Successful Sifting

Most companies spend so much time chasing silt that they never get to the gold. Instead, turn the traditional sales paradigm on its head with a system based on disqualifying (not qualifying) prospects up front.

Do you spring into action at the behest of every prospect that shows the slightest glimmer of interest, buying plane tickets, doing research, writing proposals, wining and dining? Are most of these prospects really likely to say yes? And are they prospects whose yes you really want? This last question may seem bizarre to many independent meeting planners desperate for every scrap of business in a lean-and-mean marketplace. But it's the one question that should guide every move you make.

The truth is that you should be seeking to disqualify prospects up front so you won't waste time on someone who just isn't right for your company. There's a big difference between your next customer and your next best customer. Realize this, and you'll see why success is not based on what you know; it's about what you "no."

In other words, you should listen for the no at the earliest point possible so you can move on to bigger, better, more suitable prospects. For many companies, this is nothing less than a complete reversal of the cast-a-wide-net-and-talk-them-into-saying-yes prospecting paradigm. To change this paradigm, employ the following tips:

Remember what prospecting really means. Think about the old forty-niners panning for gold. They were sifting or filtering out what was useful or valuable from what was not. They were real prospectors. Somehow we've lost that picture when we talk about prospecting. Though the methods of many companies may suggest otherwise, prospecting does not mean trying to make what is not useful or valuable into something that is useful or valuable.

Make the Pareto Resolution. You've probably heard of the Pareto Rule: 80 percent of your income will come from 20 percent of your customers. How would life be for you if all your customers were like your top 20 percent today? You'd grow quickly toward your goals, because every new customer would fit your predetermined parameters. There would be less wheel-spinning and more getting on with business. Life would be more fun. Making the Pareto Resolution simply means deciding to leave anyone who looks like your ho-hum 80-percenters behind in the creek while you continue your relentless search for gold.

Decide whom you don't want as a customer. Here's where the rubber meets the road. You must set the parameters for identifying someone who is not worth spending your resources on. First, decide what would never be an acceptable piece of business and what would always be acceptable business. Then develop some filtering parameters—such as reference potential for repeat business—that can help you classify business as never or always acceptable. Assign scores to these parameters. Projects that total a minimum amount will be accepted (on a case-by-case basis) and those that do not will be sourced elsewhere.

Hire a prospecting specialist. Okay, so you've settled on some stringent disqualifying factors. Now, how do you start filtering out the silt? The problem is that people in general do not like to prospect. It means cold calling. It means interrupting people's day to see if they want to buy something. With certain industry exceptions, the average salesperson makes 17 prospecting calls per week. And the average call (when she actually gets through to the desired party) lasts 12 to 14 minutes. What's the purpose of that call? Why, to get an appointment, of course.

The smart thing to do is to use a prospecting specialist. This person will dial the phone 35 to 50 times per hour, getting through huge databases of silt and throwing the pans back into the creek with reckless abandon until that pan with the shiny stuff shows up—and it always does. But it might be the 300th pan. Let's do the math. The salesperson makes 17 calls per week. To get to the 300th pan at that rate would take 17 weeks and three days. At 50 calls per hour, the prospector has identified the gold nugget in six hours.

This system goes a long way toward preventing two types of expensive errors in your sales process: spending your precious resources on prospects that aren't likely to become 20-percenters, and missing out on business because you don't even know a potential prospect is in need of your product or service today.

Saying no to the wrong kinds of customers ultimately means saying yes to your own goals and aspirations. It means becoming self-actualized as a company, reaching your full potential, instead of settling for the market's table scraps. Of course this path is more rewarding than scrounging for every dollar you can get at the cost of your own integrity. It simply feels better. Once you've experienced that feeling, you'll get over your fear of no pretty quickly. And when the dollars start rolling in, you'll never settle for chasing silt again.

Kim DeMotte is the founder and managing partner of Power of No®, a St. Louis-based firm specializing in improving corporate sales and management effectiveness. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (877) 245-8250.