Not Having a Positive Prospecting Culture is Damaging Your Business and Creating Stress and Uncertainty
The Impact of Poor Prospecting
It’s a very common issue among sales teams who have multiple focuses and are driven by sales results which are best achieved by face to face appointments. How do we keep a consistent flow of new prospects into the funnel and nurture them until we can close the deal?
The biggest barrier to maintaining a robust new business pipeline is not having a culture of prospecting among your company and the sales team. In other words, prospecting is not seen as a consistent, habitual activity but more as an activity that takes place when sales are drying up or targets are being missed.
In this article we will discuss the problems this can cause and the reasons why prospecting rarely gets the focus and attention it needs.
What Problems Does This Cause?
Boom / Bust
Firstly, a lack of a consistent pipeline of new opportunities often leads to a boom / bust sales flow. Starting at the bottom of the curve, where we have no customers, we are furiously prospecting to build enough prospects and book sufficient appointments to fill our diaries and present the sales opportunities we need.
Then our focus switches from filling the pipeline to attending the appointments and closing deals. Great! We’ve made some sales and now we are working on onboarding our new customer and servicing their needs. The money is coming in, targets are being met and everyone is happy!
But, this switch of focus has led to a serious downturn in our pipeline, meaning that our attention has to turn back to prospecting, to drive that curve of new business up again. We lurch from feast to famine on a timeline that is usually equivalent to the sales cycle of our product and customers.
The boom / bust behaviour described above leads itself into ‘Panic Prospecting’. The sales person or management realises that new business is tailing off, maybe some existing customers have left and there is a big hole in your future business that will damage you unless you do something now! So, let’s hit the phones! Get out and knock on doors! We need more prospects, urgently!
If your sales cycle is long, then even more panic is introduced because of the lead time from contact to sale.
Effective prospecting can never been done in ‘panic mode’. Building an effective prospect list, researching the prospect and deciding on the right method of introduction all take time and effort. Sales people who are under this kind of pressure will never prospect effectively leading to wasted data, lost opportunities and disappearing morale.
Losing Opportunities to Your Competitors
If your competition has a culture of effective prospecting, they are probably already talking to your target market, because it is their habit to consistently fill their pipeline and to fully understand who is in their market and what their needs may be.
This means that, when you go into panic prospecting mode and start trying to talk to your prospect market, you will get more push back, not only because your target will have an incumbent supplier but they are also being courted by your competitors who have taken time to get to know them. What chance do you have of breaking down those relationships and getting in front of the customer?
Missed Sales Targets
It goes without saying that a poor pipeline will lead to missed sales targets. It is natural that existing customers may drift away, either tempted by a competitor, changed their business model or shut up shop. Your current customer spend is always likely to decrease in time. If you are not consistently looking to top up your client portfolio with well prospected new clients, the challenge to hit targets will get bigger and bigger. And this has other implications…….
Your profits are decreasing as existing customers naturally decrease. The new customers you do bring on take time to onboard and develop their spend with you. Costs are always increasing and, as a result, you lose profit. All of which could be so easily avoided with the right prospecting culture.
Demoralised Sales Staff
I have seen sales people stressed to breaking point as they try desperately to fill the pipeline that they have neglected in favour of existing customers and those sales appointments that they do have. Balancing the time between service customers and prospecting is very difficult. Add to that the pressure brought on them by management who are seeing missed sales targets, boom / bust results and a decreasing customer base, then you have one stressed out sales person. Regardless of their prospecting technique, as stressed sales person will NEVER prospect as effectively as one who has a clear, defined approach which delivers results and prospects in a calm, productive manner.
And if we think the sales team are stressed in this scenario, then the management must be even more stressed. Do you find yourself getting frustrated with the ups and downs of sales targets being hit one month, missed the next? With sales people complaining they don’t have time to prospect? With shareholders complaining about the lack of new sales and diminishing profit?
I have met many sales managers and directors who continuously battle all of these stressful elements, often without actually solving the problem for the long term.
