By Colleen Francis

This blog was originally published on Colleen’s website. It was republished here with permission. Colleen spoke at the IES in August 2015.

Ask any successful sales person and they’ll likely admit to you that one of the cold, hard facts about this profession is that you can’t sell to everyone. There is always going to be somebody who, for some reason at some time, either will not or cannot buy from you. That’s why prospecting is absolutely vital. In fact, it’s the number-one activity that you need to do daily—and do well—to achieve long-term success as a sales professional.

Prospecting outranks every other skill and every other business habit simply because frankly you can’t really do much in sales unless you first have people you can sell to. That’s a fact that remains true no matter how successful you become and no matter how many sales records you break. And yet prospecting remains one of the most misunderstood aspects of selling. That’s why I have prepared a list of ten key points that you need to know about this absolute must-have business habit.

1. It’s more than a part-time job. It’s your livelihood.
One the biggest mistakes that sales people make about prospecting is they think it’s only something you do aggressively when business is slow. If you’re in sales, prospecting is not something you do on a part-time basis. Prospecting is your business. Just as new sales targets are a certainty in your organization, you need to continuously find more people to sell to. That’s simply not something you can do on an occasional basis. You have to treat prospecting an activity that is as vital to you as getting paid. Because without it (and in less time than you think) there might not be any pay anymore. It’s that simple. The stakes are that high.

2. Prospecting is not about short-term goals.
Another common mistake is to treat prospecting as something that’s really only needed to be done aggressively when you need to give an extra boost to your sales performance figures in a particular quarter. The real truth about prospecting is right there in the word itself—it’s borrowed from the Latin word prospectus, or “distant view.” Prospecting is an activity that serves far more than short-term goals. Think of it as an investment that helps you shape your future and pays dividends not just in the next sales quarter but in years ahead as well. By constantly finding and developing new leads, you ensure that you always have an audience for your product or service—no matter what kind of market you’re faced with.

3. It’s a discipline.
There are plenty of skilled sales professionals out there who know how to close, who can navigate past objections, who are adept negotiators and great at networking. And sadly all of those skills will never really be applied fully unless those same sales people each possess the discipline to get to their desk everyday and make those prospecting calls. It’s not enough to just be good at prospecting, you have to be good at being persistent about it, too.

4. It takes more than you think to get it right.
During the sales-training and coaching sessions that I conduct, I’m often asked how much prospecting do people need to be doing to maintain a healthy pace that meets sales targets. A lot of people are surprised by my answer. Take your sales target and triple it. You read that right. Your prospecting activities need to exceed by three times the sales you are expected to produce. If that sounds like it entails a lot of work, well, that’s because it does. And there’s no getting around it. Sales professionals, on average, close one-in-three qualified leads that are available to them. This means that if your target for next year is $100,000 in sales, you need to find a way to manage a funnel of potential sales of at least $300,000 in value. Any prospecting sum smaller than that and you’re more likely than not to be the victim of a very sobering statistic: the rate of missed sales quotas. Consider this: a recent study by Chief Sales Officer Insights found that while just over 50% of sales people hit or exceed their quotas every year, the remaining 49% don’t. The best way to avoid winding up on the wrong end of that statistic is make sure that your sales funnel is big enough. Size matters. In this case, most definitely.

5. Never lose sight of what needs to be done.
For sales professionals who have enjoyed a string of successfully met sales quotas, it can be really tempting to forget about prospecting—to see it as nothing but business development or to start looking disdainfully at cold calling. But the need for prospecting never goes away. In fact, that need grows just as your sales targets do. So it’s important to never lose sight of what needs to be done to ensure that your success rate remains constant. My advice is to put a reminder right there on your desk. Take a martini glass (sure, you could simply use a plastic funnel, but where would the fun be in that?) and fill it with small marbles. Each one of those marbles represents a cluster of prospects that you need to keep in your sales funnel. By keeping this on your desk in a spot where you can see it, you’ll be able to remain focused on the daily task at hand.

6. Get a handle on the daily time commitment.
Prospecting is a daily commitment. But how much of your time each day should you devote to this activity? It’s a point of contention among a lot of sales experts. It depends on whether you track your closing ratio on your calls. If you don’t measure this, plan to be on the phone prospecting every day for at least two hours. That will yield between 25-40 calls, out of which you ought to be able to secure one qualified appointment per day. If, on the other hand, you do measure your closing ratio, make as many calls as you need to so that you hit your sales targets. Keep in mind that three qualified leads will yield you one sale.

7. If you don’t do it now, it won’t get done.
Much like the discipline that’s behind exercising, if you don’t do your prospecting first thing every day, chances are good that it won’t get done at all. Sure, you can make excuses about how you’re going to get it done at lunchtime or late in the day instead, but really—and be honest with yourself—all you’re doing is procrastinating your way out something that has to be done. So get it done first, and then move on with your day.

8. Be choosy.
Prospecting is vital and it requires a daily commitment from you to get it right. It’s also important that you know where to look. As you develop your list of prospects, be sure you zero-in on those who have the money, the decision-making authority and the desire for your product or service. It’s not enough to choose two out of three. You need to have all three for there to be a qualified lead that can be turned into a sale.

9. It’s the easiest of sales skills to master.
If you’re disciplined and persistent at prospecting—making your calls every day at a rate that is three times that of your sales quota—odds are very good that you’ll master this skill. The key requirement here is the time you invest in getting the job done. Remember that in sales, your skills can be mediocre in any aspect of your work other than in prospecting.

10. Prospecting is how you take charge of your success
The more you engage in prospecting, the more leads you have to turn into potential sales. Through hard work and discipline, you essentially give yourself more opportunities to meet and exceed your sales targets. It means that you’re in charge of how successful you want to be. That’s a much better place to be than to just leave things to chance and hope that business picks up, or that a great sale just wanders in off the street and helps you make your quota. Be successful on purpose rather than by accident. Take charge. Commit to prospecting as much and as often as your sales targets demand.

Make sure you check out Colleen’s latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions. Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line. She spoke at the IES in August 2015.