Continual prospecting is key to successful selling

This eternal search can take many shapes.  A fan of this column says they are required to spend 60% of their selling time prospecting.

If you don’t prospect you die. Not in the literal sense but the professional one. Prospecting is the never-ending search for potential buyers for your product or service.  Unfortunately, for most sellers it’s a half-hearted and random, as opposed to enthusiastically and consistent, activity; consequently, their performance is mediocre at best.

This eternal search can take many shapes.  A friend who sells heavy duty tyres tells me he prospects when driving. “Any tyres that are not ‘mine’, I take a photo of the truck owner’s name, usually written on the driver’s door and voila!, one more person to sell to.”  Another that sells lifts, says he walks about in search of any construction site and takes note of the contractor or architect prominently displayed at the project board. Yet another seller of bid bonds prospects at government bodies that frequently issue tenders, like Kenya Urban Roads Authority, in addition to scouring publications daily for advertisements of tenders.   Many head-hunters prospect in LinkedIn and the raison d’etre for thriving networking forum Business Network International (BNI) is prospecting. A fan of this column says they are required to spend 60% of their selling time prospecting. What do you notice in these examples? Prospecting is not an idle exercise. It is intentional, methodical and sometimes unconventional. It is also very rewarding.

Done correctly prospecting will guarantee the seller unending face-to-face time with potential buyers; this in turn translates into effective pitches, and therefore, sales; or, ineffective pitches and therefore token sales. The latter isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It offers the sales manager objective fodder to work with. Meaning that, he knows what to address with the struggling seller. Much unlike the seller with dismal to nil prospects for whom the manager isn’t sure whether the problem is prospecting, presenting or closing.

Paradoxically, with all the gains that come with prospecting, it is more the exception than the norm. Most sales reports are littered with suspects. Suspects are any Kombo, Mwachofi or Guyo whose name the seller picks from the air. With time however, the cracks begin to show. Ten prospects may convert to one sale, but even one hundred suspects are unlikely to convert to any. With time, this trend degenerates into a slow but sure death for the seller. He starts feeling the pressure from the continual warnings and negative attention and soon sees the exit door. And it’s not just because of performance- that’s half the problem; the other half is that this seller with no prospect to pitch to is idle. And no worker is more toxic than an idle seller. He will complain about everything from the floor their office is on to the amount of sugar in the tea and how both are somehow affecting his selling. And because misery loves company he will rope in others to his pity party.

Unlike a desk job where work finds us, selling requires that we go out prospecting for it!

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