It used to be that salespeople, by necessity, had to engage in their own lead generation. They visited potential prospects, made cold calls, attended events, even parties, dinners and golf games, in an effort to obtain leads. All of this was quite in addition to working those leads and closing deals.
Today it’s not the same. Today a majority of salespeople are dependent on inbound leads—those leads which come in off a web site, through advertising or from social media. They have become expert presenters, which is good, but wouldn’t even consider having to create their own leads.
Salespreneurs in Your Sales Team
In an earlier blog in this series I talked about the need to build a sales team with entrepreneurial spirit—with what I call salespreneurs. These are the types of people that never sit around and wait for the leads to come in—they go out and get them.
This is true entrepreneurial approach. When an entrepreneur starts out, there are no leads unless the entrepreneur goes out and finds them. To use a (perhaps exaggerated) analogy, it’s rather like when the American pioneers struck out across the Western frontier—there were no roads, no trains, no cities, no civilization. The pioneers had to invent all that. It’s the kind of spirit that seems to have disappeared today.
For me, that spirit is at least half of a salesperson’s job. To reach out, to find prospects, to bring them in and then work them. It’s time this spirit was restored.
The Buyer’s Journey Myth
In the last year or so, it has been heavily promoted that roughly 70% of a buyer’s journey is completed on the internet before ever contacting a salesperson. In reaction to this, many sales organizations have decided that all they need to do is wait for these buyers to show up, and then jump on the train. They have become reliant on the internet to bring them the leads.
Such sales organizations have been supported in this attitude by sales books, seminars, webinars, white papers and many statements from other “leading” research firms confirming this original finding. This statement has also led to many other activities such as millions spent in online marketing and fine-tuning websites to catch these buyers searching online.
First of all, from my own experience, and that of some others that I have observed, this flat statement about buyer behavior is certainly not true in all cases, in all industries. It can certainly still happen, and still does, that a salesperson comes across prospects that have no clue about their buying decisions and need substantial help making up their minds. For example, what if they’ve never even heard of your product?
But secondly, in a sadly humorous note, SiriusDecisions, the benchmark and advisory firm that was the first to make this statement a couple of years ago, has now backpedaled considerably and say that salespeople must become involved with prospects right from the beginning of the sales cycle.
The truth: a salesperson, if they really want job security, should never just sit back and wait for the leads to roll in. A great sales rep instead is always on the lookout for leads themselves, in addition to whatever might come through the door for them to work.
Finding the Leads
Engaging in the search for leads does not necessarily mean cold-calling. While many sales thought leaders will argue that cold-calling is not dead and can still be done, I personally hate cold calls and think many others do, too. So what other methods might be employed?
First, there’s the internet. Instead of simply relying on the internet for inbound leads, a great sales rep (a salespreneur) instead harnesses the power of the internet to find leads. Through social media, forums and other avenues there is plentiful data out there—not just for the buyer, but for the seller, too.
Then of course there is actively, physically getting out and seeing people: trade shows, events, seminars, and so on. These still happen, and your potential buyers are still attending them.
Lastly a salesperson always keeps their ears open, no matter where they are. Maybe you’re at a swimming pool during your vacation. You hear a guy talking with his wife, saying, “I have so many problems at the company, the data doesn’t fit!” Hearing that you may realize it’s a good opportunity. It takes guts, but right there you could stand up and say, “Hey, I heard you talking about an issue that really affects you. Would it be appropriate for us to talk about this, about what we do that could benefit you?”
It’s About Acting, Not Reacting
The trend in salespeople waiting for leads is, unfortunately, an indication of how our world in general is trending. It is a reactive mode instead of an active one.
To examine a broader field, certain economists are always trying to convince us that they know how a population or a segment thereof is going to respond at a certain time. They are basing these predictions on homo economicus—a mythical entity (the name means literally “economic man”) that behaves exactly the way economists believe he will.
But real humans don’t behave that way. I myself have violated every aspect of this theoretical human by totally changing my life prior to founding Pipeliner. I know I’m not alone in making decisions contrary to “the norm”—and acting instead of reacting.
Interestingly, the Austrian School of Economic Thought runs completely contrary to many economic theories: it puts forth the principle that central to any economy is human action. Changes in an economy, or society and even civilization only come about through positive action on someone’s part—not reaction.
It’s the same in sales: it’s all about action. Salespeople natively are out to create their own games—why else are they salespeople? Part of this action must also include creating their own leads, even if only done part of the time. It’s the only way to guarantee their own survival, and that of their companies, too.
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