Ten years ago, I wrote an article for ProSales that emphasized the power of prospecting. It probably didn’t generate much attention because a rising economic tide made it easy to sell and find new customers. The bad news is that salespeople easily fell into the trap of accepting the wrong ones. It’s like a fisherman dropping a line in the water looking for trout while carp are jumping in the boat. You want the trout, but figure it’s just as easy to eat the less nourishing carp. The same can be said about sales prospecting. If you take only the customers who jump in the boat, you won’t get the right customers.

The economy is heating up again and my fear for salespeople is a repeat of past boom years. They will neglect their prospecting skills and eagerly take whatever jumps into the boat. This is a threat to your long-term sales growth and profitability. More importantly, lack of prospecting will deprive your organization of a great opportunity to take “profit share.”

Profit share is different than market share. Profit share means maximizing the amount of gross margin opportunity available in the market. If you measure your success by market (volume) share, you may win the war of transactions, but lose the war of profits. So I’ll operate under the assumption your goal is to maximize profits and share three prospecting truths you need to remember if you want to take advantage of the next rise in the economic tide.

  1. Prospecting is … the core skill. Show me a veteran performer who can’t generate new business from a cold call and I’ll show you a salesperson who never truly built a business in the first place. Prospecting is not a skill used only by new salespeople; it is the core skill of selling. A salesperson too busy to prospect is actually a maintenance representative, one who can easily be replaced. A salesperson who continually brings in high margin new clients is a profit-generating warrior.
  2. Prospecting is … an all-the-time thing. I hear salespeople tell me they don’t have time to prospect. This is an indicator of laziness or fear. Prospecting is not something you do by blocking out hours each week. Prospecting is something you are always thinking about and doing. If you see a lead, pick up the phone in your car. If you have three minutes of free time, run a Google search for a new lead. If someone recommends that you phone a referral, write it down and call as soon as you have a free moment.
  3. Prospecting is … about locating before persuading. If you want some raunchy, fat carp, then just take what comes in the boat. But if you want a high-quality delicacy of a fish, then you need to proactively find it. Define the characteristics you seek in your ideal clients–e.g. loyal, long-term potential, fair margins, medium or high volume–and then go find them.

We are embarking on a dangerous time for salespeople. Ten years ago, nobody felt the need to prospect because new customers were jumping in the boat. As the market heats up, salespeople will make the same mistake. Great sales leadership means taking advantage of market opportunities when they arise.
The opportunity for the last decade was survival. The opportunity ahead is raising your profit share by replacing high-maintenance, low-margin customers with profitable alternatives. This means proactively prospecting to seize the right opportunities in your market.