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Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: Prospecting a challenge that should never end

ACQUIRING NEW customers is by far the most challenging aspect of selling. It's a grueling process that requires a lot of intellectual horsepower, persistence and, of course, thick skin. It's also a part of the sales process that I continue to see people struggle with.

Along with it being difficult to do effectively, it's also something many people don't enjoy. It's essential, however, to your success and something you will never get away from.

One of the most common reasons for failure I have seen in sales is people who get comfortable with their existing customers and stop prospecting. They rely on their existing customers and expect to continue to grow their business without adding new customers. This, of course, is a recipe for disaster and rarely works. It's simple. You can never stop prospecting.

The other aspect of prospecting where I see people fail is the approach they take and the cadence of outreaches they are doing to establish dialogue with potential customers. They tend to give up easily and aren't willing to put in the hard work and consistent touches needed to get someone to engage.

There are research reports and surveys from various people and companies that claim to have figured out how many outreaches it takes before a prospect turns into a customer. I've heard everything from 10 to 20. Whatever that number really is, the key point to consider is that it doesn't happen after one phone call or email. You have to stay in front of people and never give up.

Here are a few suggestions on ways I've seen some of the most effective prospecting done.

Have a plan: You need to have an established plan on how you are actually going to go after an account. The better you plan, the more effective you will be. Consider the research you need to do before you start reaching out. You should also come up with a plan of what contacts you are going to target as well as how you are going to attempt to establish dialogue.

Execute your plan: You can plan all day long, but nothing is going to happen until you put it into action. All too often people get hung up on the planning. Don't get sucked into that trap. The best thing you can do is put everything into action. And the key is to do it consistently, every single day. Don't make excuses. Establish a daily routine where you are prospecting for a specific amount of time.

Knowing things will come up that require you to deviate from your plan, keep it realistic, but ensure that you are executing and making it happen every day. If you do that, you will win.Consider the cadence: This is probably the most important element of prospecting. You need to have a planned cadence of the various approaches you will make when targeting prospects. It's important to plan out the types of touches, the frequency and, of course, the content. The more detailed you can be, the better.Create a prospect pipeline: In sales, we often talk about the pipeline, which is the number of opportunities we are working on, the various sales stages they are in and the forecasted date they will close. Do the same for your prospects and manage them the same way you would a sales funnel. The more prospects you are working on, the more will work their way through the funnel and turn into actual customers.

Christopher Thompson ( writes Closing the Deal weekly. Chris is the vice president of sales and services for leadership solutions at Skillsoft, a Nashua-based provider of learning solutions. Visit Skillsoft at

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