Everyone knows and expects prospecting to be laborious. Often we hear people say that it’s a “numbers game”. Well… that is true. If you don’t make the calls and put in the effort, you won’t succeed – no matter how good your strategy and skills are.

Our last blog in The Smart Salesperson’s Guide series went deep into introduction call techniques and how to find leads – check it out here!

We’re starting today’s guide with a quick summary of prospecting, before getting into more detail below:

5 Keys to Successful Prospecting

1. Know How to Get “In the Door”

  • Research: Use the prospect’s website to briefly learn about the company, identify key players, and get a sense of their corporate culture.
  • Connect: Having a “bridge” will give you credibility – something you can share together (people, place, events). This is a link between you and them.
  • Contact: Don’t rely on them to call you back – keep calling, leave one message only.
  • Qualify: Always quickly assess whether the prospect is a “fit”. Don’t waste their time or yours!

2. Build Trust and Credibility FIRST!

  • The Order: 1) Understand them. 2) Sell yourself. 3) Sell your company. 4) Sell your services/products.
  • Understand Them: Don’t push you until you understand them.
  • Get Personal: Learn one personal thing about them (e.g. kids, sports, hobbies) and then share about you.
  • “Little Touches”: Initiate lots of little touches over time via phone, voicemail, mail, and email. This will build trust and relationship, and keep you top of mind for when their need does come up.

3. ALWAYS Have a “Next Step”

  • A Shared Path: Build expectations with the prospect right up front.
  • What’s Next: Don’t end a conversation without committed next steps.
  • You Drive: Avoid waiting for them. Whatever there is to do, you do it.
  • Confirm: Use email to recap conversations, meetings just booked, and to confirm future meetings.
  • Follow-through: Complete, on time, every action you commit to.

4. Have a Purpose/Goal for Every Step

  • Strategy: Know what the desired outcome should be.
  • Agenda: Define your agenda at each stage.
  • Share It: Get commitment from the prospect on each step.
  • Follow It: Stick to your agenda.

At minimum, make sure they will welcome another call from you. Ask yourself … “When I call back, will they remember me? Will they welcome this call?”

IMPORTANT: “No thanks” does not mean “disqualified”!

An early error is thinking that if they are not interested, they are disqualified. Not so! Assuming they qualify, they may not have a need at that moment OR they will tell you that they are not interested or disengage the discussion because they don’t feel comfortable enough yet. Remember, they hardly know you.

5. Increase Your Productivity

As you probably know, prospecting “when you have time” does not work for two reasons:

  • You never really have time because inevitably something else always comes up.
  • Success in prospecting comes from generating momentum – which is hard to achieve if you are only doing it “when you have time”.

So, block out time in your schedule to mentally make prospecting a priority.

Then give yourself a target for either how many call attempts or contacts you would like to make. A good call goal is 8-10/hr, while for a contact goal, 1-2/hr is excellent.

To increase the efficiency even further, use your CRM to create a View or a Look Up to isolate your prospect list. You will save hours of wasted time searching on who to call.

Now that you’ve had an overview, let’s delve more deeply into…

Productive Prospecting

Imagine your results if you put the necessary effort into prospecting in an effective and productive way.

Here’s how:

Plan Your Prospecting

Most salespeople have to juggle their time between servicing existing customers, selling to existing customers, participating in meetings, helping with marketing events, being a resource to others, and new business development.

It’s no wonder that when I ask salespeople: “what part of your job does not get the attention needed”, 90% of the time they say “new business development”.

But why?

It’s not because salespeople are “lazy or crazy” (although Sales Managers often think that). Salespeople are not stupid; we all know that without new business activities and a full pipeline, long-term success will be hard to achieve. But let’s be honest, new business development is the least fun and has the longest cycle (i.e. it can be less gratifying short-term as compared to other aspects of the job). Also, logic suggests that if your existing customer calls you with an issue or opportunity, you will make them your priority ahead of new business development.

So, as mentioned in the 5 keys to successful prospecting section above, an easy suggestion is to schedule your prospecting time directly into your calendar. E.g. 8 am – 12 pm every Tuesday and Thursday. But be sure (at least 80% of the time!) that you stick to your schedule. And because new business is all about momentum, you should allocate a window of at least 2-3 hours.

