Why good sales people should be terrible at prospecting

Here is a simple proposition: When a sales person is selling, he or she is not identifying new opportunities. And that’s a good thing, because you always want your sales people to be actively selling.

The better the sales person, the greater the imperative to focus his or her attention exclusively on selling. It’s not that great sales people can’t prospect successfully. It’s just that they simply shouldn’t have the bandwidth available to do the job well.

Consistent prospecting requires organized, dedicated contact with prospect companies, initially to identify the right stakeholders and then to engage with them, cultivate a relationship, and build an in-depth understanding of their needs, challenges and aspirations. That’s a full-time job; it can’t be done well on a catch-as-catch-can basis. It’s not a “one day a week reserved for prospecting” kind of task.

And, it’s no secret that most sales people hate prospecting. They often find it demotivating and foreign to their primary skill set. Good sales people get “pumped” when they are eye to eye with a prospect, deeply engaged in problem identification and solving, not when they are “smiling and dialing.”

Put them in front of the right people with an identified need and interest and they are smack in the middle of their ideal milieu, with their juices flowing. That’s when they can be most productive — cultivating the relationship, building a foundation of trust and closing the sale — and that’s exactly what you pay them for.

So, if your sales people aren’t engaged in prospecting, how do you get it done?

You can either develop your own, internal, dedicated business development team or you can outsource the activity to a company that specializes in lead generation. The choice is up to you, and it’s a function of how you want to deploy your resources. There are arguments to be made in support of either choice.

The key variables to consider include whether or not you want to take on the responsibility and overhead of hiring employees and the associated costs and, if you go down that path, whether you will then have the flexibility to ramp up and down as needed to meet your seasonal needs — not as easy with an in-house team.

There’s also the matter of lost opportunity costs associated with sick time, vacations and turnover. You pay an outsourced partner only for what they are doing, not for lost time. Along with turnover comes the need to hire and train regularly (it becomes a revolving door).

Then there are the costs of management, equipment and systems (all of which have their own associated indirect costs). Most often, in-house solutions are more costly than outsourcing if you account for all direct, indirect, and lost opportunity costs.

But you may want to spend more to gain greater control, and owning the process internally certainly gives you that. Moreover, it's easier to facilitate communication and teamwork between your own employees than it is if you use an outsourced partner. And that's an important consideration.

And let’s not forget your brand and the image that is portrayed by those who are representing you to your prospect (and customer) base. Whether the solution is in-house or outsourced, that’s a critical variable that is too often overlooked. The cost of a bad connection between one of your representatives and a prospect or client is huge. You can’t overestimate the importance of professionalism and brand and product image.

So, whatever route you choose, be sure that your representation is professional enough to raise the esteem of your brand as well as accomplish the primary goal of generating qualified sales opportunities Ensure that your management structure is sufficient to mandate accountability from everyone involved, from those responsible for seeking out the opportunities to the sales people who must follow up if your investment is to have solid ROI.

Regardless of your choice, the lesson here is simple. Sales people are among your most expensive assets. Employing them to undertake work that can be more consistently and productively accomplished by a competent, dedicated prospecting team is both far more expensive and unproductive. Keeping them in front of the right people as often as possible is the best way to maximize their productivity as well as the return on your investment.

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