Sales Prospecting Fundamentals – From Sales History

Oct 30, 2023 | Blog

Sales Prospecting Fundamentals – From Sales History

  • How often have you heard how many touches it takes to reach a new prospect?
  • How often have you heard that cold calling is interruptive?
  • How often have you heard that surface-level objections hide the true underlying issue?
  • How often have you heard that we need to do our homework before prospecting?

On a recent Sunday afternoon, cool people were doing cool things. I, on the other hand, re-read the “prospecting” chapters on a stack of 50 to 120-year-old sales books from my collection. (I did have football on the TV, and my wife and kids were in the room…I’m not an animal!)

Here’s a collection of some of the ideas, tips, and approaches shared in a few of those books. You may notice…they sound an awful lot like what you see and hear today, right? 

1971 – Salesmanship – C.A. Kirkpatrick

Outstanding salesmen spend their time selling to the most promising prospects, whereas weak salesmen try to sell to anybody.

Endless chain technique: The salesman asks satisfied customers or former customers to suggest individuals who logically could use the product he sells.

Referral technique: Takes the endless chain a step further – they provide the salesman a personal card or note of introduction for the suggested prospect. They might recommend the salesman to a prospect through a telephone call to that prospect, perhaps trying to set up an appointment for the salesman. 

They get referrals, the salesman has only to ask for them. 

1969 – Creative Salesmanship – Haas & Ernest

The salesman with empathy has the ability to put himself in the position of others and to see things the way they do. Empathy is not charm or exuberance, nor is it sympathy or pity.

Cold canvass, also called cold turkey prospecting.

The Endless chain method of prospecting is based upon the idea that everybody on whom the salesman calls is a source for prospects. 

The referral method goes a step further. Users can pave the way for an interview with friends, acquaintances or relatives by telephoning, writing a letter of introduction or by personal introduction. 

Centers of influence – often the salesman is blessed with the friendship of influential persons in the community who are willing to refer prospects to their salesman friend.  

A recent survey reveals that 80% of all sales are made after the fifth call. It also reveals that 48% of salespeople calling on unsold prospects make one call and quit. 25% make two calls and quit. 10% keep calling and make 80% of the sales. These figures indicate the value of systematic, methodological, purposeful and patient follow up of prospects. 

Creeping Vine Prospecting has also been described as back-door prospecting and progressive prospecting. It simply means that the salesman (1) places himself in his customer’s shoes concerning general problems and attitudes; (2) estimates the kind or class of business and marshals answers to problems likely to be related to it; (3) prepares the sales talk and plans its presentation in a way that will interest the prospect.  It means starting on a fact-finding tour before securing the person with the authority to buy. 

It should not be used to undermine the authority or prestige of the buyer or purchasing agent. The salesman should not sneak around or prowl the premises to gather his facts. 

Topflight salespeople often accumulate more information about their prospective customers than an FBI file. The knowledge that Mr. Abbott, purchasing agent for the Steel Corporation of America, likes baseball, has a son on the Washington crew, is allergic to onions, dislikes cigarette smokers and collects wood carvings is invaluable to the salesperson.  

Blueprint the buyer before, not after, the presentation. 

1954 – Selling Sense, Thomas Byrnes

The guy named bell invents the telephone. At last. What a blessing for the salesman. All you have to do is look up a name, quick as a wink, dial the number, and speak. Wonderful. No wasted time. The whole thing took only forty-three seconds.

This image from Selling Sense, showing a prospect being interrupted by his phone. What is he watching?!?!

The telephone is okay. The telephone means you can reach more people in less time. You can tell who’s worth going after and who isn’t. It saves you long rides into the country, or around several blocks. The telephone is only a tool. A tool’s effectiveness depends on its user.

You can’t expect to sit at the telephone all day and make your sales objective. The telephone does not take the place of direct mail, personal calls, or demonstrations. It’s merely a time-saver – a handy way to reach more prospects quickly and interesting them to the point where they’re willing to let you come out and talk to them and perhaps take them on a test drive. 

Know whom to call. Know when to call. Know what to say and how to say it. 

