Ups & downs, strikes and gutters - it's the world of sales. All reps struggle with the opposite poles of trying to find new clients while trying to take care of the ones they have. Many times, sales reps stop prospecting because (they say) they're too busy doing 'account management'. The consequences can be brutal and leave the sales rep in violent peaks and valleys. Since customer attrition is inevitable, if the lead pipeline dries up, it’s only a matter of time before sales follow suit.
In my daily client work, here are top reasons why prospecting comes to a grinding halt:
- Prospecting is hard work and time consuming. Like all people, sales reps may resort to looking for shortcuts, or simply cross their fingers and hope a big prospect falls into their lap. But once the habit of hard work is broken, it’s hard to get back; prospecting efforts are difficult to revive when reps start looking for shortcuts.
- Prospecting is depressing work. Sales reps hear a lot of “no’s” and have to deal with rejection constantly. Sales is psychologically demanding; when reps encounter rejection, they often look for “safe places” where they get positive reinforcement. Instead of prospecting, reps spend more and more time revisiting their best customers — perhaps with no real business purpose in mind.
- Reps get tied up handling existing customers, and prospecting falls to the bottom of the priority list. Given the grinding nature of prospecting work, reps are all the more likely to give higher priority to anything else on their plate. It’s always easy to justify spending time working with current clients — sometimes the need truly exists, but other times, as we noted above, it’s a distraction or excuse. They need to let go and delegate.
- Poor planning. Reps fail to budget time on their calendar. Prospecting is not only hard work and depressing work, it is systematic work. Sales professionals are not always the most organized and regimented of employees, so they need a lot of help and coaching to develop time management skills that enable them to keep prospecting top-of-mind and top-of-calendar.
- They fail to use the latest tools and technology. Prospecting tools not only help deal with a problem mentioned above — poor organization — but also bring greater speed and accuracy to the prospecting workflow. Sales reps relying on paper tracking systems, Outlook reminders, and Post-it notes will let great opportunities slip through the cracks due to slow, haphazard and off-the-mark follow-up.
- Frustration with bad, cluttered, hard-to-use CRM software and/or cumbersome Excel prospecting lists. The flip side of the previous problem — not using technology — is using technology that is too complex. Great CRM platforms and other prospecting tools have one thing in common: they all deliver a great user experience. Unfortunately, some organizations select software based more on functionality than usability. The decision looks good on paper, but doesn’t work out so well in the real world of selling.
- Companies give reps no clear direction on what type of prospect to go after, or what their expectations are for prospecting. Sales reps may think they can sell anything to anybody. Left to their own devices, sales reps will not naturally or magically zero in on the most promising prospects or the ones that best fit the organization’s business model. If reps continually bring in prospects the company is lukewarm about, they will eventually lose interest and stop prospecting altogether.
- The “Fat and Happy” Syndrome. When reps score a streak of big deals, they become complacent and think they don’t need to prospect anymore. On one hand, this is a good problem for an organization to have, but let’s recall a point made at the beginning of this discussion: once the habit of prospecting is broken, it is hard to revive. If not careful, many sales reps peak early and become victims of their own success.
Prospecting is essential not only for a full pipeline of leads, but also to help reps keep their pitches sharp and to think on their feet. If efforts have fallen flat, reps must breathe new life into their regimen. We are constantly helping companies with fresh ideas and tactics in this arena by addressing the areas above and finding tailored ways to make prospecting less painful, more efficient, and most importantly - consistent.
So, what do you see at your company? Reps falling prey to the ups & downs? Would love to see some thoughts on successful best practices when it comes to this 'necessary evil' in sales. Ups and downs in sales are inevitable, but you can make those valleys less deep. Happy hunting!