According to quarksandcoffee.com, the average human being will spend 852 hours in their lifetime brushing their teeth. That is the equivalent of 35.5 days – or five full vacations. Hard to believe, isn’t it? It may not feel that way because brushing our teeth is a habit that is ingrained into our everyday lifestyle. It is virtually muscle memory that carries us through the act.
Sales professionals also become accustomed to habits. Some healthy, some not so healthy. For example, frequent name usage is a healthy habit. Frequent usage of fillers is not. When it comes to maintaining a healthy sales pipeline, the most functional habit of all may just be prospecting consistently.
Prioritizing prospecting is such an important topic in our profession that my friend, Jeb Blount, devoted an entire book (and a great one) to the matter, Fanatical Prospecting. Jeb conveys the three P’s that hold sales professionals back when prospecting – perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis by analysis, all of which are real deterrents. From my personal experience selling tickets with the Pittsburgh Pirates, I experienced a fourth P – pretend.
Prospecting without a plan is like going up to a buffet without a plate – it’s going to get messy.
During my first eight months with the Pirates, I sold primarily business-to-consumer (B2C). Naturally, all of my leads were provided for me from our business intelligence team, with the common thread of having attended a Pirates game in the past. That all changed when I was promoted to our new business development team, even though I was under the impression that graduating from inside sales meant gifts of qualified business leads interested in buying.
The awakening I was about to receive would be rude to say the least.
As it turned out, there were no leads dropped from “prospect island”, wrapped in a bow and ready for me. I was instead tasked to go out and find my own businesses to engage. With this, I absolutely botched my first attempt at prospecting. The biggest success in my first prospecting attempt was a “mom and pop” architectural firm out of Grove City, Pennsylvania. I think the entire shop had three employees, and when I walked through the front door, they just looked at me as if I had the same number of eyes. The “meeting” concluded five minutes after it began, and all I had to show was one less business card in my stack.
Despite my less than ideal start as an account executive, I learned a very important lesson this day. I was going to need a lot more in my pipeline if I was ever going to hit my brand new, big kid sales goal.
Prospecting with a Purpose
Prospecting without a plan is like going up to a buffet without a plate – it’s going to get messy. A common misconception in sales is that prospecting should be reserved strictly as a “red-light” activity (pre-9:00 am or post-5:00 pm), thus saving “green-light” time (between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm) for phone calls and meetings. In a perfect world, the logic makes sense. However, the world of sales is rarely ever perfect.
When we push prospecting off as a “red-light” activity, it naturally becomes an afterthought, a matter of convenience over precedence. Sales can be a rigorous game. Therefore, reserving prospecting for the times where our energy and focus is off-peak can lead to lesser yield. Either the quality or the quantity of our prospecting effort is often forfeited when we defer to “red-light” time. In some cases, we may even surrender both.
For any sales professional who acknowledges the responsibility of producing and selling business-to-business clientele, a consistent flow of fresh new leads and sales opportunities is a must. Daily prospecting, built into our work day, is the most effective and reliable means to enriching one’s pipeline. We must be intentional with our efforts in order to produce prospects at a high-level. Focusing solely on prospecting for 30 to 45 minutes every day is a great way to stay engaged in the search and resourceful with time.
It is one thing to allocate time each day for prospecting. It is another thing to maximize the time accordingly. We do that though the process of “blocking”. Prospect blocking is a deliberate, arranged amount of time dedicated for prospecting. With tools like ZoomInfo and LinkedIn Navigator, it is easier than ever before to find qualified leads to pursue.
Daily prospecting, built into our work day, is the most effective and reliable means to enriching one’s pipeline.
It begins with researching a company, followed by locating a few key contacts within the organization (head of sales, head of human resources, head of marketing, etc.), uncovering vital contact information and spending approximately 90 seconds to familiarize ourselves with what the company does and how they generate revenue. Any more research than this is unnecessary at this point in the sales process – until we book a meeting. Once this lead is either saved in Navigator or created in CRM, it is time to move on to the next prospect. Again, efficiency here is the goal. In a 45-minute prospecting block, one should aim for finding eight to ten new leads.
After a prospecting block is complete, a plan is then needed to call upon the new leads. Traditionally if I am prospecting post-lunch (1:00 pm – 1:30 pm was my preferred time to prospect), I would then reserve my very first call block the next morning (8:30 am) for making the first dial to the leads generated from the previous day. Avoid mixing time for prospecting with time for making B2B calls. They should be regarded as separate activities.
If prospecting is a priority, we must also have an intent to scale our labor. We can do this in two ways – by industry and by meeting.
This is done by confining our prospecting efforts within a block to a specific industry (law, technology, finance, insurance, construction, etc.). Doing so will increase our ability to prospect in bulk while expanding competence within a specific sector. This will pay dividends when engaging with decision makers.
One of the easiest (and my favorite) ways to prospect is geography based. After an initial out-of-office appointment is booked, use a prospecting block to search via Google Maps for potential leads in the vicinity of the flagship meeting. Efficiency is paramount when we take to the road for sales meetings. Start with searching for businesses within the same industry as the initial appointment and try to stay within a two-mile radius (or a five-block radius if on foot in the city). If unable to secure additional meetings within one industry, expand to other prevalent industries within the designated area. Be sure to spend some time canvassing while in the region as well to build up a prospect list for the next return trip into the area.
The best way to manage a healthy pipeline and avoid a sales “cavity” is to continuously replenish our lead pool with new prospects. Having a prospecting plan is fundamental for the success of the sales professional today. Without one, closing the next account may just feel like pulling teeth.
Adam Vogel is the Senior Director of Training and Development with Sports Business Solutions. Since joining SBS in April 2018, Adam has led training sessions for 20 different partners across the professional and collegiate sports landscape. Prior to SBS, Adam led successful inside sales programs for over five campaigns with the New York Mets and Miami Dolphins, directly overseeing the promotion of 68 sales representatives into senior sales or service roles in the sports industry. Adam also spent time in new business development with the Pittsburgh Pirates. For more information on the services Adam can provide your sales culture, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.