Get to the point quickly, but pleasantly. Be brief, but not abrupt. Don’t yakity-yak. Don’t impose on the prospect’s time. And don’t waste your own. He has nothing but your voice to go by. Be human. Warm. Friendly. 

1948 – Tested Salesmanship, Elmer Wheeler

The fisherman with the right pole, the right bait, won’t catch a single fish unless he knows where to fish. That is why prospecting is so important to salesmen.

Some salespeople have read every book ever written on how to sell, yet are poor in customers and poor in bank accounts, for they failed to find enough prospects.

Intangibles, selling those things you cannot often see, hear, touch or feel. Insurance, Investments of many sorts. You seldom can see what he has for sale, so honesty and integrity are his best assets in developing a prospect list. 

Note: Remember, telephone calls were considerably more expensive back then…

You can buy lists. Salesmen can telephone them, and a long distance phone call, by the reputable house, is well in order, since it shows personal interest and is most flattering to the one getting the call.

1940 / 1950 – Salesmanship, Bertrand R. Canfield

Successful prospecting involves the use of not one but several methods. Good prospecting demands diversification of method. 

Quota of Prospects: A salesman will be more successful in obtaining a sufficient number of prospects if he establishes a daily, weekly, or monthly quota of prospects. By determining the ratio of prospects secured to the number of units or dollar volume sold, a salesman can quickly establish the number of prospects which he must obtain to sell a certain volume. Then by multiplying his total sales expectancy in dollars or units by his prospect ratio, he can quickly determine his prospect quota. If a salesman averages 10 prospects to a sale and he desires to make five sales a month, he must secure a total of 50 prospects a month to obtain his sales quota. Ten new prospects must be secured for every prospect converted into a customer. 

Successful salesmanship is 90 per cent preparation and 10 per cent presentation. 

Before a lawyer faces a jury he spends many hours preparing his case, reading, accumulating evidence, and interviewing witnesses. Like a good lawyer, a successful salesman prepares his arguments in advance of his interviews; he acquaints himself with the needs of his prospect; he assembles ideas, illustrations, and facts to meet these needs and arranges them in the most effective order; he anticipates possible objections and has answers ready. 

  1. An opening to get the attention and arouse the interest of a prospect in a specific need for the product or service;
  2. A description of how the product meets the prospect’s needs or solves his difficulties;
  3. Proof or evidence of how the product has satisfied the needs of others persons through substantiated facts in the form of statistics, testimonials, references, tests and guarantees; 
  4. A conclusion that motivates a prospect to buy through special inducements.

In a year a salesman has only 2,336 hours of working time, of which 350 hours are spent face to face with prospects, 467 hours waiting to see prospects, 935 hours traveling between prospects, and 584 hours in clerical work and planning. This analysis illustrates that actual selling time is short – only about an hour and a half a day. 

1921 – The Mind of the Buyer: A Psychology of Selling – Harry Dexter Kitson

The salesman should delineate the problem of the buyer with exceeding sharpness. To do this he must study the buyer’s needs beforehand. Someone has remarked that a successful salesman must know more about the buyer’s business than the buyer does himself.”

The fundamentals of our great profession have been established and repeated for generations.

Every subject, including discovery, qualification, presenting, negotiating, and even transparency!

1919 – “A lie is a weapon of the weakling and the afraid. There is no come-back to truth – no alibi – no hereafters – no explanations.” from Arthur Dunn, Scientific Selling & Advertising

Embrace the fundamentals – make a list for yourself – they’re not changing.


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I speak and teach revenue organizations on how to leverage transparency and decision science to maximize their revenue capacity. It’s what I do…teach sellers, their leaders, and really entire revenue organizations the how we as human beings make decisions, then how to use that knowledge for good (not evil) in their messaging (informal and formal), negotiations and revenue leadership. I wrote a 3x award-winning book (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘺 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦), and have a newish book out (𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘛𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘴𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘚𝘢𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘓𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘦𝘳) now that just won its first award!

Reach out if you want to discuss The Transparency Sale sales methodology, or really…anything else (sales kickoffs, workshopskeynotes, the economy, history, etc.)! Email info@toddcaponi.com or call 847-999-0420.

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