Wake Up From Your Prospecting Nightmare in 2018

I’m so excited the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are over so I can get busy prospecting. Watch out telephone here I come!
— Said No Salesperson Ever

Let’s get real, prospecting is without a shadow of a doubt the number one most frustrating aspect of sales. Salespeople avoid it more than any other stage of the sales process. It’s not fun and very few enjoy it. In our work with sales leaders, sales teams and individual salespeople worldwide, we don't hear anybody saying “This is so great. I love this part”.

There are a lot of salespeople that love qualifying. There are a lot of salespeople that love the nitty-gritty of negotiation. There are a lot of salespeople that love the interaction of the final presentation, and there are a lot of salespeople that love closing. But I don't know many people at all that the love the rejection that happens in the prospecting phase of the sales cycle.     

It’s gotten so bad that clients have created multiple defense strategies and barriers to prevent us getting access, primarily because there are so many salespeople out there that do it so poorly. They’ve had so many bad experiences and wasted so much time that now everyone is tarred with the same brush and the doors are closed to all. Ouch! There has to be a better way.

Before we consider the remedies let me say that if your pipeline is currently bursting with high quality opportunities. If your method of prospecting is so awesome that you have an abundance of deals already in play. Then you might want to stop reading right now. Because if these are the results you’re getting, then keep doing what you’re doing. Why would you change if what you’re already doing is delivering a pipeline full of top quality clients and opportunities? 

But that's not what we’re seeing. Typically we hear sales leaders and salespeople tell us that their pipeline is empty, barren, naked. Or that their pipeline is bloated with fiction and low quality opportunities that soak up time and resources but go nowhere. And they’re worried.

When we look at it through that lens. When the results are not where they really need to be. Then something has to change. Remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet you're expecting different results.

Nowhere in the sales process do a few minutes of dialogue more quickly determine whether we continue or end our relationship than during the initial interaction.
— Randy Illig, Co-Author, Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play

If your pipeline is not where you want it to be you can do two things. You can focus on your skillsets and work to get better at doing the things you need to do. Or you can take it to a higher level and focus on your mindsets. Where you start depends on your own unique situation, but how you and your people think about prospecting (mindset) guides what they actually do (skillset) so to effect sustainable change, rather than see a short term bump in performance that quickly fades, you'll most likely need to work on both.

That might sound like a daunting prospect, but then again anything worth doing takes time and effort. Just ask anyone in any field who has achieved a degree of proficiency. If you’re going to become terrific at anything, you’re going to have to put in the hard work, sweat, repetition, drilling, and practicing until you get it right. Sales is certainly no exception. By way of example let’s take a look at one of the key mindsets known to deliver prospecting success for the world’s top performers: 

Mindset One: Rethink the Funnel

The image on the left is what most people think of when they imagine a sales funnel. It’s wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. This is what we call the Funnel of the 80%. This is the way the B and the C players look at the funnel.

You’ll also notice the different coloured balls. The grey balls represent poor quality opportunities and the orange balls represent good quality opportunities. With two won deals coming out at the bottom.

The image on the right however is how the A players, the 20%’ers, your Top Performers look at the funnel. As you can see we have the same collection of grey and orange balls at the top of the funnel but we have more orange balls at the bottom, representing more won deals. You’ll notice the funnel is also shaped differently, its narrow at the top and wide at the bottom.

People often look at the second image and say “Come on Ian, three orange balls go in and five orange balls come out. Really! Where do you get off saying that?”

It’s a good question. Where do the 20%‘ers get all that extra business. Well one way they do that is they do referral quality work and they ask for and get referrals from their clients. What we know about the best of the best is that a lot of their pipeline is filled with opportunities that came from referrals. They don’t reinvent the wheel every time. They do referral quality work and they ask for and receive referrals.

One of things you need to ask yourself if you’re a salesperson, or ask your team if you’re a sales leader is where, when, and how do you ask for referrals. If you don’t have a systematic response, chances are you’re not maximising your referral business.

You’ll have noticed that not all of the balls are entering the top of the funnel in the second image. The grey balls, the poor quality opportunities, are not soaking up valuable time and resources, which means the A players have more time to invest in working with their clients and that often leads to something we call Deal Expansion. That $250,000 deal is now an $850,000 deal because they’re able to invest their time working with the right people, whereas the funnel on the left is bloated with poor quality opportunities meaning those salespeople are spending their time working with the wrong people.

When it comes to performance, or the lack of it, B and C players are quick to blame their lack of success on their territory, on their region or the poor quality clients they’ve inherited. But how many times have you seen a new person take over an old account or territory and do magic with it. It’s not the territory, or the region or the account - it’s the approach that’s different. Top performers think and behave differently.

Of course there’s a lot more to this subject than we can cram in to this post, but even though we’re only scratching the surface, consider this question - How could adopting this mindset change the way you look at filling your pipeline?

As you and your sales team launch into 2018 I’m encouraging you to do more than Rethink the Funnel, but to rethink your entire approach to prospecting. Building a pipeline chock full of top quality clients and high quality opportunities that close will never happen if the activity of prospecting is something your people dread and avoid like the plague.

There is a better way. A better way for you and most importantly a better way for your clients. You and your sales team can become significantly better at filling your pipeline by applying the mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets of the worlds top performers, and all it takes is 12-weeks. Find out more here.


Ian J Lowe is the Founder & CEO of eccoh, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation pioneering a movement to change the way the world thinks about sales. The selling environment has radically changed and yesterday’s attitudes, mindsets and cultures are no longer relevant. To succeed we need to be much more than in the past. Our mission is to harness the collective energies of every salesperson on the planet as a force for good in the world. That's the open effect.

Image Credit: A Nightmare on Elm Street movie, New Line Cinema 2010