is simply not the case. I’ll cover this as topic in another post, but the short answer is that finding and beginning a new relationship with a prospect requires very specific skills and dedication to something that very few people are able to do. The same is true for bringing an active sales cycle to a close. As a result, having the right people supporting the right parts of the sales cycle dramatically impact the outcome.
- It takes a lot of patience and dedication. Investing in prospecting means investing in something that has no clear immediate payback. A mistake that I see companies make all the time, is that they try to measure prospecting success by the amount of revenue that it produced within weeks of it starting. While there are a few industries where that might be possible (ie. a carrier has a special promotion on for phone and data combination), for most B2B companies this effort is something that needs to be measured over multiple months. In some cases—especially those who sell into governments or are heavily influenced by them—even years.
Of course, there are times when investing any further into a specific prospect is just a waste of time, but for many it really is just ‘a matter of time’ before they start an active buying cycle.
So, reach out. Stay in touch. Be there for them when they need you. All the best relationships in our lives are with the people that we can count on.
Good luck out there!