Stop chasing every prospect— Or risk squandering time, resources and the opportunity for success

Don’t pursue every lead. That’s a hard message for salespeople to hear. But even the most competitive salesperson in a moment of self-reflection will admit that some prospects just aren’t worth chasing. Of course, it’s usually the prospect with little money to spend that is easily rejected. Any salesperson can shrug off that deal. The trick is to learn to walk away from a prospect with deep pockets when that prospect is not the right fit.

Determining prospects that are the right fit

Too often, salespeople consider a prospect worthy of pursuit if it has two attributes:

  1. The company is a target market for the products/services being sold.
  2. It has sufficient resources to be worth the salesperson’s while.

Unfortunately, this often results in time that is wasted pursuing accounts that were never going to break a salesperson’s way. For example, an enormous amount of personal and company time may be spent responding to the RFP (Request for Proposal) of a company that meets these two criteria. This is almost always time that is wasted. RFP’s are usually done to meet government or corporate requirements to put work out to bid. In reality, a vendor is already chosen (at least informally), and often the RFP is written to that vendor’s strengths. Meanwhile, multiple companies jump through hoops to meet the RFP requirements, committing time, talent and money that would be better spent elsewhere.

To avoid this trap, it is imperative to know all of the attributes of a strong prospect. And there is no standard list. The attributes of a good prospect will vary from one company to the next. For example, the perfect prospect for two services firms in the same industry such as a business consultancy might be very different. Two medical equipment manufacturers, in the same space, making the same or similar devices, might also have two very different perfect prospects. As a result, the only way to determine the right prospect is to analyze the customer base and identify who the company’s best customers are and why. This will determine the attributes of the ideal prospect.

Conducting a customer analysis

Once again, when evaluating customers it is important to look beyond just how much they spend and how much they need the product or service being sold. An evaluation of the customer base should identify all of the attributes that make a company a good fit. This is the profile of the ideal customer. Typically, it reveals the following:

  • The customer’s needs match the solution offered
  • There is a strong fit between the two companies philosophically, demographically, politically and culturally
  • The customer appreciates the way the company sells
  • The company is given or is able to earn access to key decision-makers
  • The customer is ready to buy if the return on investment is right
  • The customer is a good fit relative to service, operations and technology

When there is compatibility across all of these dimensions, long-lasting relationships tend to follow. This is another reason why it’s critical to target the best prospects when selling. It is much easier and less expensive to sell into existing accounts than new accounts.

Using the profile with prospects

When applied to prospects, this profile narrows the field. Though this may sound discouraging on the face of it, it’s actually good news for the savvy salesperson. Time, effort and company resources can all be applied to prospects that are much more likely to buy. In addition, when the right prospects are targeted, sales cycles are shorter because access to key decision-makers is gained more quickly. And as mentioned, the right prospects tend to become long-term customers.

Determine the attributes of the best customers to develop a profile of the perfect prospect. Then use the profile as a guide throughout the sales process.

So how is this profile used in the sales process? To be an effective tool, the profile must be written down and used as a guide throughout the sales process. There may be a tendency to want to fudge results if considerable time and effort has already been invested in a prospect and it is learned that there is significant mismatch on an important dimension. This is a mistake. The best approach is to acknowledge the mismatch and adjust expectations. Accept it as a sign to proceed with caution. It may be that it’s merely a bump in the road and the companies are well-matched overall. However, if other mismatches crop up, then the prospect really isn’t ideal, and it’s better to recognize it and cut your losses.

Understanding the value of the perfect prospect profile

The true value of a perfect prospect profile can only be appreciated over time as the results of its application become clear. Targeting ideal prospects will result in:

  • more focused sales efforts
  • a smaller number of sales being lost to competitors or ending in non-decision
  • shorter sales cycles

In addition, ideal prospects become ideal customers with whom long-standing relationships should be possible. So while it may go against the salesperson’s instincts to selectively pursue prospects, the benefits will be almost immediate and the long-term effects outstanding. Mismatches are not missed opportunities. In fact, all that is really missed is wasted time and effort.

"This article was originally published in SOLD magazine, a monthly digital sales magazine for sales professionals."