Mastering a Prospecting Habit: Focusing on Actions, Not Outcomes

by Linda P. Kester September/October 2015
Linda Kester tackles the cold call, a task that many sales people dread. She shares methods to develop a daily prospecting habit — such as scheduling and accountability — and outlines ways to guard against distractions and eliminate excuses.

Did you brush your teeth this morning? Hopefully you did, that’s something most of us do automatically. Did you make any prospect calls today? Probably not, I bet. Most leasing sales professionals who don’t have someone micromanaging them have a tendency to avoid making sales calls on a regular basis.

Can you imagine making sales calls an everyday habit just like combing your hair or shaving? I have lots of habits. I have a tall glass of warm water with lemon every morning, then I make a cappuccino with almond milk. I love these early morning habits. They make me feel healthy, happy and caffeinated.

I also have bad habits. Laundry can stay in the dryer for days, and when it finally does come out, I will, most likely, throw it in a heap on the guest room bed. If someone unexpectedly walks into that room — like the HVAC repair guy the other day — I’m embarrassed.

Research suggests that about 40% of our behavior is repeated on an almost daily basis. If this is true, then why not make your behavior an investment in your future sales numbers?

I have become consumed with the idea of creating a prospecting habit after reading Better Than Before, Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin. While Rubin is an attorney and a happiness expert, I view her as a social scientist. She invented a new way of looking at people’s tendencies when it comes to decision-making and habit formation.

If you prospect every day without any prodding, then you can stop reading. You are probably an upholder. Most people I know in leasing sales start out with zero clients. They prospect, prospect, prospect until they land some vendors, then they get busy closing transactions and rarely make time to prospect again. If you put Rubin’s groundbreaking research into practice, it will help you take consistent action and better manage yourself and your sales staff. She posits that there are four distinct groups of character that describe how people respond to outer expectations, like obtaining a sales budget, and inner expectations, like exercise or making prospect calls for your own business. The categories are:

    • Upholders: Respond readily to outer and inner expectations.
    • Questioners: Question all expectations. They’ll meet an expectation if they
      think it makes sense.
    • Rebels: Resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.
    • Obligers: Meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they
      impose upon themselves.

Want to figure out your tendency? Take the quiz.

I’m an obliger, which means I need to have some type of accountability to get things done. If I have a task to do for someone else, I do it right away. If it’s just for me, it goes to the bottom of the pile. Here’s my summary of salespeople:

      • Upholder sales reps are self-manageable.
      • Questioner reps need to have excessive amounts of product knowledge
        before making a call.
      • Obliger reps need firm deadlines and consequences.
      • Rebel reps will make managers pull their hair out.

This information is also valuable in customer analysis. Since I read Better Than Before, I’ve been hypothesizing about my customers and their tendencies. For example, I have a client who always gives me the third degree. This bugged me until I realized that she is a questioner; it’s in her nature. Now, I prepare for our meetings by brainstorming all possible issues.

Regardless of your tendency, there are two essential steps in the sales habit process: scheduling and accountability.

Scheduling: The strategy of scheduling — setting a specific regular time for prospecting to occur — is one of the most powerful strategies. “Scheduling makes us far more likely to convert an activity into a habit,” says Rubin. She also argues that we should probably prospect earlier in the day: “Self-control wanes as the day wears on, which explains why sexual indiscretions, excessive gambling, over consumption of alcohol and impulsive crimes usually happen at night.”

You don’t have to like prospecting. Many people dread cold calling. If you are one of these people, think of it as going to the dentist. You schedule your dentist appointment and you show up. Similarly, you must schedule and show up to generate new business. “What we do everyday matters more than what we do once in a while,” Rubin says. “Consistency, no decision, this is the way to develop a true habit.”

Accountability: Schedule prospecting time, and then actually do it. When I sold copiers, we were held accountable by a sign on the wall that was updated daily with how much you sold for the month. If your sales were low, it was almost a public shaming. There are many ways to have accountability in our industry. Some reps get daily reports of the prior days’ call count. Some of my clients send me a text at the end of the day with number of calls made. Rubin inadvertently gives excellent advice to sales managers: “Give them milestones to hit and hold them to it. The more accountable they feel, and the more they believe you expect to see consistent progress, the better they will do.”

Next, you need to guard against excuses, eliminate distractions and focus on actions.

Guard Against Excuses

Sales reps always have excuses:

    • I don’t feel like prospecting
    • No one will be available today because it’s so nice outside
    • I’m too busy
    • I need more information before I can make a call
    • I’ve been so good about prospecting, I deserve a day off
    • I’ll just send him an e-mail

My response to these excuses:

    • Do it anyway, you’ll be glad you did.
    • Your best prospect might just pick up the phone.
    • I prospect because I’m way too busy to worry if one particular deal won’t close.
    • Give him an idea, add value.
    • Once you break the streak, it’s hard to get going again.
    • E-mail is an essential tool, but there is no substitute for a heartfelt conversation.

If your excuse is “prospecting doesn’t make me feel good,” then you need to change the way you view yourself. If you think you are interrupting or can’t add value, you are probably right. However, if you think of yourself as a consultant who shares beneficial insight, then you will have conversations like this:

“You know, it’s interesting. In the last month, I’ve talked to three other software vendors and there’s one thing that’s blindsided them, are you interested in that?” Suddenly you’ve captured the prospect’s attention. It’s a very different type of conversation.

Another example: “I just talked to one of our former lessees, and his company went out of business. He was telling me what went wrong, and I think there can be some learning points for your company.” Now you are no longer a sales person, you are a solution provider.

Eliminate Distractions

I procrastinate and get distracted easily. My biggest distraction is social media, especially Facebook. I’m trying to break this habit by telling myself, “Wait 15 minutes before you check any social media.” Sometimes the impulse goes away. I also follow Eckhart Tolle’s advice. He says when the urge appears, stop and take three deep breaths. This generates awareness. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Identify your own distractions and keep them out of your scheduled prospecting time.

Focus On Actions, Not Outcomes

Focusing on actions is vital in sales development. I’ve witnessed reps who just hope and hope that a certain deal will close. Hope is not a strategy. Customers can feel when you really need the deal, they may use this to their advantage to get price concessions, or they may run the other way. Desperation, like perspiration, has an odor. When you focus on questioning skills and resolving objections you can detach from the outcome, and you don’t smell.

This is actually contradictory to the teachings of Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, and other law of attraction experts. They say that you should only focus on the end result and visualize what you would like your life to become. However, habit formation requires a different skill set. The goal is to make prospecting a conscious habit. I’ve witnessed sales people who have a high quota of prospect calls — 80 dials per day — and they sort of become unconscious and are surprised when a decision maker actually takes their call. Then they stutter, and go into a premature presentation. The person on the phone is thinking, “How quickly can I hang up?”

If you make prospecting a mindful habit and are fully engaged in each call, then you will listen and respond to the unique concerns of each customer.

Equipment leasing sales is not easy. If it were, everyone would do it. If it only took three calls to reach a prospect and convince him to make you his leasing resource, then where’s the challenge? Professional selling takes patience, hard work, knowledge, good skills and motivation.
Take Rubin’s quiz (I highly recommend reading her book as well). Find your tendency, schedule sales calls, stop the excuses, remain focused and monitor yourself. Then call me and thank me when you get a big commission check.

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