Posted January 24, 2024

Prospecting – It Has Changed, and You Must Change With It

By Troy Harrison

Are your salespeople seeing their prospecting numbers and ratios decrease? If so, you – and they – are not alone. Sales is evolving, and we have to evolve with it. It’s time to redefine what cold-call prospecting really means – and along with that redefinition, we can realize that it might be even more important now.

Sales man soaringThirty years ago, the numbers looked like this. If you were calling from a good database, not doing the “person who” call, and using a strong introduction, you would generally get a contact (speaking to the person you wanted to talk to) on about one of every three times you dialed the phone. Then, if your introduction was strong, you’d get an appointment on one of every 2-3 contacts. Hence, if you were doing it right, you’d get an appointment on one of every 6-9 dials. That’s a pretty good number. Most of the time, salespeople working from a good database could average 20 dials per hour, so an hour of focused cold calling got you 2-3 appointments. There was a very linear relationship between calling this week, and appointments next week. For most of us, that’s changed.

Now (in most B2B industries), you’re lucky if you get a contact on one of every 10 dials. From what I see, the contact to appointment ratio has dropped as well, but not as drastically – now it’s more like 4 contacts yield one appointment – most likely because one-size-fits-all messaging isn’t as effective. What that means is that now, doing it the old way, it takes about two hours of focused cold calling to get one appointment.

However, when I have done cold calling training with my clients, I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon. When salespeople leave a strong voice mail (more on that in a minute), their LinkedIn profile views go up in the next couple of days. Who’s viewing them? You guessed it – some of the people that they tried to call. That means that whatever they said to the prospect interested the prospect enough to check them out, even if they didn’t return the call (even 30 years ago, returned calls from voice mail ran about 10-20%, so that’s never been a strong lead generator). Right now, I’m seeing about 25-30% of voice mails result in a LinkedIn profile view.

That is a Success

The purpose of cold calling is simple. We want to find people who could buy from us but don’t know we exist, and spark interest in them so that they might buy from us, now or in the future. If prospects are interested enough in what you said that they type your name into LinkedIn and look you up, you have sparked at least some interest in them. Next, of course, you should request a connection on LinkedIn (I outlined a LinkedIn strategy a couple of weeks ago). The idea is to get on their radar screen, and stay there. And, if you can pick up 3-4 new LinkedIn connections from an hour’s worth of prospecting, you’ve won.
In redefining prospecting, we need to think of creating awareness that you exist as someone who can solve problems for your customers. The old cold calling strategy held that any call that didn’t result in an appointment was failure. In fact, I used to teach that salespeople should make three attempts to reach a prospect by phone before leaving a voice mail. That’s obsolete – the voice mail should now be considered a messaging medium, just like social media or LinkedIn, with the objective of creating awareness.

With that in mind, here’s my recommended new prospecting process:
1. Start with a good database. The data you begin with still matters. You should have a database of targeted prospects using whatever demographics work for you. I normally recommend searching by geography, type of business, and size of company. This database should include contact names and titles. Most quality databases do.

2. Three minutes of research. YI used to recommend against this, because in the old “only an appointment is success” model, extensive research slowed down the process and cut into the number of quality dials. Now? Your message – whether delivered voice to voice in the case of a contact, or by voice mail if not – must be personalized. It should speak directly to your prospect, his/her position, and the company’s anticipated needs. 2-3 minutes on their website and the person’s LinkedIn page should get you there.

3. Call. When you call, be prepared to deliver a great and short, impactful introduction about how you can help the prospect with a possible need that you spotted. Remember – attention spans are short, and your introduction should be. The numbers say that you might get a contact only 1/10 of the time, but you’d damn well better be prepared for that call.

4. Leave a voice mail. Again, this is a departure from the past. Leave a short, impactful voice mail about how you can help, with multiple ways of contact. Invite your prospect to call, text, or look you up on LinkedIn. Leaving an email address is fine IF it’s simple and comes across well in a message. Remember, the first sentence must hit hard. You want to capture interest before they hit the delete key.

5. Watch your LinkedIn views. As I said before, you’re likely to get LinkedIn views from those you prospect. When you do, reach out, connect, and take a long-play approach to messaging them.

6. Repeat. If nothing happens, wait a couple of weeks and call again, varying your message.
As a manager, your management of prospecting activity is even more critical than it was in the past; prospecting is more of a slow play now, so salespeople get that immediate dopamine hit of an appointment less frequently than they did a decade or more ago. However, if they execute this process consistently, diligently, and skillfully, their sales funnels can be as full as they’ve ever been. That’s where your leadership comes in. Remind salespeople that, although prospecting is a delayed-gratification strategy now, it’s still vital and will build results in the long run. Prospecting has changed. Change with it, and lead your team in the change.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the Sales Navigator and the author of “Sell Like You Mean It” and “The Pocket Sales Manager.” He helps companies navigate the Elements of Sales on their journey to success. He offers a free 45-minute Sales Strategy Review. To schedule, call 913-645-3603 or e-mail