Successful Sales Prospecting: Myth vs. Reality

Drew O'Brien

Sales prospecting is one of the most difficult things account executives have to do. No wonder there are so many misconceptions about how to get it right.

Sales prospecting is the process of generating opportunities and filling a pipeline—and it goes without saying that it’s one of the most important things account executives have to do.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the more challenging tasks for most sales reps. There’s no definitive how-to prospecting guide, and most sales organizations throw their reps into the deep end with high expectations and little instruction. No wonder there are so many misconceptions about how to get it right.

Here, I’ll debunk three of the most pervasive myths that hinder success in sales prospecting today. And I’ll show you how elite sellers are shifting their tactics to overcome challenges, make smarter use of technology, and rack up high-value wins.

Myth: When it comes to prospect outreach, more is better.
Fact: Quality beats quantity every day.

Sure, it sounds logical. The wider the net you cast, the more chances you’ll have to create real opportunities. That’s why we’re seeing prospecting approaches begin to take on a factory line feel, where reps churn out dozens upon dozens of rote outreach messages. The goal is always more, more, more.

From the film Jerry Maguire; Source: IMDB TV
Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. Photo source: IMDB TV.

Except that’s not your ultimate goal. You’re assuming that more opportunities lead to more deals, and that more deals mean an increased likelihood of meeting or exceeding your quota. But that’s not necessarily the case. In reality, dozens of small deals might mean a lot more work on your part with a lot less reward. In other words, your goal isn’t more deals—it’s better deals.

Shift your focus instead to the quality of the connection you’re trying to make. You don’t need a multitude of prospects; you just need a few with the potential to pay off in high-dollar transactions. It’s like Jerry Maguire said: Fewer clients. More attention.

Myth: Forget the contact. It’s the open rate that counts.
Fact: Who you contact matters more than you think.

There’s a tendency among sales reps to limit prospecting outreach to the low-hanging fruit--those managers or directors who open their emails more often or agree to take phone calls with greater frequency. They’re easier to find and reach, so they’re more likely to listen to you. And you just want someone who will listen. Names and titles don’t matter, right? Your open rate doesn’t lie.

Wrong. Listening doesn’t close deals. Open rates don’t close deals. Only decision makers close deals, so you should be focused on building relationships with them right out of the gate.

You need to quickly uncover the companies with the greatest propensity to buy and the executives at those companies who are most strategically aligned with your offerings. This type of prospecting approach--taking a page from the intelligent enterprise sellers playbook--can pay off immensely down the line because, unlike their junior counterparts, higher-level executives have the authority not only to make purchases but also to expand a deal’s scope. Tell the right story to the right person, and you can increase deal value significantly. 

Myth: Getting personal is a waste of time.
Fact: Personalization wins business and, done right, won't slow you down.

In this era of one-to-one marketing, rapid-fire copy/paste emails with generic calls to action rarely, if ever, open the doors to lasting opportunity. So if your sales prospecting technique has all the personality of a fast food order, you’re probably missing out on vast potential. 

The key to exponential pipeline growth is personalization, plain and simple. Engagement happens when you convincingly demonstrate an understanding of a prospect’s business and, more specifically, of your contact’s unique point of view. Again, remember what Jerry Maguire said: Fewer clients. More attention.

Historically, many account execs have avoided a personalized approach to prospecting out of fear it would require too much effort and time. Perhaps that was true at one point, but it’s certainly not anymore. With the prevalence of today’s AI and automation technology, personalized communications take only a few minutes at most. And the potential for payoff makes those minutes completely worthwhile.

Personalization isn't about knowing what school your prospect went to, it's about understanding their business and what's keeping them up at night. We've got effective email templates ready so you can effectively demonstrate the business impact your solution will have on the target company. This is what executives and key decision makers care about.

Changing the way we prospect can be a tough nut to swallow, particularly when we’re so used to approaching from an opposite direction or mindset. But sales is an ever-evolving field, and anyone intent on achieving elite seller status must be willing to adapt. Don’t let misconceptions derail your efforts, and pay attention to how advances in technology can make your job easier. I’m confident you’ll be far better positioned for success.

About the Author
  • Drew O'Brien

    Drew is an experienced sales, operations and marketing professional. He's practiced in both inbound and outbound disciplines with demonstrated abilities in sales, field operations, sales enablement, sales strategy, product strategy, product marketing, marketing communication, product management, channel marketing and business development - specializing in Big Data, AI and digital transformation. Connect with Drew in the Strategic Sales Network.

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