Sales Prospecting – Why Salespeople Don’t Prospect

The problem

Anyone working in sales has heard time and time again how important it is that they prospect.  When you talk with VPs of Sales, one of the most common complaints you’ll hear is that their salespeople aren’t finding enough opportunities.  More frequent issues are that marketing is providing no leads, or the leads they are providing are not qualified at all.  So what gives?  Why is this one of the most common problems in the sales world, and why hasn’t it been solved?

The answer is complicated, to say the least.  There are so many factors that go into why salespeople don’t prospect, or aren’t good at prospecting.  In my opinion, the fault is ultimately leadership’s.  Leadership hasn’t done a good enough job hiring the right people, creating the right culture, providing appropriate incentives, and enforcing the behaviors that they say are so important.

The easy thing to do is sit back and blame the salespeople.  You can call them lazy, or whatever else you like, but the fact of the matter is good salespeople are selfish on some level. If they don’t see the personal benefit, they won’t prospect.  If you want salespeople to prospect, then leadership needs to set up systems that reward salespeople for doing so.

We will dive into the many surrounding factors related to salespeople and prospecting in a bit more detail below.  If you’ve ever asked ‘why won’t my salespeople prospect’, hopefully you will have a better idea after reading this, as well as the tools to do something about it.

Setting realistic job previews

Let’s start with the hiring process.  What does your hiring process look like for salespeople?  When you are talking with salespeople about their past experience in sales, where do you spend most of your time?  From my experience, sales managers spend most of their time talking about closed deals rather than prospecting tactics or how the closed deals were actually found.

If your organization requires outside salespeople to prospect and you’re hiring a new outside salesperson, you’d better make sure they came from a similar type of organization where they had a similar responsibility to prospect.  There are a lot of companies out there that depend purely on marketing and inbound leads to fill their funnel.  If your salesperson hasn’t prospected in the past, or hasn’t prospected in multiple roles, that should be a major red flag.

Furthermore, it’s absolutely critical that the sales manager is extremely upfront about the salesperson’s role in prospecting and gives them a realistic job preview of what they will be doing on a day to day basis.

For example, are they responsible for building out a territory plan and strategy and working with an inside sales rep who does the actual outreach?  Or, will the salesperson be responsible for making the actual calls, developing email messaging and pushing send? And if they are responsible for making calls and coordinating emails, how much experience do they have with that sort of thing?

Setting expectations is very important.  If you as the manager expect 50 calls a day, then make sure you tell your candidates that is exactly what you expect.  Let the individuals not interested in doing the core tasks for the role eliminate themselves from the hiring process.  Don’t wait until the person is hired to let them know your expectations – I know that seems obvious, but this type of deception happens all the time.

You get hired into a new sales role and what you’re asked to do on day one is very different than the recruiting process led you to believe.  This is a great way to not only waste a bunch of time for both you and your candidates, but to ensure a high turnover rate as well.  Not setting a realistic job preview is one of the reasons 90-day turnover is so high in the sales profession.

Sales management’s role

The sales manager plays arguably the most important role in ensuring the sales team is prospecting on a regular basis.  If prospecting is a critical responsibility for a specific sales role, the sales manager better make it a priority to incentivize and coach the sales team appropriately.  From my experience, this is where there is a major disconnect.

Most sales managers are past individual contributors themselves.  They were typically high-performers as a sales rep and moved through the sales ranks to become a sales manager.  Many times it has been many years, even decades since the sales manager has actually prospected on their own.  Sales managers say prospecting is a critical skill to be successful as a sales rep, but it’s been so long since they’ve prospected that they don’t actually know what it takes to be successful.

Think about it — there have been a ton of changes in the sales prospecting world in the past five years, let alone 10 or 15.  I would argue, however, that certain things are consistent; for example, high activity almost always beats low activity.  However, the exact mechanisms of how to effectively create leads are not something most sales managers know well.  Because of this, the manager has trouble coaching and developing their team’s prospecting skills.

