There’s a prevailing myth in sales that you should never give up on a prospect. I understand the logic behind this edict – buyer’s needs change and, maybe someday, they’ll take your call. So sales managers tell sellers to keep on trying.
Most sellers don’t. They may occasionally make some half-hearted attempts. But they expect those minimal efforts to go anywhere. That’s why they consider those calls to be a waste of time, something they’re required to do.
So let’s put a stop to those time-wasting pretenses. Instead, managers should liberate their sellers to focus on the prospects they can feel energized about calling. So here are some ground rules for knowing when and how say goodbye and move on.
First, don’t just vanish into thin air. That makes you and your company look bad. Use this 3-step process to say “goodbye” the right way.
1) Assess the situation and the prospect using your objective, pre-determined criteria. That way, it’s not emotional and it’s not about whether or not you got through the door easily. This criteria, remember, keeps us from settling for the low-hanging fruit when there’s much better quality just a short climb away.
What you are assessing here is whether or not this opportunity is worth continued effort. You may not need the need the next two steps. Some opportunities are going to be so big that you will see the clear case for investing more effort. Now that you’ve made that a strategic decision, a deliberate choice, you should feel more confident about that investment of time and effort. Go for it with all you’ve got!
Other opportunities are going to be so small that your objective criteria will cause you to move on as you realize this is simply not worth your effort. When you make the decision that an opportunity is not worth your effort, just move on. File this prospect as for reassessment in 3 months or 6 months. Things do change, so it’s not as if you have to permanently disown them. Or, if you do have a set-up where you rotate leads off your list, just do it. If you have good criteria, don’t get caught up in “what ifs” that make you cling to pipe dream prospects.
The next two steps are for the maybes… The middle group of prospects. They aren’t the top few who are worth lots of effort. And they aren’t the bottom few who are worth no effort. You would like to be sure there isn’t any movement possible as you’re saying goodbye.
2) Assess the work you’ve already done. How many contact attempts have you made? If it’s less than 20, you may want to reconsider. If you haven’t tried multiple ways of reaching the contact you may have more that you need to do (E-mail, voice mail, snail mail, fax, drop ins, networking links, texting, leaving a message with a live person, getting together at a community event, and setting calendar appointments directly on their calendar… these are all viable options!).
3) Tell them you’re taking them off the list. Here’s how: Leave a voice mail, e-mail, and 1 other type of message – a live message with a live person, preferably. Do this all in the same day. Make sure your tone is urgent because the urgency is the real message you want to convey.
Say something like this “Mary, this message is to let you know that I will need to remove you from my list. This is Deb with People First, the training company that helps teams to dramatically accelerate their sales productivity. I’ve left several voice mails and sent e-mails, but I haven’t heard back from you. I can only assume that this isn’t a priority for you at this time. If something changes and you’d like to boost sales using a simple process, you can reach me at 1-800-555-1234.”
No one wants to be taken off the list! This can be compelling… But it only works if you’ve truly proven your tenacity and made multiple attempts in the past. You need the perception of value to be attached to the fear of losing an opportunity. Every one of your e-mails and voice mails should have conveyed value to the prospect, and this is now the opposite consideration – the fear of losing that value.
Let me just circle back to those who believe that you should never, ever abandon a prospect. In your industry, with your account list and company approach to sales, that may be true. I can’t speak in absolutes because I don’t know your situation. But you might have a hard time convincing me that it makes sense to stick with a prospect forever. Consider this:
- There are lots of fish in the sea. And there are lots of fishermen and fisherwomen out there. While you’re casting over and over again in the same dry pond, you’re letting them make all the catches. You only have so many hours in a day… You have to choose whether to keep fishing where the fish don’t bite or to fish in new waters. Instead of dangling a single line, maybe it’s time to cast a wider net.
- Just because you like your prospects and have built rapport with them doesn’t mean that you should spend time with them forever… at least not on business time. If you’ve become friends, take it into your social circle and time. Free up your prospecting time for people who might actually buy from you!
- Doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result simply doesn’t make sense. Stop it! Call on different people. Or call on the same people in different ways. Stop letting the activity of prospecting be the end goal… Refocus on the real end goal which is making the sale. If you’re not moving the ball down the field, you need a new play. Mix it up.
There is a balance here that I want to strike. I want to be sure that you’re not celebrating your liberation from prospecting too prematurely here. Please note that I am not suggesting you spend less time on prospecting or cold calling. The same amount of time, and maybe even more, is the likely outcome if you do what I’ve suggested.
This is about being strategic and planned in how you prospect. The aim is to align your prospecting effort with the very best opportunities. That does mean walking away from low opportunity and no opportunity prospects… so that you can spend your time with better prospects. You can devote more time to researching the high opportunity targets and what it will take to convey real value to them. You can improve your call back rates by focusing on the needs of those prospects rather than making generic pitches. And you can mix up the methods you use and get creative in how you connect with people.
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