Six months into my first sales job I was being grilled by my boss. He wanted to know everything.
Specifically, he wanted to know everything about every prospect and customer in my territory.
At this point all I had were some lists. I knew most of the prospects in my territory. I had called on them at least once. Some weren’t qualified yet, just suspects I kept hoping would pick up the phone, tell me how horrible their current vendor is, and beg me to save them from overpaying for a lousy product with no support.
This wasn’t going very well, though. I had hoped my visions of territory domination would be enough, along with my stunning rookie track record.
My boss didn’t want to know how well I had been doing, he wanted to know who else we could sell to and how we were going to sell to every single one of them.
He wanted to know what percentage I already had sold to and where I’d be in three months, six months, and in a year. Oh, and he wanted me to tell him what my plan was to hit those numbers.
I had no clue. About any of it. This was when I realized why my boss was so successful at what he did.
The mark of a top notch prospector is how well he knows his territory.
It was frightening how well he knew his territory. He could run through his prospect list with details on every meeting and conversation. He knew exactly where new businesses were opening that would be potential new business. As I listened to him I realized I had a long way to go as a sales professional.
I didn’t own my territory because I should have known my territory better.
Over time I put together a framework for me to follow while developing my sales territory. My framework covers the key things you need to know if you want to know, and own, your territory.
What does the top notch prospector know?
A top prospector knows who every single company in his territory that fits his customer criteria, whether they’re a client or a prospect.
This sounds so simple and yet it’s hard to do right.
A top prospector knows more than the name of every single company he could sell to. He knows the key contacts at each company. He knows who they’re currently using. He knows when they’re likely to reevaluate their current solution, why they bought it, and what he’d need to do to have a great shot at earning their business.
Because he knows all these things, a top prospector also has a plan of action to win the business. He has a realistic understanding of how likely it is he can win that business next time, too.
Knowing this, a top prospector understands which prospects are his best ones and which ones are going to be tough to win.
He also knows which customers of his are the least likely to stay with him, and why each one might change vendors.
Getting to this point involves a considerable amount of legwork. It’s crucial if you want to have a better chance of closing business than simply being in the right place at the right time.
A top prospector knows who is likely to be ready to talk in the upcoming months and what his plan of action is to earn that business when the time comes.
Think back to a time when you called up a company who told you they were wrong buying your competitor all those months ago and now that the contract was up it was yours.
Yeah, that’s never happened to me either.
However, there have been many times when I knew when I was reaching out and what I’d need to learn to figure out if – and how – I could earn a piece of business I didn’t win before. Often times I was the only vendor who stayed in touch after hearing “no,” giving me a huge upper hand if they wanted to change vendors.
Staying on top of companies in my territory earned me business when everyone else had moved on and forgotten about prospects.
Now, you can’t always do that. Not every prospect will talk to you when you reach out and keep you in the loop. What do you do when you haven’t been able to talk to a prospect in a while?
A top prospector knows who he hasn’t reached out to recently, when he’s going to reach back out, and why that’s the right time to reach out.
This is more than listening to the prospect when they tell you to reach back out in 6 months or a year. A top prospector will try and keep the relationship warm during that period, like I said before, and won’t wait that long to reengage with a prospect.
He has a system for following up on prospects who say “no”.
He has a system for following up when the prospect doesn’t pick up the phone or reply to an email.
The key to these systems is making sure you don’t prospect into an account too heavily when you don’t get traction. You should know how long you have to lay off an account when you’re shot down. You should know how long to stop calling after you’ve tried your hardest to get in.
Most importantly, you should have enough accounts to be able to call on enough businesses that you don’t feel the need to keep prospecting into the same account every single week.
How long should you wait? Long enough that it won’t feel like you’re bombarding the prospect with your calls and emails, and short enough that you won’t miss an opportunity if something changes. My rule of thumb is often 3 months when no one responds and 6 months if I’m told “no”. Your mileage may vary.
It’s important to keep reaching out because you’ll always need more pipeline, no matter how well things are going at the moment.
A top prospector understands he needs more than his current pipeline. He can explain how he’s going to develop pipeline this quarter and when that pipeline is likely to close.
He knows when his pipeline is going to dry up and how far in advance he needs to find some new opportunities so he’s always working active deals.
It’s tough to close 3 deals to hit quota when you only have 2 proposals. I should know, I’ve been in that spot. Those are tough months.
A top prospector understands that things will go wrong. Yes, sometimes most of your deals will come in and you’ll look like a superhero. Sometimes you get a surprise “no”, and your champion gets fired in that big one you were working, and then your 50/50 shots push to the next month.
That’s why you always need to know how much pipeline you need to generate before you wish you had it, and you do what you need to do to find it.
Spending a day frantically cold calling won’t fill the void, either.
You need a system like the one I described above to make sure you always have a list of prospects to call. One with notes from past conversations and a relatively good idea as to who is most likely to raise their hand now, so you don’t have to chase everyone to find a good opportunity.
The one thing that saved me when I had a bad month was the fact that I always had a list I was digging into to make sure my next month was better. Thankfully I had a great manager to learn from, who made sure that even though I had a bad month, even though I didn’t know my territory, I had a solid system to be able to prospect and make up the gap for future months.
And I had a top prospector to learn from.
What else helps you stay on top of prospecting and keeping the pipeline full? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear what you have to say!