Here is where I get to share 650 words that can be expanded to thousands or narrowed down to one—prospecting. In fact, I shun the term “prospecting” because it inherently causes salespeople and managers to think about the process of locating new accounts, which means looking for immediate sales opportunities. Therein lies the rub.
Right now, the refrain of most salespeople is, “Are you nuts? I’m just hanging on by a thread! There is no time for prospecting…” To this I say, the moment prospecting becomes urgent, it’s already too late. Prospecting is a state of mind, not time.
Let’s begin by substituting the word “networking” for prospecting. The power of relationships is with people, not just businesses. Today’s worker bees are tomorrow’s decision-makers. The employee for one contractor today is the owner of a small business tomorrow that you can help grow. A nail-pounder today is tomorrow’s foreperson or even vice president. So be careful who you ignore while busy putting out fires and getting things done; you might be missing sales opportunities for tomorrow.
I wrote my second published article in 2004 on the subject of prospecting. Nobody paid attention because business was booming, and it seemed like the good times would last indefinitely. Sound familiar? Now is the time for proactive networking to cull, cross-sell, and trade up!
I wrote about “culling” two months ago, but feel it is a concept worth stating again. Culling is the process of selecting the optimum value from a group by eliminating the undesirable goods such as spoiled fruit, diseased cattle, or damaged goods. In this case, it means culling those low-margin, high-nuisance accounts that were unprofitable in normal times. This is a time of abundance (as in a target-rich environment) where all contractors are clamoring for attention and an allocation of your scarce resources. It’s time to trade up for better, loyal, fair-margin, low-nuisance accounts.
“Cross-selling” means identifying opportunities to sell more to your existing customers. Too many salespeople in the LBM industry emphasize their “primary” product (usually lumber) and treat all other goods as secondary items to be sold after the primary. While you’re busy doing favors for your customers by putting out fires and allocating your precious inventory, it is the right time to sell more products and stop thinking of them as secondary. More importantly, if lumber is so scarce to be on allocation, try leading with other products to open new relationships.
The way to “trade up” is to plant seeds of growth. Nobody will argue with you that the market is challenging with unprecedented product scarcity and price fluctuations. Instead of prospecting for instant sales and gratification, make sure you are networking within the ranks of your accounts.
Even if you don’t see an immediate sales opportunity with prospects, find a reason to bring value. The problems your customers have with current pricing uncertainty is not you; it’s their customer. Help them (both your clients and prospects) communicate better with their customers to build your reputation so you are their first choice as a future supplier.
The market fluctuates. What goes up must come down. If you are a top-tier sales leader, you know this. If you are not, don’t wait until times of scarcity creep up and affect you negatively. The opportunities for sales you’ll get tomorrow are based on the seeds of opportunity you plant today. You can be a short-term thinker who argues that time prevents networking opportunities or a long-term visionary who is building a stable sales model that endures for years to come.
Prospecting (i.e., networking) is not something you do with time left over at the end of a day or an hour a week specifically allocated for the process. It is a state of mind that never dissipates in good times or bad. It is the mindset of true sales leaders.
Rick Davis, president of Building Leaders, is a premier sales trainer in the building materials industry. His latest book, Sales Economics: The Science of Selling, is now available at buildingleaders.com. Rick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org