Have you noticed that the higher up people move in their organizations or the longer someone has been in a sales role, whether it be in professional services or a traditional sales role, the farther away they move from the daily regimen of outbound prospecting calls to schedule appointments to increase their sales pipeline?
Furthermore, they are typically not in the top 25% of sales volume producers for their industry group, which means they could be producing a lot more but have allowed themselves to get complacent. The only people that do not need to set aside time for daily prospecting calls and potential networking are the people who generate enough of a consistent sales pipeline to put them in the top 25% of all producers in their industry segment. Everyone else has to find a way to develop their pipeline either through networking and making phone calls.
For everyone else, aside from company leads and people calling you unsolicited, there are only two ways to build your pipeline: getting out to network and using your phone. After studying this for some time, I am convinced that people do what is comfortable for them, but not what is best for them. What is comfortable for most people is getting out of the office and meeting people.
It is very common to find people who go to every networking meeting available, hoping to run into a few decision-makers. If they attend an event with 100 people, there may be 10 that would be good client candidates; however, they may or may not meet any of those 10 people. By the end of this event, they are likely to walk away with zero meetings and, best case, perhaps some people who would take a phone call about future meetings. Of these, maybe 1 is a real prospect. Including travel time, attending the event was a 3-hour decision and time commitment. So all you accomplished was marketing your organization, introducing yourself to some new people who now know you exist, and possibly setting one future meeting, if the person you met ever takes your call.
Now let’s take that same 3 hours and use the phone. The average person starting out may not have a very large contact list and may need to do a lot of cold calling. But a seasoned salesperson and partners in a professional services firm should have amassed more than 2,000 contacts willing to take their call. The people being called also know people, and may be willing to give referrals. So, imagine how many people could be called and connected within 3 hours. Whether cold calling or warm calling, it is reasonable to expect a large number of outbound calls. Even if a large percentage of the calls result in leaving messages, all calls can be directed to a decision-maker in a company with which you want to do business. Conservatively, depending on the nature of your business and the level of the person you are calling in the organization, you should achieve 12 phone meetings and 2 to 3 prospect meetings scheduled for new business opportunities. If you are good at pre-qualifying your meetings, at least one of those meetings is likely to result in new business within your sales cycle. This is a much better result than attending the networking meeting above. In essence, you networked, but you did it over the phone. These results can be achieved whether you are calling people you know or cold calling a list of good prospects from a purchased list.
I am not suggesting that people do no networking. I believe that your networks make you powerful. However, I am suggesting that most people are making 2 mistakes with networking.
- Too much time is allocated to networking. No more than 10% of a salesperson’s time should be spent on networking. If you are in professional services and have to deliver, it should be no more than 5%, in order to allow enough time to get on the phone to properly fill the pipeline and to attend meetings with prospects.
- Too much networking in the wrong places. Do not go to a networking event unless the majority of the people there are the people that you would normally sell your product or service to. Do not go to events consisting of a bunch of salespeople from other companies. An exception is a networking group like Business Networking International (“BNI”), providing that you regularly get referrals from the other people you are meeting with. These relationship-based groups can be valuable if you are surrounded by the right people.
Another distraction of networking is board involvement. While this is can be a rewarding and important activity, it should not be confused with a productive sales activity. When you compare the amount of time it takes to sit and play the role on a board with the number of people on the board, amount of interaction with those people, and the amount of business received, a person would be better served taking the phone call route. So when someone decides to sit on a board, it should be a community involvement decision rather than one to help them make their sales production numbers. Many times I have seen people’s board involvement significantly detract from their production. They will develop business from their involvement, but it is far less than these people would produce had they chosen more productive networking venues and/or called on their rolodex to find business.
The key take-away is use of time. We must be careful not to confuse what makes us feel good with what is best for generating business. Most people do not put the time into making phone calls because they do not view this as an exciting part of their day. Because it does not fit their self-image, they avoid the most effective use of sales time. If everyone put as little as an hour per day, or five hours per week into filling their pipeline with meetings, they would always have a full and productive pipeline and find themselves in the top 25% of their peer group. Many people have found that they complete the whole sales process without ever leaving their desk.
Howard Shore is a business growth expert that works with companies that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation.