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You Are Not a Secret Agent

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

You don’t need to wait for your dream clients to work through their buying process themselves before you approach them.

There is no reason to wait for your prospective clients to decide for themselves what they need before you begin your efforts to help them.

Most of all, there is no reason to wait for your dream client to discover you and to proactively suggest to you that they are ready to buy.

Yet, this is what many B2B sales organizations have wrongly concluded. They have decided that the buying process has changed and that salespeople are not valuable to the buyer as they work through their process. It is wrong to believe that salespeople aren’t valuable during that process and that all that their prospective client needs to make a good decision is time and information that can be delivered over the Internet.

These organizations have decided that it is wrong to interrupt their dream client, and that it’s better wait until their dream client decides for themselves what they need before they engage with them. To interrupt or to ask for commitments during this phase might make them come across as salespeople.

Some in sales have decided that their dream client should discover them, that they should wait for their dream client to happen upon their website, their blog posts, or one of their social media outposts. They believe that their primary approach should be to wait for their dream client to work through their dissatisfaction, discover their needs, and evaluate the options that they believe will best meet their needs. These sales organizations hope that their prospective client comes to the right conclusion after discovering them. They hope that they are called to compete during the final phase of the buyer’s process.

You Are Not a Secret Agent

You are not a secret agent. You don’t have to wait to be discovered.

It doesn’t make you a better salesperson or sales organization that your dream client found you on their own; it only makes you lucky.

By eliminating the salesperson’s role in the early stages of the buying process, you eliminate your ability to be consultative, and you eliminate the possibility of becoming a trusted advisor. To be these things you need to be known before your dream client begins their buying process, and you need to be known as a value creator.

To inbound marketing, I say: hoorah! To lead generation, I say: yippee! To nurture and drip campaigns, I say: nurture and drip your hearts out! The leads that these marketing efforts produce are a wonderful supplement. They are the icing on the cake. But they are not the cake.

To professional B2B salespeople, I say this: Be known as a value creator. Create value before claiming it. Nurture your dream clients by providing them with your insight and your ideas. Know your dream clients before they have a need, and help them through the early stages of their buying process. This is where and when you create the most value for your client, and this where you likely win an opportunity.

Don’t be a secret agent and hope that your dream client finds you. Prospecting isn’t a game of hide and seek.


Is it right to allow buyers to work through the buying process on their own?

What value can you create for the buyer that can’t be delivered over the Internet?

Is differentiation something that should be done early in the sales process or late in the sales process?

What is wrong with waiting for your dream client to decide that they need you before you attempt to develop relationships and open opportunities?

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  • Mike Rudd

    In terms of going after dream clients I have been making that a must recently.  It is the best way to prospect and I have found over the years it is how I continue to grow my billing and list.
    So I had a meeting with one of my dream clients yesterday and he told me business was great we weren’t doing other advertising “what made you think of us?”
    I told him “You are a dream client of mine and I have some dream ideas that I want to show you that I have been working on for a while.”

    He was flattered, we had a great convo and I think it will lead to a top 20 account in the coming year.

    Great post Anthony!

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I love that story, Mike! I love your candor around this point with your dream client. Keep me posted on the progress! It’s a case study. 

  • MJGottlieb

    Great post. As David Brooke wrote in the Op-Ed section of NY Times last week when speaking about the philosophies of Peter Thiel (Paypal, Facebook), innovation and differentiation, NOT COMPETITION is the key ingredient to succeed. We must create value that makes our customer or prospective customer want us.

    Information gained over the Internet is of no value if you have no strategy and don’t put it to use… And from experience, I agree that salespeople are the lifeblood of your company as it’s those operating in the trenches 4 u that really have the best handle of what’s really going on. And yes, I agree, if you keep jumping in to close the sale, you have a great chance of killing the deal. The prospective customer/client must have a comfort level before even thinking of signing on the dotted line.

    Gr8 post.