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Many Salespeople Do Not Prospect Because They Never Had to or Do Not Know How

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by Mike on August 20, 2012

Here’s reality: very few salespeople prospect for new business. And even fewer do it effectively.

There are lots of reasons that’s the case, but one stands out above the rest.  Fewer and fewer salespeople have a working knowledge of how to prospect! Many in sales today don’t prospect because they never had do to it and a good number of them don’t know how. That ignorance is only reinforced by the false teachers from the Sales 2.0 movement who proclaim that prospecting is no longer effective for picking up new business.

A large percentage of today’s sales population survived, or even thrived, when enough business came their way. Many are victims of their past success and easier times when they could hit their numbers by responding to opportunities rather than having to go out and create them. A strong macro economy or a hot industry provided an environment where the reactive, non-prospecting salesperson could skate by, often during long seasons of economic prosperity and high demand.

The unfortunate result of what I’ve described above is a frightening shortage of skilled sales hunters. There are plenty of account managers and reactive-type salespeople who excel at various aspects of selling (customer care, retention, relationship management, etc.). But in company after company, there is incredible need for salespeople who can proactively pursue and acquire new customers – those who, as I like to say, can go out and create new business out of the dirt. Sure, prospecting for new business is not something that a lot of people love to do. But the plain truth today is that even if more salespeople wanted to, they can’t because they don’t know how. And that is why I wrote New Sales. Simplified.  

I am disturbed on a daily basis by the lack of true sales mentors today. Who is showing the younger salespeople how to sell? Where are the wise old vets who take rookies under their wings? Who is reminding crusty old sales veterans about forgotten timeless truths – and the “basics” they used to execute when it was the norm to chase down new accounts? Why are sales managers more concerned that their salespeople keep the CRM updated than they are with whether they can use the phone effectively or conduct a proper a face-to-face sales call?

The tough economy of the past several years, drastic shifts in many company’s market dynamics, the general sales population’s avoidance of, or lack of experience prospecting for new business, all combined with the lack of sales mentoring and coaching today have created a dangerous situation for many businesses and salespeople. They are lost, confused and scared as inbound demand has dried up and their reactive approach is not achieving desired levels of revenue.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Developing new business is not complicated. But it requires some effort, and it’s really helpful when you have a simple framework to guide you and a few tools in your tool belt. Take two minutes to read the Foreword sales blogger extraordinaire S. Anthony Iannarino wrote for my book. He nails it cold. Success in most things is about the fundamentals. And if salespeople and sales teams are going to succeed at developing new business, it’s beyond time that we returned to simple fundamentals of selling.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Leanne Hoagland-Smith August 21, 2012 at 7:04 am

In many cases, it really a question of “Not if they know how; but rather do they, sales people, want to do it (prospect). The want will always exceed the knowledge and skills.

Leanne Hoagland-Smith


rob sader August 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I wish that more people in sales would take the time to start off as a commission only sales person right out of college or high school or whatever their last stop of schooling is. I tell anyone that I know that is new to sales that the best two things they can do are to take a commission only sales job or perform inside sales/appt setting for your first one or two years of your career in sales. I am not real big into having hard and fast requirements for all sales people, but this is one that I would be close to requiring if I were ever to enter into management.
The first sales job I had was as a commission only rep and you learn pretty quickly about what to do and not do when prospecting if your dinner depends on you breaking into new business. I personally can attribute my success today and my actual enjoyment (yes I said enjoyment) of prospecting to that first job.
If commission only is just to raw for you, I would suggest that people have an inside sales job in their background. Specifically some role that requires you to set appts for other people. The humility that you gain in doing a job like this and the experience on the phone/email/social media getting people to take qualified meetings is invaluable later in your career.
I am not a boss now and may never be one. But I sure know ALOT of sales people that fit your desciprtion Mike and very few of them ever really cut their teeth in the deep trenches that I describe above. Hopefully they read your book and can figure it out later in life!


Mike August 25, 2012 at 9:38 pm

I like your passion Rob. Thanks for commenting. I would agree that a lack of hunger is certainly contributing to the shortage of prospecting activity I seen across most sales organizations.



JimboJones July 23, 2013 at 11:53 pm

The old wise vets are dinosaurs and you’re dreaming of times gone by. This isn’t 40 years ago when you worked 40 hours a week. Modern sales people are busy and connected and working constantly in ever complicated environments. The days of shooting from the hip are gone and in most industries profit margins are lower and things are more competitive?

Why don’t people prospect? There’s no time. Taking time away from closing good opportunities and keeping the customer base happy doesn’t make you more successful.

100% commission sales jobs are for the high school drop outs who are selling cars and RV’s.


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