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Blog#88 – Sales Team Not Prospecting, Whose Fault Is That?

My business, First Approach , is all about the business of B2B sales, and more specifically prospecting within the B2B world. My experience over more years than I care to count has afforded me an intimate vantage point over sales people and those who manage them.

I’ve seen good prospectors, average prospectors, and the poorest of the poor. Different people have different issues. It may be a lack of desire, it may be a lack of skill, and it may just be the sheer fear of approaching someone they don’t know, to name just a few of the infinite reasons that get in the way of sales people being able to “get there” when it comes to realizing their goal of meeting new clients.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it is rare indeed the company that can achieve growth without developing new accounts. Existing business,  while good, pretty much always has a life span. Just like we won’t last forever, existing accounts will eventually be lost for one reason or another. Almost nothing lasts forever…

When it comes to prospecting, the most common challenge I see is the issue of sustainability, i.e., prospecting seems to always come dead last on most sales people’,s “to do” list.

Management often attempts to provide sales staff with skills and tactics. “If we just show them this strategy” or “If we just give them better resources” the problem will go away. The company will, lo and behold, achieve the exalted state of prospecting nirvana.

Lamentably, this is rarely the case. It is a given of course that without necessary skills, no matter the job, that few will succeed. But when it comes to prospecting, there’s a problem far more endemic to meeting new clients that gets in the way of success, let alone sustained success, and that’s discipline. Without discipline, the necessary behaviour that leads to continued results just isn’t possible.

Some parts of a sales professional’s job are less challenging. Many behaviours and responsibilities are predictably self-sustained by sales people.

There are activities that offer quick reward and therefore don’t require substantial effort because the reward provides the energy to drive the action. Think of opening one’s email each day as an example and the hope being that a message bearing good news awaits. Another might be returning a client’s phone call, again with the hope of possible good news. It doesn’t take a massive amount of discipline or motivation to engage in these actions because they are self-propelled by a favourable effort/reward dynamic. The effort required to achieve the desired result or reward is not all that much.

The tough stuff? How about month end sales reports. How about responding to emails, or handling difficult requests from unpleasant clients. How about populating CRM’s with data that management has deemed necessary?

There will always will be activities required by sales people that are essential to success. That being said, there are and always will be activities and behaviours that cannot be reasonably expected to be self sustained by a majority of sales people. That’s where management should come in, but how and when is a misguided notion. 

Unfortunately, and again what I witness time and time again is an attitude amongst managers that “managing” sales people to prospect isn’t or shouldn’t be their job. Don’t get me wrong; most any manager will willingly accept the role of providing sales people with the skills and processes required to prospect, but sadly this seems to be where most managers believe their role in the process ends. “I want people that will just pick up the phone” or “I don’t want to have to micro manage” etc. etc.

Managers often try and find that “magic potion”, the one that will ensure self-sustained prospecting by their team in perpetuity. These managers are misguided because it doesn’t exist.

Managers that live by a “let people sink or swim”  doctrine probably won’t be managers for very long because once a sales person has failed to produce by the end of a period, the results haven’t happened,  and those results are un-recoverable.  Managers are and should be responsible for sales people’s performance, and this includes prospecting .

Managers that choose to “leave it to the adults” will always achieve less than those who take responsibility for this important function and what should be a part of any sales manager’s daily ritual.

If through closer supervision, structure, and oversight around prospecting that best practices are maintained, results will follow. Prospecting is just one of those activities that are hardly ever sustained by sales people. They don’t like it, prospecting offers almost zero instant gratification, and generally speaking, it isn’t pleasant. That being said, enough said. It’s a critical and integral part of a successful go to market platform, and it shouldn’t (make that, can’t) be avoided.

So, what to do…

Managers first and foremost should ensure sales people have the required skill sets and methods to prospect. It’s not enough to throw a phone book at a sales person and end with “have at it!”  But once those skills are in place, managers need also to provide a structure that employs checks and balances that sales people will be beholden to. When are you planning to prospect? Is it in your calendar where I can see it? Who are the organizations and people that you are attempting to secure a meeting with? Of those, how many have you actually talked to? How many have agreed to meet with you or asked you to call back another time? How many people gave you a flat out “no” and therefore who will you replace that person with as a new target to call?

Structure, checks and balances on a continual basis are the key to prospecting productivity. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, it is management’s responsibility to provide this level of accountability. To the managers that say they “don’t want to baby sit”, the only truthful response has to be, “do you want to be successful”? To managers that hope sales people will one day “get it” and just “do their job”, my only response, and don’t take this the wrong way, is to get over it, ’cause it isn’t going to happen.

The key to better prospecting lies with management and managers. Lack of prospecting is rarely the sales person’s fault. It’s just that managers think it is…

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