Like it or not, there are absolutely fundamentals to how a prospecting email should be written.  Certain techniques work better than others.  Purely dialing for dollars without a steady plan and strong message just doesn’t work in a time when there are so many messages floating around.

A major problem in sales organizations today is that sales managers are incredibly behind the times and have little sense of lead generation, outbound marketing, and marketing’s role in lead generation.  They are unable to have smart conversations with marketing because they are so behind the times and truly don’t understand the majority of the tactics marketing is deploying.

If sales managers spent as much time at the beginning of the funnel as they do at the end of the funnel, they wouldn’t have to worry about the one to two deals that absolutely have to close to make the quarter.  They would have a consistent pipeline of opportunities, along with more consistency and data to tell them when deals are actually likely to close.

So, at least in my opinion, it’s up to sales managers to get up to date with the latest technology and tactics.  They don’t need to be at the level of a lead generation expert, but they need to know enough to have strong coaching conversations with their team and also have the ability to have a conversation with marketing to mend a broken lead generation process.

Show the payoff

One of the easiest ways to get salespeople to prospect is walking them through how prospecting affects their bank account.  If you just hired a new sales rep, sit down with them and do the math as you walk them through an example of their full funnel.  For example, let’s say you are selling software that has an average cost of $50,000, and your sales team makes 10% commission on deals closed.  Your top reps on average are sourcing 4 new meetings per week, which turns into 2 qualified opportunities.

In total, your top reps have 8 qualified leads per month.  If they’re closing 25% of new opportunities with an average close time of three months each, then basically they can expect $10,000/month in commission consistently once you get past your third month if they’re finding four meetings per week.  If they only find 2 leads per week, they can expect $5,000 commission per month and so on.  The difference between finding two leads per week and four leads per week is more than $50,000 in commission at the end of the year.

Get very granular on how your top performers are finding their four leads per week.  For example, how many calls are they making, how many emails are they sending, and how much of their time is spent building lists and researching companies?  If more prospecting directly relates to more commission, make sure you make it blatantly obvious to your sales team.

You will find that if you have this type of conversation with your new sales reps on day one, they will start to build a habit for prospecting.  Prospecting becomes less of a chore when you know it directly relates to your paycheck.  It’s your job as the sales manager to help your salespeople draw those connections.

Compensation & incentives

One of the most common scenarios I hear from sales management involves a team of salespeople who are really only renewing existing accounts, making too much money, and not spending anytime prospecting or finding new business.  Once you probe a little farther, it’s not tough to figure out why the sales people aren’t searching for new business.

First off, it’s a lot harder to close new business than it is to renew existing business.  Second, they have no incentive to do so.  The best salespeople are selfish to a point, and the very best are pros at finding the best way to manipulate the comp plan.

If you don’t have the right incentives in place that will drive the behavior of your sales team towards finding new business, don’t expect that they will.  As far as these incentives go, there’s a couple of different options to consider.  The obvious option is paying a higher commission on new business as opposed to existing businesses. Another option is splitting your sales team into new business and existing business/account management segments.

Depending on the seniority of the team you can incentivize with weekly/monthly bonuses for leads, conversations, or pipeline built.  There are lots of ways to incentivize the right behavior, but having no incentive will guarantee one thing: there will be extremely limited activity.

What salespeople can do

So if you’re in a sales role that requires prospecting, or know that if you were to prospect you could make more money, then you’d want to dedicate some time to researching effective methods.  Not to make it seem super simple, but you are a handful of hours of research away from being pretty dangerous.

For example, I have a tip that will double or triple the number of leads you get from email marketing.  This one tip could double your output.  I won’t hold back on the tip, it’s rather simple – when you are sending cold emails, or even somewhat warm emails, make sure every campaign has at least two parts.

