Most sales managers we speak with express frustration that their salespeople are not in front of enough qualified prospects.  Without an effective prospecting system in place, the sales pipeline is weak, creating pressure to be more aggressive in selling to less qualified prospects. This leads to poor sales and margins, frustrated salespeople, and concerned management.

Prospecting is an activity that is filled with rejection.  You’ve got to deal with gatekeepers, people claiming they’re happy with their existing supplier, they’re too busy to see you, etc.  In some industries, salespeople need to make 50-60 contacts just to get one appointment.

Most salespeople focus on the results of their prospecting efforts, and that’s a mistake.  While results are important, it’s impossible for you to control results. Our advice is simple – don’t worry about what you can’t control.   Instead, focus on those things that you can control.

You MUST Schedule Sacred Prospecting Time Each Week  

This is a must for all successful prospectors. If you don’t carve out and protect the prospecting time slot, other activities will creep into that time and dilute your efforts.  Another thing you can certainly control is your own behavior – the activities that you do.  If you set prospecting goals for yourself, such as making ten cold calls daily, every day you make those ten calls is a successful prospecting day. You won’t last long if you become discouraged every time a prospecting call comes up empty. Try changing your attitude.

Think of prospecting as a discarding activity.  You’re discarding those who are not prospects, and each time you discard one you get closer to that gold nugget.  Let’s face it, prospecting is a head game in many ways, so get your head straight if you want to win the game.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Prospecting Basket  

Most successful prospectors have more than one method of prospecting.  They don’t put all their eggs in one basket.

Here are a few proven ways to find prospects, but every business is different and some of these activities may or may not fit you.  Select several that do fit your model:

  • Prospecting within your current accounts for expanded business where you have an established relationship.
  • Referral prospecting where you use your current customer base to refer you to others.
  • Networking at professional meetings, association meetings and anywhere else that your prospects or good referring sources may gather.
  • Participation at trade shows or special exhibits.
  • Newsletters, both in print and email.
  • “How to” articles in client-orientated publications.
  • Speeches at client industry meetings.
  • Cold calling

Once you’ve gained the attention of that hard-to-reach prospect, you’d better make sure that your initial message moves you forward, not backward.  This is where some salespeople blow it.  Given the chance to make a great first impression and set themselves apart from the competition, they do just the opposite. For tips on how to get that perfected, see our Prospecting post.

In my opinion, it’s this: “Does that make sense?”

I hear this question frequently in many capacities, and it makes me shudder. And here’s why it stinks. First, if the information that you are trying to convey to someone doesn’t make sense, and you then ask them, “does that make sense?”, how do you think that makes them feel? Are they really going to ask for clarification? What would that sound like? “No, can you start over?” or “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

People are reluctant to make those kinds of concessions because it makes them feel inadequate, like there is something wrong with them that’s preventing them from catching on. I’ve seen senior leaders in organizations ask this question in small and large gatherings, and it just causes the gap between them and the audience to grow wider.

So, what would be a better choice? It depends what your goal is. If you’re trying to get confirmation that the customer is understanding what you’re saying, how about a question that extends the dialogue, like “how does this relate to issues in your organization? If so, tell me about them. Or, “ How do these topics impact your bottom line?” There are so many other creative ways to get a response, extend the discussion and learn more about their business.

The next time you’re meeting with a customer or presenting in front of a group, resist the urge to fall back on the question, “does that make sense?” Dig deeper, connect with your audience, and bring them into the dialogue with more pointed discovery questions that will help you better position your offering and the value that it brings.


John shares his insights with of Selling Power Magazine. He has been voted by Selling Power as one of the Leading Sales Trainers.


Many dedicated professionals (doctors, lawyers, CPA’s) have requirements on Continuing Education (CE) and knowledge standards to remain active in their specific trade. Oddly, Sales Professionals do not have a dedicated licensing body-imagine if we did? Buyers may appreciate it.

