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Don't atrophy your selling muscles

Get in the habit of prospecting to keep your sales skills sharp

by Troy Harrison

Due to a motorcycle accident, I’m currently laid up with a fractured kneecap. I’m still getting a lot of work done, but one of my key concerns is muscle atrophy. Anytime you’re off your feet, it’s easy to let your muscles stiffen or lose their strength. I’ve been doing a lot of research into exercise and working out, and I’ve been working out pretty much everything on my body that isn’t connected to my right knee so that my body doesn’t atrophy and my rehab becomes tougher.

When I was working out yesterday, I started thinking about how selling is a lot like working out (or simply living). We have certain skills that we use – think of them as “muscles” – and when we don’t use them, they can atrophy. The sales muscle that, I think, is most susceptible to atrophy is the prospecting muscle. Let’s talk about how it can atrophy and how we can keep it active.

Prospecting presents a dilemma for salespeople. On one hand, salespeople typically view prospecting with a mix of feelings involving fear, dislike and sometimes out right loathing. Few salespeople will say that they like to prospect, and fewer still really do. Yet, prospecting may be the most valuable skill you possess, in terms of your value to your employer and in terms of your compensation.

What I mean by “value” is this: In most cases, the most highly compensated salespeople are those salespeople who can consistently and reliably grow their businesses through the acquisition of new, profitable customers. Hence, if you want to rise to the top of the selling profession, prospecting is a “muscle” that you must possess and exercise often.

It’s also the most easily atrophied muscle. Remember, most salespeople dislike prospecting. If there’s a way to avoid or postpone prospecting, salespeople will take it (much like many people will postpone exercise that they dislike). It’s a human tendency. And, in my experience, prospecting postponed is prospecting not done, and the longer that you avoid doing something, the less skilled that you become at it. That’s what I mean by “atrophying the muscle.”

Any fitness trainer will tell you that it’s much easier to stay in shape than to get in shape. That’s true with prospecting as well. In my career, the toughest assignments I’ve had were to take a salesperson who has fallen out of the habit of prospecting and get them back into that habit. It’s much easier to stay in “shape” to prospect than to “get in shape” to prospect.

The good news is that it’s not that tough to stay in shape. It’s a matter of discipline. Much like working out must be a part of your physical routine to succeed, prospecting must be a part of your selling routine to be successful. Here are five ways to stay in “shape” for prospecting:

Make it a routine
Successful prospectors establish a week-to-week routine of prospecting. In other words, instead of saying, “I’m going to set my appointments for the week, then I’ll find time to prospect in between,” they establish a routine that says, “My prospecting times are Monday morning from 10 a.m. to noon (incidentally, that’s a great time to prospect), Wednesday morning, etc.” Then prospecting isn’t a decision process; it’s just something you do.

Establish targets
To succeed, it’s important to have objectives other than time.

How many new appointments do you need per week? How many calls does it take to succeed in getting those appointments? How many hours do you need to make those calls? Build your prospecting time around your weekly targets.

Use a quality database
Calling out of the phone book is dead. It’s been dead for 30 years. There are too many quality databases that allow you to make good phone calls, asking for the actual name of a top manager, to do the “person who” call (“Hi, could I speak to the person who purchases . . .”).

Don’t substitute “research” for real prospecting activity
Salespeople like to fool themselves that they are “prospecting” when in fact, they are surfing the Internet. Extensive pre-call research does not win you new business. In fact, in most instances, you actually lose effectiveness in prospecting by doing extensive pre-call research over simply making the calls. The reason is that somewhere around two-thirds of the calls you make will result in a voice mail or a no-contact; all the research in the world won’t help you succeed on these calls. Meanwhile, on the calls where you do get a contact, the research is only of marginal help.

Social networking isn’t prospecting
I know, there are many snake-oil salespeople who will tell you that social networking is all you need to do. Nonsense. There is a place for social networking, but it is not now, nor will it be in the foreseeable future, a mechanism to consistently and reliably bring in new prospects to your business. Social networking should be considered a secondary activity, prioritized below prospecting, and you should spend at least three times as much times prospecting as you do on social networking.

Much like staying in shape, it’s a lot easier to keep the skill/muscle of prospecting active and vital than it is to restart prospecting. Follow those tips, and you’ll never have that muscle atrophy.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and the president of SalesForce Solutions, a sales training, consulting and recruiting firm. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, e-mail or visit

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2013 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2013, Direct Business Media.


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