On day one, send your normal message and on day two or three send a follow up response to your original message asking if they had a chance to review your original message, and if they had thoughts/feedback or were willing to meet and discuss.  You will see 2-3X the return on the second email compared to the first email.  Why?  Because people are busy and they need to be reminded.

Research how to build buyer personas, how to cold call effectively, how to A/B test subject lines, and the best voicemail strategies.  Find a handful of blogs (including ours) that you can follow to get up to date information on the industry.  It’s really not that difficult; do some research, grab some white papers, and test absolutely everything you do.

Try to find a handful of things to test every single day and eventually you will have the strongest pipeline of anyone in your sales group.  If you want to guarantee you will have a high paying job forever, get good at prospecting.  Salespeople who prospect are tough to find, so do some research and start building pipeline immediately.

Getting assistance from marketing

In high revenue organizations, there is typically a good relationship and connection between sales and marketing.  Salespeople can greatly benefit from a marketing department that is well organized and developing the right type of content.  As a salesperson, your number one role is to create value and teach your prospective buyer things that they couldn’t regularly find on their own.  When you create value, closed deals will quickly follow.

The effectiveness of prospecting has a lot to do with timing and consistency.  It can take a while to get a prospect to engage and take a meeting from sales.  For example, it can be very common to reach to out a new prospect and hear nothing back on your first five attempts.  You’ve sent blog posts, whitepapers, webinars, videos, and recent research and you still get no response.

Then, all the sudden, you send a case study that really resonates and they ask for a meeting.  Chances are if you would have only sent the case study on your first email they wouldn’t have responded.  The fact that you slowly created value over time with that prospect helped you get the meeting.  Over time if you create enough value, you will get the meeting.

Focusing on buyer personas

Another key area marketing can help is developing buyer personas.  If you talk with the sales organization they typically know some of the details around the buyer persona.  For example, they could tell which titles they target on a regular basis and the names of the companies they are targeting.

They could give you great information on their buyers’ pain points and why they win deals.  But from my experience, that is about as far as salespeople usually go when defining their target buyers.

One of the things sales really needs assistance with is building messaging that resonates with the right personas.  For example, I have a lot of experience selling sales training.  Typically in a larger account there are multiple buyers with very different job titles such as sales leadership, HR/learning, and sales enablement.

My messaging to the VP of Sales is very different than my message to HR or learning.  In fact, my message to the VP of Learning should probably be different than someone at a lower level in the learning organization.  Knowing who your buyer is, how they like to communicate, and their specific pain points is critical information for the sales team.

Whether it is sales or marketing, it is a great exercise to get the team together and really start defining the different buyer personas.  Getting input from the entire team on what is working from a messaging perspective is extremely helpful and reinforces to the entire team the different buyers your company is selling to.

Tools to make prospecting easier

There are hundreds of different sales tools on the market that can help sales teams prospect more easily.  It would be impossible to name them all, but a few of the tools I’ve listed below have as much benefit for the sales manager as they do the salesperson.  Keep in mind that tools themselves don’t solve bad sales processes.  It’s absolutely critical your team has the right behaviors and processes in place before looking to technology.

SalesloftSalesloft is one of my favorite email marketing tools.  Salesloft is like Hubspot for your sales team.  This tool really helps keep you organized when setting up multi-touch campaigns (email, cold call, social, etc.). – is a platform for recording customer calls made by your sales team, whether it’s sales pitches or outbound cold calls.  The platform is a great tool for having 1:1 conversations with your team, coaching, and refining messaging.  In addition, having a database of recorded phone calls is great for ramping up new hires.

Visual VisitorVisual Visitor is an IP tracking software that you place on your organization’s website.  If you are a B2B company, this will allow you to track which organizations are hitting your website, and what they are searching for.  Once you have this information you can start to target in on the specific contacts that would have been viewing content on your site.  The tool helps you identify companies that may be in the market for your product or service.

For more information on setting up a culture of lead generation, contact us today.