The place I go 2 to 3 times per year to get caught up on the most important topics in Sales is the Selling Power 3.0 Conference series hosted by Gerhard Gschwandtner. Year in and out, Gerhard assembles the most interesting, diverse, deeply talented speakers and topics to keep Sales Leaders informed as to what is happening in the Buyers and the Seller’s worlds. If you haven’t taken part, I strongly suggest that you do. In fact, if you read this far, and want to go to the next 3.0 Conference, I will pay for it-let me know. Good selling.

As humans, we tend to want to swoop in and fix things, often starting with the things that are most broken and most in need of repair. As sales managers, we pride ourselves on being fixers and judge ourselves on our ability to effectively coach our teams and give them the resources they need to be successful.  

But, just as not all salespeople are created equal (see Bottom Third Sales Coaching) nor are the opportunities they put in the pipeline. In both cases, though our tendency may be to start with the team members and opportunities that are most in need, this impulse is often detrimental to our overall success. Just as with the bottom third of our sales reps, the bottom third of our opportunities will rarely move the needle regardless of how much time or energy we put into them. Often these are opportunities that have not been well qualified and are not well suited to our product or service capabilities. Additionally, despite equal or greater time investment, they may not have the revenue potential that some of the other opportunities have. 

So, what’s the answer? As difficult as it can be, the answer is to put less time into your bottom third. Instead, focus your time on B and C opportunities. Why not your A opportunities? Because your top 10% of opportunities are so well qualified and such a good fit, that they’ll likely close with little to no involvement from you. So, spend your time on the B and C opportunities, helping your reps understand how your product or service will help their prospects increase revenue, decrease costs or mitigate risks. Spend time thoroughly qualifying these ones up front so they have a higher likelihood to close.  

Neglecting the bottom third of your opportunities is not shirking your sales managerial responsibilities; in fact, reallocating your time to focus on the 60% of your core B and C opportunities will be the best way to support your sales reps going forward by helping them move the needle. 

Last week, the new owner of our office building (so glad to NOT be working from home) put our logo on the glass door out front (see the photo attached). It looks great, although they changed the logo color for the name “Flannery” from blue to purple. I like it. A lot.

It reminds me that many things are simply not the same right now. It’s strange, and I am grateful for the opportunity for perspective in this environment.

We just conducted another virtual Sales Process Workshop through Zoom for a new customer in Australia , and it went very well by their account. Their participants were engaged, the exercises were given full attention, and they will get results from their efforts. It’s not the same as face-to-face, but it works. I’m grateful for the technology.

In the absence of being able to travel, we welcomed the new customer in cyberspace and built rapport as best we could. I miss travel badly, as it is part of the grand adventure of creating relationships in customer organizations and helping people improve. And for my personal growth, travel allowed me to be readily seeing new places, people and things. For now, it will have to be virtual, across the screen in various global time zones; I’m grateful for our customers’ willingness to embrace the experience.

Sitting atop the door in the picture is the prominent COVID 19 warning sign, the ones you are seeing all over the place to remind us to take all precautions we can to stay safe. And most of us do take those precautions—remarkably, some still do not. Selfish. We live and work in a beautiful part of the country where much of life happens outdoors, providing opportunities for gratitude all around us.

If I get stuck in the trap of comparing the ways things were “before” to the way they are now, my learning stops and my ability to grow is limited. By embracing the shift, and seeing what’s possible with the human spirit, gratitude floats.

*Article title inspired by John Lennon’s song “Nobody Told Me”. Have a listen here.

This guest article was written by Chris Bullick. Chris is a Principal Consultant who is the Creator of the Sales Diagnostic Questionnaire (“SDQ”), he provides analysis and strategy for go to market strategies, corporate messaging, pipeline metrics, relationship building and winning presentations.

I was speaking with a wildly successful colleague recently and she relayed the story of her latest accomplishment.  The company she was selling to was not necessarily in buying mode.  They reached out to a few vendors to conduct general capabilities presentations.  She had never met the buyer.

My friend’s presentation blew the doors off the buyer.  The buyer immediately put the wheels in motion to contract with my friend’s company to provide services to his and they never talked price until the actual closing. 

When I asked my friend what did the trick, she said her team prepared as if it was biggest and most important finalist presentation they had ever participated in.  