Growth is Restricted
So, the downturn in profits and missed sales targets will eventually lead to the restriction of growth. Businesses need to grow in order to keep moving forward and to do that, they often need to invest. If profits are being hit and cashflow is effected by the lack of a robust pipeline, then investment will decrease and growth will grind to a halt.
Why Do Sales People Not Prospect Consistently and Effectively?
There are a number of reasons why prospecting does not become the culture of a sales business. In my experience, it is often a combination of most or all of these reasons, to differing degrees but mainly, it comes down to process, structure and accountability.
Managing your time between prospecting and servicing appointments and existing customers is one of the biggest difficulties in ensuring you have a reliable pipeline. Sales people tell me that they are under pressure to have a maximum number of appointments in their diary, so much so, that prospecting is ditched in favour of seeing more customers and often, not for the right reason.
Travelling and admin adds to the time pressure and sales people are often left making new customer calls from the car or a lay-by between appointments, desperately trying to fill their diary for the coming week. This can never be as effective as dedicated time for prospecting and can be rushed and ill-prepared.
Whether it has evolved over time or is the result of target pressure, I see sales people whose focus is in the wrong place or not enough focus is being given to all aspects of the sales process. As mentioned above, the focus is often placed on customer appointments as the sole measure of activity and potential success. Sales people need to be allowed the time and space to focus on filling the pipeline effectively, every week.
Not In My Comfort Zone
I’ve met many field sales people who are very uncomfortable with making prospecting phone calls or knocking on prospects’ doors. They fear rejection and they fear not succeeding. Many field sales people are far more comfortable in a face to face environment, at an appointment which the customer has willingly set with them.
Usually this fear comes from a lack of good prospecting process in the past which has lead to rejection and a lack of desire to then continue to prospect which could leave them open to more rejection.
This is one of the major reasons for prospecting not becoming part of a company’s culture. Sales people who have been badly trained or even not trained at all, are set the task of prospecting by phone, in person or via social media. This lack of a process that delivers consistently good results will only end up with a considerable amount of rejection.
The more rejection the sales person receives, the less motivated they are to continue to prospect and this valuable activity drops out of their daily routine. They try to find other ways to fill their pipeline, often relying on referrals and inbound leads.
“I’ve got enough business”, “My customers come to me”, “I get my business through word of mouth”.
These are all statements I have heard over the years of training sales peopled working with companies from many sectors. They may well be true, but my question is always the same - “Do you KNOW that will always be the case?” In my experience, there are very few active sales environments where there is consistently enough inbound opportunities to feed the business.
These statements are often a deflection from the real issues which could be that the sales person is simply not confident or competent in prospecting, leading to a belief that is just doesn’t work.
Lack of Motivation
Nearly every sales oriented company that I have worked with over the years will reward their staff on sales results. Very few of them will reward their people for the right sales activities as well as the results. They typically do not incentivise the key practices that will drive the sales results forward. Add in to this a lack of a reliable process, poor training and time management issues, it is not surprising that prospecting is seen as at best, an inconvenience and at worst, something to be avoided at all costs!
Much of the issues discussed here can be solved by the right management behaviours. Culture comes from the top and, if the management focus is solely on the results, and not also on the effective activities that drive those results, then sales people will gravitate to what they know satisfies their management.
In order for a positive prospecting culture to develop, it is sometimes necessary to start with the focus and attitudes of those running the business and the sales team first.
I have always believed that reward and accountability go hand in hand. Most of the businesses that ask me to help with their prospecting have no measurement processes dedicated to the prospecting process and do not hold their people accountable for their daily activities. This lack of accountability leads to a belief that it is not important to the business and therefore not important to the sales person, as long as the results are coming in. This is all very well in good times, but, without a consistent, reliable prospecting culture, we can never guarantee that the good times are here to stay.
How Do We Create an Effective, Positive, Prospecting Process?
In my next article, which you are very welcome to receive, I will lay out the key steps to developing this culture within your business. Using proven methods that have brought consistently high results to all of my customers, we can work together to develop your culture and your future sales.
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