“The one thing I’ve seen with salespeople in the last 10 years is that they sure don’t know anything about getting out there and prospecting. Why, I remember,” continued George, a salesperson in the company for the last 25 years and a month from retiring, “that we used to have our good customers coming in here all the time. Now,” he exclaimed, spreading his arms wide, “if you see one in here a day, it’s an avalanche.”
Martin, a salesperson for only a year, couldn’t resist saying something in response. “Well, I’m not sure that I can agree with you, George.”
George responded with a withering look. “What do you mean, not agree? Your generation of salespeople can’t get anyone to come in. Let me ask you,” he challenged so that those nearby could overhear, “when was the last time you had one of your customers come in? A week ago? A month? When?”
Martin knew where this was headed. “Okay, I haven’t had a customer physically come in the door for over three months, but that’s not . . .”
George cut him off. “My point exactly. Back when I started and built up my customer lists, one way to tell if you were doing the job was by getting people in the door instead of waiting around for something to happen.”
“But I don’t wait for things to happen; I go see them,” he retorted, wishing that he had kept his mouth shut.
“Hah, go see them. How many do you see in a day? What with all the travelling to get there, the phone calling to set the appointment, all that’s time wasted. All that time you could be in front of them if you could get them in here.”
“You got me there. You’re right.”
“See,” said George, “one of the new breed agrees with the old-timer.”
“Let me ask you, George, back in the good old days, did our equipment last as long as it does today?”
“Are you kidding? Back then it was garbage compared to now. If it lasted a year, it was only because they never opened it.”
“So your ‘good customers’ had to come in at least once a year to buy again, right?”
“Sure did. Just like a clock.”
Times change. Did George change?
Perhaps it’s a good thing that George is retiring. Prospecting techniques back when George started as a salesperson were much different than they are now. Why?
Think of his comment that what he was selling back then a unit only lasted about a year before it needed to be replaced. He knew it, and his customers knew it. The “repeat sale” implication is obvious. Good customers bought a new unit every year.
Of course, what probably happened was that another manufacturer produced a similar unit that would last two years for less cost than two of George’s units. Sales started to decrease, and George’s company produced a unit that would last three years.
Fast forward to today. Martin is now selling a unit that lasts around eight years. Martin’s good customers will be in the “buy” mode once every seven to eight years. Can Martin afford to prospect as did George?
This problem of “prospecting like we did back when” exists in many companies. Consider for a second if George were the sales manager of the company. His perception of successful prospecting that produces would not produce results today. The “time to buy again” cycle of the customer is no longer what it was.
While this may sound obvious from the story, it is amazing to see just how many businesses are still prospecting like they did twenty years ago and wondering why sales aren’t like they were in the old days.
Answer this question—from the customer’s “time to buy again” cycle, are you selling the same product today as the company sold 10 years ago? Twenty years ago?
You may be tempted to answer “Definitely.” Reconsider. Car dealers are still selling cars, but twenty years ago, if a car lasted 50,000 miles with proper service, it was a miracle. Now cars routinely go more than 100,000 miles. Does this affect the “time to buy again” cycle?
Chances are that what worked then won’t work now. The first step is to realistically answer the question. The second step is to then determine what is the “time to buy cycle.” The third step is to then design a prospecting program that is timed to the new cycle, not the old. The fourth step is to then do it.
How you prospect depends on your customer’s “time to buy again” cycle. Know it. Work with it. Be successful. Ignore it, fail.
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