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April 2017

Is Sales Prospecting an Art or a Science?

After 20 years running prospecting campaigns, I am going to share a secret: success in prospecting is not a science, it is an art.

Yes, there is a science to prospecting, but the science only matters after you first master the art. Prospecting science involves metrics (i.e. the numbers game), your use of various channels of communication (email, LinkedIn, cold-calling), the number of follow-ups, open rates, response rates, etc. This is the part that most organizations focus on because it feels safe, understandable, and measurable. The art of prospecting, on the other hand, is the way your message connects with your audience (or doesn’t). The art is the way you convey not just a business value proposition but a deeply human idea or emotion. Without attention to the art, prospecting is only an attempt to execute flawlessly on a bad idea. 

A prospecting email is an expression of an idea. You are an artist, you have a medium, and your purpose is to form new business relationships. To master your art is to use a powerful medium to express a powerful emotion or clear idea. Art also reveals the character and personality of its creator. You are not just prospecting; rather, you are attempting to connect with another human being by using art to bring him or her into a relationship that comes alive. Even if you are “only selling software”, your message either has power (i.e. you get responses and meetings) or it falls completely flat (in which case no metric is going to help you).

Do you believe in what you are selling? If not, either do some creative thinking and soul-searching or go sell something else. If you do believe in it, why? To believe in a product or solution means to believe that it has the potential to improve lives. To believe in security software, for example, means to know that it relieves fear or anxiety that an executive might feel if the company is left exposed to threats and attacks. The features and the commercial aspects of the solution only enter the picture later.

If you do believe in your product and in yourself…well, now you have a clear theme for your art. Find a way to convey your purest intentions sincerely, in a human tone (avoiding marketing-speak), and with character. Do you come across as someone who a CEO would want to form a relationship with? Are you respectful, caring, prepared to serve? Are you able to take a complex idea and make it simple, understandable, and worthy of an executive's time? Seriously, imagine a CEO reading your message (trust me, they do read their emails). Honestly, do you think that your message will be the spark that ignites a valuable, trusting, mutually-beneficial relationship? 

If you are in sales or marketing, then nothing about your job is more important than your message. Your message is your art and a message that delivers results is a masterpiece. Dig deeper into your creative self. Envision your prospect as a human being with human emotions just like yours. Until you are sure that you have created and validated your masterpiece, set aside a few hours per week in silent contemplation. Write different ideas, pay attention to your feelings…your intuition. I have found that, when I have created a masterpiece, I know it even before the message is tested. With enough persistence, you will get there!

Maybe you have tried outbound prospecting or have tried working with lead gen vendors, but did not see the results. If you aren't getting results, that only means you need to focus on the art. You can do it yourself or find help, but by all means don't ignore the art of prospecting. 


Selling in the now

Most people dread the idea of making a sales call or presentation. Early in my Sales career, I would sometimes experience so much anxiety going into a sales call that I could barely breathe. Overwhelming fear and insecurity sometimes prevented me from connecting with the prospect.

Over the years, I eventually learned to cover-up the anxiety, but I can’t say that I actually enjoyed the process of selling until more recently. I have discovered that what makes selling enjoyable is exactly what makes life enjoyable. I will be posting more in the coming weeks and months, but for now I wanted to share the first tip: sell with a focus on the present moment.

Present-moment awareness has become something of a cliché, so it is necessary to meditate on this more deeply. Stress is something that is created before the sales call (when you worry about what might go wrong) and after the call (when you beat yourself up for what did go wrong). Instead, ponder this: no problem actually exists in the present moment (which is wonderful because the present moment is all that is real).

A person who exists in the past or the future is a person who is lost in thought. A person lost in thought fails to perceive reality. Rather than perceiving the client, rather than listening, rather than addressing what is actually happening, your monkey-mind ends up trying to figure out what you are going to say next, what the prospect thinks of you, whether they notice your nervousness, and what your boss will say if you lose the deal. In this state, you are lost and you have lost your edge.

Instead, try this during your next sales meeting: when you notice your thoughts shifting to what you are going to say, what might happen, what should have happened, or anything related to the future or the past...simply bring your thoughts right back to the present moment. As you walk or drive to the meeting, notice some detail in the world around you. Enjoy each step as you walk to the elevator. As you shake hands, appreciate the real, actually-existing opportunity you have to form a new relationship. Notice how awake and alive you feel, in this moment. Forget the outcome. Whatever happens, you will deal with it in the present moment. It is only in this state that your performance is optimal. Perhaps even more importantly; no matter the outcome, you will enjoy yourself. When you enjoy yourself, you will preserve energy, you will talk with more clients...I probably don't need to sell you on the idea of enjoying your job. The benefits are clear.

Starting now, shift your focus to the present moment. Customers do not exist in the past or the future. They exist only in the present. Meet them there.