In Prospecting Minor Changes Create Great Success

I recently awoke to my security alarm going off.  It wasn’t the full-blown intruder alarm, it was something different.  After inspection, it turns out my alarm system was warning me that one of the security components needed replacing.  It hadn’t failed yet – but it was going to fail if I didn’t change it soon.  This post is that same early warning system for you.

A recent recent survey of 6,399 executives and sales reps in 141 countries asked what their biggest challenge is and by a very wide margin the respondents agreed that their top challenge is prospecting.  Here are the top three responses:

  1. Prospecting – 48%
  2. Closing – 26%
  3. Qualifying – 16%

Prospecting Is Getting Harder

Not only that, according to a recent HubSpot survey, prospecting is getting even harder.  The survey asked salespeople “What is more difficult to do in sales now, compared to 2 or 3 years ago”, here are the top responses in order of frequency:

  1. Getting a response from prospects
  2. Connecting via phone
  3. Engaging multiple decision makers at a company
  4. Identifying/prospecting good leads
  5. Closing deals
  6. Connecting Via Email
  7. Avoiding discounting/negotiation
  8. Keeping Someone on the Phone
  9. Incorporating social media into the sales process
  10. Using sales technologies
  11. Sourcing referrals
  12. Researching before initial call/email
  13. Delivering a presentation

Holy Smokes!  All but four of these are about prospecting!

What is your experience?  Do you find prospecting harder to do than it was two or three years ago?  I asked my clients and friends this question and received universal agreement.  Prospecting is more challenging than it has ever been.

Changes Affecting Prospecting

What’s causing prospecting to be harder than in times past?  There are a number of drivers and I want to focus on three of those:

1. Marketing & Sales Message Overload

The top driver is sales and marketing message overload.  Our prospects are now drowning in sales and marketing noise.  The latest data shows that people are now exposed to up to 10,000 brand, sales and marketing messages a day.  And they come from every conceivable channel.

Because of this, prospects put up barriers to to protect their time.  (And rightfully so.  Being able to focus is a key factor in your success.)  There are barriers to virtually every channel we might use to communicate with prospects.  Using all manner of technology and methods, prospects block phone calls, voicemail, email, face-to-face meetings and more.  And there are so many channels that it’s challenging to know which one is ideal.  (And today, those using only one or two channels are at a serious disadvantage.)

2. The Internet

Much has been said about this already, but because of the Internet, customers don’t need salespeople as much as they did in the past.  Prospects prefer to delay or ignore sales engagement and go to the Internet first.

3. Attention Span is Diminishing

Customers switch between screens up to 21 times an hour according to a British study, which correlates with Microsoft’s claim that the average person’s attention span is now just eight seconds.  This means that even when we do connect we have a very narrow window of time in which to get our message across.

The Iceberg Lurking Under The Surface

When asked about these challenges, salespeople typically respond that the key to component to their plan for success is simply to ratchet up activity.  Yet it is this very ratcheting up of activity that is driving the top challenges in prospecting.  And unfortunately, what the majority of sales professionals are unaware of is that there is a whole slew of new challenges lurking just under the surface that will diminish this “more activity” strategy even more.

Sales, Prospecting & Business Development Trends & Threats

Competition

As the sales and marketing noise level raises even higher, competitors will be leveraging a whole new breed of tools.  These include Intent Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Utilization of Dark Data, Virtual Assistants and much more.  These new tools promise to deliver greater precision, more scale and even higher volumes of sales interactions.

More Sophisticated Customers With Higher Expectations

Customers continue to become more sophisticated and have increasingly higher expectations about what kind of experience they expect from sales professionals.  Today’s customers expect 24/7 access to you and prefer to work with a domain expert and trusted adviser as opposed to just an agent that can sell a given solution.  They expect that every single interaction be inherently valuable.  And yet the window of time we have to prove our worth is narrower than ever.

Trust Continues to Decline While Peer Influence Rises

According to the Edleman Trust Barometer trust continues to decline for both sales and business people and according to the HubSpot Global Jobs Poll, only 3% of respondents consider sales reps to be trustworthy.  This is a huge barrier to prospecting that continues to grow.  Customers are increasingly going to their peers for advice they can trust on products and solutions.

The Narrow Path

Despite both these seen and unseen challenges the latest data shows that there is a clear path to navigating both sets of obstacles that brings the greatest success.  I will be sharing this new data in our upcoming posts.  What sales professionals are often surprised to discover is that they are not focusing on the highest leverage points in their prospecting efforts and that by making relatively minor adjustments to their prospecting efforts – by making it more tactical – they can increase their effectiveness many times over.

These minor adjustments fall into four main areas:

  1. Market
  2. Medium
  3. Message
  4. Motivation

None of these areas is new.  It is our approach and execution in these areas that science shows makes the difference.  Relatively minor changes to approach create great differences in leverage and results.  Or as Mark Twain puts it “The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between the lightening and the lightening bug.”

The key takeaway here is that despite all the new shiny objects out there promising to be the silver bullet to solve all challenges, the data shows that the most effective path is right under our nose in the area of approach and execution and I look forward to sharing this with you going forward.

Prospecting Secret:  The most effective path is right under your nose in the area of approach and execution.

Until next time!

James

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