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A Fantastic Sales Call on the Wrong Prospect! How Strategic is Your Target List?

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by Mike on November 8, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I was selling alongside a client CEO and his new director of business development. We had an enlightening experience that as soon as it happened, I knew it would become a blog post.

For this particular client, I serve as a consultant, but also play the role of senior vice president of sales. I carry their business card and often participate on sales calls with key prospects. They’re a boutique firm with a great reputation and blue-chip clients that include some of the largest employers in the US. My client targets Fortune 500 companies filtered (up until very recently) by a loose set of criteria. Because this firm’s clients are spread across a variety of industries, in general, we were pursuing a wide mix of companies with very large employee bases.

We set a meeting with what we believed was a significant prospect. It was a highly respected company with a strong brand and superior profit margins. Three key contacts from their organization carved out 45 minutes early one morning to meet with us. They were professional, engaging, curious and willing to share information. They were the “right” people to have in the room. And our story resonated with them. They “got it.” Any outside or objective observer who was watching would’ve concluded that it was going swimmingly well. But we knew after the first 30 minutes that the opportunity was dead in the water. The CEO and I knew that there was almost no chance of gaining traction inside this account.

Why? Because this prospect was too profitable. Because cost containment was not a relevant issue to them. Really. I know that’s hard to believe in late 2012 in this economic climate. But it’s true. This company wasn’t concerned with pennies, or even nickels or dimes for that matter, and culturally, our solution had no chance of flying in their organization. They believed our claims and respected our case studies and clients. But they knew what we provided was not a fit for them, and so did we.

After the meeting, the CEO and I drew our conclusions before we even made the long walk across the parking lot. You see, we’ve been saying that “the largest employers and financially astute companies turn to My Client’s Name when looking to….(insert client issue talking points from sales story here). But the truth is that our best clients are low-cost operators who are driven by finding cost savings. They tend to be the dominant players in industries where pennies and nickels matter – a lot. So before we even made it back to the car, we agreed that we must be even more strategic in selecting target prospects. High-margin, premium-priced companies with predominantly high-end white-collar workforces are not a fit for us, even if they happen to very large employers with internationally known brand names.

This fantastic sales call on the wrong prospect taught us a valuable lesson and sent me back to the drawing board.  I’ll be transparent. This hurt a little. I’m the sales consultant with a chapter in a bestselling book highlighting the importance of selecting strategic target prospects. And while I had invested some energy in helping to refine my client’s target list, apparently, it required more thought and energy than we had given it. Be assured, the issue has been addressed. We have filtered our target list further, even creating a separate list of dream prospects comprised of giant companies that look, smell and feel most like our very best clients. In fact, just yesterday we secured an initial meeting with one of those dream prospects for December, and I can’t wait to get in front of them!

What can you take away from this experience?

  • How strategic is your target account list? How much thought has gone into refining it?
  • Could you be more successful by focusing on fewer, but more strategic prospects?
  • How strong is your sales story and how confident are you that it resonates with the business issues facing your prospects?
  • Are you spending enough time proactively working your target prospects to even draw a conclusion like this?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Williams November 8, 2012 at 11:32 am

Love this post. Have I ever been there? Oh yes, more times than I’m prepared to admit and I sell sales training! One of the things that has helped me reduce the number of times this happens is to ensure the filter criteria that you refer to are a) correct and b) up to date. This will certainly stop targeting the wrong prospects but what about the enquiry that your inbound marketing team have conjured up for you?

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Mike November 8, 2012 at 11:37 am

Gary,
Great to have you here. Thanks for the quick comment. We’ve all been there. But let me also be clear: I am NOT a proponent of over-qualifying. If they’re on our strategic list, I want the salesperson in front of that prospect. Period. Too many salespeople fail from lack of activity. So while I want a solid, strategic, well-prepared list to attack, I also want lots of meetings with those target accounts, knowing full well that some will be a waste of time.
The case with this client was that we didn’t properly refine our list to best represent the true profile of our clients.
Thanks again!
Mike

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