Best Practice: Treat every meeting like a finalist presentation.  Learn how to prepare for the big day.

She brought the team who would service the account, the potential account manager, a regional executive and a video from her company’s CEO imbedded into her PowerPoint that was customized for the prospect.  She noted that her biggest competitor was presenting right after her.  They sent one person and she learned later that their presentation was a generic one-page marketing piece. 

Best Practice:  Bring the team.  It’s great practice for those who are not in front of customers every day.  If you don’t win, you still may be setting the table for the future with that prospect.  Learn how to get your whole team comfortable presenting. 

Imagine that!  Allocating resources full bore on a deal with a low probability of success.  Do other organizations do that?  The answer is not many.   A lot of organizations handicap themselves out of deals.  They look in their CRM and see that they have tried to sell to that buyer in the past without success.  They think the buyer is just kicking tires or leveraging them on price.  Another great excuse is they haven’t met the buyer yet.  They place a low percentage of winning in the CRM. 

The organizations that handicap themselves will not allocate resources on a low percentage deal.   They will tell their sales people not to spend so much time on a deal like that, don’t burden marketing, don’t take anyone important and use generic marketing materials.  In doing so, they take the passion, urgency, energy and enthusiasm out of the deal.   They have set themselves up to fail. 

Best Practice: Don’t skimp on preparation and resources. Learn how to prepare the right way and bring the right resources to every meeting.  

Winning companies tell their sales people to jump in with both feet.  It’s alright to drop everything, muster your resources, and prepare with a mindset that you are winning the business right then and there.  When you present with conviction and purpose it reveals your company’s attention to detail, planning and execution.   

Now more than ever in the midst of a strange economic time, establishing value is key to closing business.  If you can’t clearly articulate how your product can be used to increase revenue or decrease costs, how do you expect customers to understand why they should choose you over the competition? According to a study conducted by  Forrester Research, the number one inhibitor to achieving your sales quota is the inability to effectively communicate a value message.

Top Inhibitors to Achieving Sales Quotas

  • Insufficient leads: 13.3%
  • Poor sales skills: 16%
  • Too many products to know: 21.4%
  • Information gap: 24.3%
  • Inability to communicate value message: 26%

“Value proposition” is a phrase that became ubiquitous during the 90’s. Buzz word or not, establishing the value of your product or service without overwhelming potential customers with a landslide of features and benefits is crucial. So how do you do it?

  1. Learn about your customers. Study their market, what they sell, the competitive landscape, the organization size, and the roles involved in the decision-making process.  Next, conduct informational interviews within your network.  Talk to anyone in the industry who has been exposed to your ideal customer.  Finally, talk directly to your customers and/or prospects.  Find out about their goals, how they measure and track their success, and ask about their pain points.  Once you have done your research, you’re equipped with the knowledge to successfully position yourself to appeal to your target audience.
  2. Demonstrate value.  Take what you’ve learned about your customer and start crafting a message that demonstrates the value of your productfrom their perspective. How will your product eliminate pain points and help them achieve daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals? Some examples are:
    • Imagine a day without the stress of x, y, and z. With the time you save you’ll be able to accomplish twice as much of what you need to do.”
    • “Whether it’s daily, weekly, or yearly we understand that goals are always top of mind. Let (product X) help reduce the time it takes to meet those goals by taking advantage of x and y capabilities.
  3. Position and differentiate. What makes you different from your competitors? Is it your exceptional customer service, large number of capabilities, or the price of your product? Whatever it is, be sure to reiterate the difference across all sales and marketing channels. Make sure what you’re saying on your website is demonstrated similarly on your social channels, in your marketing materials, and through the words that sales reps use with customers. It sounds obvious, but unfortunately many organizations fail to do this.

Understanding your customer, demonstrating value, and positioning yourself are all simple strategies to help streamline the sales process. Don’t fall into the 26% that are unable to communicate value messages about their product consistently and effectively.

All of our clients have made some investments in their sales organization. Whether it be money spent on sales training, a time and territory management offering, or an outing for team-building, many companies are making important investments in their people. However, one disconnect we see is that while companies are willing to spend money up front, they don’t always do the follow-up work needed to reinforce the lessons learned.

