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How to Find More Qualified Sales Prospects and Stop Chasing Your Tail

dog chasing tail

Not all sales prospects are created equal, and the better you’re able to quickly spot the differences, your prospecting and sales efforts will become more efficient and pay greater dividends.


Tuesdays with Chad

A series inspired by my regular attendance at Sandler Training Sales Mastery, lead by Chad Stenzel in Norfolk, Virginia.

alec baldwin thumbs upSalespeople can be the most upbeat, optimistic folks you’ll ever meet. For every prospect they pursue there's a hope that they will make a sale.

Unfortunately, this is the same kind of hope that a lottery player has when they buy one more lottery ticket.

And that's not good because not not all prospects are good prospects. Many prospects will never buy from you. Or worse, they'll burn up a lot of your time and then not buy from you.

The issue is time. Your time. It's an irreplaceable commodity. That's why the more efficiently you invest your time in pursuing customers that fit the profile of an ideal, qualified prospect, the more successful you will be.

No prospecting = No sales

Mark_Hunter_COMBOIn High-Profit Prospecting: Powerful Strategies to Find the Best Leads and Drive Breakthrough Sales Results, Mark Hunter defines prospecting this way:

"Prospecting is an activity performed by sales and/or marketing departments to identify and qualify potential buyers."

In the book he explains that the number one reason for failure at sales is the failure to prospect. No other reason comes close.

Sales Prospecting – More Important Now Than Before

Sales prospecting is actually more important now than before. It’s because of a phenomenon called attention symmetry

to sell is humanIn the book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Daniel Pink explains that in the past when a buyer was researching a purchase, their ability to get information was more limited than now.

That’s why, in many instances, fairly early in their buying process buyers would contact the seller. For instance, when my dad was buying a car, one of the first places he’d go to get information was the car dealership.


My dad wanted information and the seller had it. At that point the seller could guide and influence the sale and continue to withhold or provide information as leverage. That was the era of information asymmetry

information asymetry

Now, thanks to the internet, buyers aren’t going to the seller for information as early as they once did. In fact, most sellers delay contacting the seller until as late as possible.


CEB/Gartner, in a study with Google found that in a B2B buying scenario, buyers are at least 57% through their purchase process before first reaching out to a vendor. Other studies put that percentage higher, but it varies by industry and product, of course.

And that’s both the problem and opportunity for salespeople. 

It’s a problem because buyers are contacting sellers much later than before, after they’re more informed about what they want to buy. 

But it’s also an opportunity for sellers who continue to prospect and reach out to buyers before they’ve established trust with another seller.

The most successful sellers don’t wait for buyers to contact them. They are continuing to prospect, even as reaching prospects has become more difficult.

Sales Prospecting – Not as Simple as it Used to Be

In addition to buyers getting their own information via the internet, there is another wave of constantly improving technological innovation that allows prospective customers to avoid unwanted sales and marketing messages.

Examples of this technology include caller ID, ad blocking software, commercial-free video and audio services (e.g. Netflix, Spotify, satellite radio, etc), email spam software. 

Like marketing, sales prospecting has become more complicated, with more layers of complexity. And while the era of lazy sales prospecting may be over, sales prospecting will never end.

But there’s also good news for sales prospecting. While it has become more difficult to get the attention of prospective customers, there has never been a better time to find out more about your prospects than before. Just like how your customers can find out more about you without having to speak with you, the same holds for salespeople’s ability to research prospective customers.

Not All Prospects Are Created Equal

Given the added difficulty in getting the attention and time of a prospect, it’s no surprise that sellers are relieved to talk to any prospect. I’m guilty of this myself. When I get through to a prospect I’m often filled (briefly) with the wistful hope of a lottery player.

But that’s a mistake, because not all sales prospects are good prospects.

Sandler breaks prospects into four groups. 

  1. Leads – Anyone in your prospecting list for whom you have a name.
  2. Suspects – A lead who has shown interest or who you have an interest in pursuing. They might be looking for quotes, they might have shown an interest and filled out a form on your website, or they may be a person you’re interested in, but they don’t have an immediate need or have not yet recognized they have the need.
  3. Prospect – A suspect who has an identified need and is aware of the need for your product or service. They might be willing to discuss solving their problem with you.
  4. Qualified Prospect – A prospect who has a compelling pain, the budget to fix it and a decision-making process with which you are willing to comply.

How to Find More of Your Ideal Prospects

The object of the game is to spend the most time and effort trying to reach qualified prospects. Remember, there’s a sea of difference between an ideal prospect and one that can merely fog a mirror.

The first step toward that end is to identify the characteristics of an ideal prospect. 

Not sure how to get started? 

satanTry this: think about your worst prospects. What do they have in common? What industry or industries are they in? Job titles? Why are they bad prospects? Do they never buy from you? Are they not profitable customers? 

Write all this down on a piece of paper. Have some fun with this. Get it out of your system.

Now turn that piece of paper over and write down the characteristics of your ideal prospect. If you could only sell to one type of prospect, who would it be? Have some fun with this too. Wave that magic wand.

To get started, think about your best customers. Answer the following types of questions:

  • What industries are they in? What size businesses? Management or ownership structure?
  • What are the key challenges your product or service has helped them face?
  • What problems did it help them solve?
  • What goals has it helped them achieve?
  • What roadblocks and friction did your product or service remove from their paths?
  • What outcomes has your product or service helped them to obtain?
  • Is there anything your product or service has that makes you indispensable to them?
  • How has your product or service helped them to increase revenue and profits? Or have you helped them reduce waste and expenses?

If you’re like most people who go through this exercise you’ll start to spot the glaring differences between bad prospects and ideal prospects.

You may even feel a sense of clarity and renewed excitement for the growth possibilities that a more focused approach to prospecting can have. If you’ve made progress you’ll even start to feel liberated that you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) chase any prospect. Or your tail.

sales prospecting-1What makes for a great hitter in baseball? They can spot the difference between a good pitch from a bad one early. Then they swing at just the good pitches and let the bad ones go. The same applies to the big hitters in sales in sales prospecting – they know what a good prospect looks like long before they go after them.

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photo credit: timekin Catch it if you can via photopin (license) photo credit: apardavila Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts awaits a pitch in the fourth inning. via photopin (license)
Douglas Burdett
Douglas Burdett
The Principal and Founder of Artillery, Douglas Burdett is a former artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man. He also hosts The Marketing Book Podcast, where he interviews authors every week about the latest in modern marketing and sales.

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