Make Your Salespeople Prospect Now and Always

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Yesterday, a sales leader asked me a question that sales leaders should ask more often: “How do I get my salespeople to prospect?” In this case, the leader explained, his sales force didn’t believe they should be calling their clients and prospects because of the pandemic, since they thought their clients “weren’t ready” to take calls from a salesperson. My answer was very short: “Make them prospect.” His question gets to the marrow of our duty as salespeople and leaders.

Liked, But Not Well-Liked

There is never a time when salespeople should be allowed to stop selling. Selling is made up of two primary outcomes, which readers of this blog should know by heart: creating new opportunities and capturing those opportunities. Everything else is simply commentary— outside of these two outcomes, there is nothing else for salespeople to do.

Some sales leaders, though, struggle with holding their salespeople accountable for prospecting: they want their staff to like them, in hopes of inspiring ever-greater heights of productivity.

It’s true: one way to get your employees to like you is by not challenging them or demanding their best performance, instead allowing them to produce results far below their capacity. That only ends up hurting them, their families, their company, and their prospective clients. A better way is to recognize their potential—even if they don’t see it yet—and to make them fulfill it by turning in their best efforts, with all the rewards that follow.

Make Them Prospect

You may not want to tell your salespeople that they need to prospect. You might feel like it is micromanagement or that you shouldn’t tell your salespeople, especially your senior salespeople, how to do their jobs. Maybe, back when you were a salesperson, you had a manager who (mistakenly) believed that the only way to increase sales is to increase prospecting activities. Whatever the problem is, there are no sales roles where prospecting is optional.

Don’t let your sales team behave as if not prospecting is even an option.

Accountability works best when it’s structured. The best way to hold your team accountable is by establishing specific goals and targets. Those who reach their goals and targets aren’t going to need you to direct their efforts. For those who don’t, focus on the outcomes that will lead to those goals, particularly the creation of new opportunities.

Establish monthly revenue requirements and don’t let them get behind. The other variable to track is the salesperson’s win rate, so can predict how many opportunities a salesperson needs to create to be able to meet their goal, target, quota.

Focus on creating new opportunities, but at some point you may be forced to track all activity—even if you don’t want to, and even if it means conflict and imposing your will on people who are going to choose to be unhappy about it. If there are no consequences, there is no accountability.

High Standards and Managerial Will

Even in the middle of a pandemic, there is never a reason to stop selling. In fact, if you are willing to help your clients get better results when things are good, you are obligated to help when times are challenging.

Allowing days and weeks and months to go by without new opportunities shortens the time you have available to create the opportunities you need, making it more unlikely that you reach your goals because you have little control over the sales cycle or the time it takes a buyer to make a decision.

Much of the time, when salespeople fail, the root cause is a lack of leadership. The salespeople were allowed to fail because their leader didn’t demand more of them or wasn’t appropriately engaged with them. It’s easier to believe it’s all your staff’s fault, but if you are honest with yourself, you might recognize how easy it is for you to fail your salesperson.

No one ever speaks highly of a leader who didn’t use managerial will to raise their team’s collective and individual standards. Great leaders push us—even when we don’t want to be pushed, and even when we believe there’s no possible way we can improve. We remember leaders who require us to grow personally and professionally, causing us to change in some meaningful way.

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