Also, by putting it firmly into your calendar as a “meeting”, you are telling yourself and your team that you are busy and therefore are less likely to allow yourself to get distracted.

When to Prospect

People today are so hard to reach. So, try calling between 7 – 9 am OR between 4 – 6 pm. Your audience is less likely to be in other meetings and the gatekeeper is most likely not there, so your odds of getting them go up.

Manage Your Road Time

Being on the road is very expensive. Your car, your gas, your cell phone all add up. But that is not the biggest cost. The average person can have three quality face-to-face meetings in a day while they could have 10 phone meetings in the same time period.

Does that mean you shouldn’t travel to visit prospective or existing clients? Of course not! It’s a critical part of the sales process for many environments and industries.

What it does mean, though, is that travel should typically be reserved for qualified, meaningful meetings when your audience has already expressed a real, actionable need.

Example: If I received an incoming lead to follow up, my first meeting would always be via phone to qualify the situation before I went to their offices.

Leave Non-Selling Activities for Non-Selling Time

In every job, there are activities we need to do – reports, proposals, lead-gen research, developing templates, updating our industry knowledge, etc.

All of these things are critical and necessary parts of the job for long-term success. BUT, they can be done anytime. 6 at night, over lunch, Sunday afternoon – not in the middle of core selling time.

Fill Your Funnel before Your Vacation

Before every vacation, work as hard as you can to schedule prospecting meetings for your return. There are two benefits to this approach:

  1. You will enjoy your vacation more knowing you have set yourself up already.
  2. You will have a quick start when you get back.

Prospecting Can Be Challenging

Eventually (no matter how many vacations you take!), even the best salespeople can struggle to stay motivated through the never-ending business development “chase”. That’s why our next section discusses some key ways to keep your motivation high as you engage in productive prospecting.

How Salespeople Can Stay Motivated

Don’t Take It Personally

Getting rejected is part of the game. It’s unreasonable to think that everyone will need what you offer and/or open up to a total stranger.

Remember that maybe today they don’t know you or need you… but what about tomorrow? Things change.

Celebrate the Small Victories

Especially when you have a long sales cycle – take the time to celebrate and acknowledge small victories.

This can be something as simple as having a quality conversation, achieving your daily contact goal, or booking an appointment.

Build Your Pipeline

Sometimes hitting the big “homerun” is all you need to achieve your goals… but don’t rely on that. Instead, focus on hitting “singles and doubles”, and the homeruns will come.

Have a simple goal of always maintaining a funnel that has four times more leads in it than you need. So if you need to close five sales, focus on finding 20 opportunities. The rest will take care of itself.

Use Your CRM

The average salesperson has over 100 relationships going on at the same time, albeit at various stages. Just trying to remember what you said, who you said it to, and what’s next can be daunting and frustrating.

Let your CRM take that burden off your shoulders to keep you focused and motivated.

A Good Manager Helps

While out of your control, a good Sales Manager is working alongside you to help you stay motivated. They are also celebrating your small successes, while coaching you through challenges.

Poor managers simply show up when things are not going well. By that time, it’s often too late and can be even more demotivating.

Good sales managers take a keen and proactive interest in your development, your skills, and your success. Your success should be their success.

Sell What You Like

If you don’t believe in what you are selling, it will be tough for you to stay motivated long-term.

Match the Selling Process to Your Personal Style

Sell solutions that match your preferred style. Some sales cycles are long while others are quite short; some sales are consultative while others are transactional; some require a collaborative approach while others suit a solo act; some have a niche market while others fit a broad audience.

Example: If you are the type of person who needs the quick “wins” to keep you excited, don’t choose to sell a product or service that has a long sales cycle.

Prospecting can be time-consuming, but putting in the effort to fill your pipeline with qualified prospects is what leads to success and results in the long run!


Focus is your ongoing partner for totally integrated Sales Management, including strategy, process, CRM, forecasting, metrics, reporting, coaching, and recruitment. Get in touch with us today!

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Darren Rabie

About Darren Rabie

Darren Rabie (HBA, Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario) is the Founder and President of Focus. As the President of Focus, Darren’s primary role is that of “chief sales strategist” for clients. He also continues to travel throughout North America delivering speeches, workshops and sales/sales management training for both private and public audiences.