One area in which many companies have invested is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. While their potential is invaluable, it’s clear that CRMs are not being used as tools to optimize the dollars spent in their people. Here are three questions to assess your sales training optimization as expressed through your CRM.

  1. Do tools reflect the steps in the sales process and promote the common vernacular used in training so everyone speaks the same language? Matthew J. Boyle, marketing director at a Massachusetts accounting and consulting firm, describes this scenario, “When employees manage their own contact information and share it unsystematically, data-quality issues proliferate, and compiling and sorting correct, current information becomes an immense task. This can result in a firm that functions like several different small practices under one roof instead of a cohesive whole.” CRM’s customized with company-wide vernacular can help.
  • How do salespeople internalize their customer’s needs and what steps are necessary to complete the sale? This can be laid out in a CRM as well. If companies were better at defining and following up on sales steps within their CRM, training would be internalized and wins would increase. For example, salespeople could attach the follow-up letter outlining their sales meeting. That way, managers could coach to the correspondence, communication skills would increase, forecasting accuracy would improve, and trends could be analyzed.
  • How do you coach through the information in your CRM?  Organizations can all have the same training experience, yet inevitably skill levels will still vary dramatically. With a CRM based on a well-defined sales process, management will be able to quickly assess where individual development is needed. For example, a CRM would show that a salesperson has sent samples to a prospect. This is useful information, but it can also show that there has been no meeting or discussion of that prospect’s needs prior to the samples being sent. Product sent to a client before goals are shared is money down the drain. A manager could see this and use it as a coaching opportunity to reinforce the skills taught in training.

Like all good relationships, the match between training and the CRM is reciprocal. We help companies maximize their training dollars and dollars spent on CRMs by making sure both systems are optimized and well-integrated. Let us help your company design and implement a sales process that is optimized through your current CRM.

Virtually all the experts would agree that the following mistakes are commonplace when salespeople start to negotiate.  Awareness of these challenges may improve your ability to negotiate considerably.

  • Getting emotionally involved.  This one tops the list because, above all, your attitude toward something determines your success.  If you appear needy, conveying the message to your prospect that you’ll do almost anything to get the business, your prospect will sense this weakness and exploit it.  Avoid statements like, “We’d really like to get this done,” “I need this to make my quota this month,” and “What do we need to do to get you to buy from us?”
  • Making unilateral concessions.  A unilateral concession is agreeing to a prospect’s request too quickly, and without asking for something of equal or greater value in return.  For example, your prospect asks you to lower your price by 5%. Your response is, “Sure, we can do that.”  Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes and reflect on what message your response sent. First, he or she is undoubtedly thinking that since you agreed so easily, he or she should have asked for more. Second, he or she knows that since you dropped your prices so easily, you’ve probably overpriced the product or service. This creates doubt about the overall quality of what you’re selling. Finally, you’ve demonstrated your inexperience as a negotiator, opening yourself for more abuse as the negotiation goes on.
  • Not understanding the prospect’s pain and alternatives.  This is your “ace in the hole” and without it, you are defenseless. As we’ve previously mentioned in this book, most salespeople qualify poorly, betting on their powers of persuasion, features, and benefits, and charming personalities to get the job done. That doesn’t work. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to stand your ground if you don’t know what the prospect’s business objectives are, and the downside if the problem is not fixed. Therefore, you must uncover how severe their pain is, how it impacts both the company and the individual you’re negotiating with, and what happens if the problem doesn’t get resolved through negotiations. 
  • Talking too much.  When you are monopolizing the conversation it’s impossible to “read” your customer or learn what their specific needs are. You’re giving information, not receiving it. Falling into this trap is a sure way to lose. 
  • Not understanding your objectives and value items.  Failure to have worked out, in advance, your list of primary (best case) and secondary (fall back) objectives will create confusion and indecision for you. If you don’t, you’ll just end up winging it, which is a surefire road to disaster.

Want to read more about negotiating? Try our earlier blog posts 5 Ways to Turn the Tide When Negotiating and The Art of Making Concessions.