How to Find the Right Prospect: know who will buy on your first call

searchingHow often have you chased a prospect for weeks/months/years and then got a ‘no?’ How much time have you wasted that you could have used for finding prospects who would become clients? And how much time have you spent waiting for prospects that either never showed up again, or who took far, far too long to close, while you sat waiting and wondering – or worse, chasing them or reducing the price to get them to buy because you thought they should have closed already??

Do I have your attention? Great. Let me tell you a story.

At a client site recently, as I was preparing to do real-time calls with the program participants, they set up a situation in which I would call a recent (failed) prospect and pretend I was a trainee. The thinking was that the team would hear me use Buying Facilitation™ in a non-threatening situation since the prospect had already said ‘no’  after an eleven month sales cycle and three site visits and product trials.

I placed the call, got into rapport with some conventional niceties – easy, as the woman I spoke with was very very friendly and pleased to be able to help out my clients – and had the following conversation:

SDM: I bet you were really sad to have to ‘pass’ on buying the Tookit!

PROSPECT: We WERE! We LOVED your product. LOVE it.

SDM: What a shame you couldn’t! What stopped you?

PROSPECT: A new HR Director came aboard, and he’s been quite difficult for us to deal with. We loved the previous one, but this new one says ‘no’ to everything. When I first started considering your project, we were already starting to have problems, but I thought that maybe I could work around him. But I couldn’t. So instead of getting into an arguement with him, we just have been maintaining the status quo.

SDM: So I hear that you’ve decided to maintain the personal side of your relationship and potentially keep your employees from getting new skills.

PROSPECT: Shoot. Wow. Yes. That is exactly what we did. But it doesn’t sound right when you say it. That is going against what I believe my job should be.

SDM: I know. It’s hard to run such a large department as you’re running and have to deal with difficult people. What skills would you need to be able to figure out how to connect with the HR so that you open up the possibility of bringing in tools your folks might need?

PROSPECT: I’d need some better communication skills, and ways to not take his arrogance so personally. Let me think about this. Do you mind helping me further if I need help?

SDM: Of course not. Contect John if you need something from me.

An hour later, the woman sent John an email, asking if I could please send her some of those ‘great questions’ I used so she could use them on the HR Director (i.e. she placed me onto the Buying Decision Team). Two weeks later she called and placed an order.

Note: I never sold my solution, or discussed need or price. Nor did I gather information (the Facilitative Questions and Presumptive Summary helped her examine her own personal choices). All I did was help her think through all of her internal issues she’d need to manage if she were going to seek Excellence.


As you can see from above, the ‘sales’ problem was not about understanding the prospect’s need or placing the product. The real problem/need was that the prospect had an internal personality issue with someone on the Buying Decision Team. [Interestingly, my client had a bet going with me that the person I spoke with (the head of L&D) was ‘the’ decision maker. He paid me :)] And this problem was present from the beginning of the client/vendor relationship. If the vendor had led her through all of her decision issues, this would have come up and she could have resolved it 11 months earlier.

When we usually consider who a prospect might be, we think about ‘need.’ Does the prospect need our solution? If so, we set about trying to place our product. But that’s not really the criterion, or we would have closed many, many more prospects.

Imagine defining a prospect as someone/a group who is willing to do the work to manage their internal culture such that they will get buy-in to bring in change. It is only when the prospect can do that that they are truly ready to buy. After all, their ‘need’ has been managed somehow without you until now.

Let me suggest, that instead of calling to discover a need, you HELP PROSPECTS FIGURE OUT CAPABILITY OF CHANGE on your first call.

When you enter into a dialogue with a prospect, and  ignore the first piece of ‘business’ that a buyer must manage – their internal, behind-the-scenes issues that are idiosyncratic to their environment and focus on change issues – you are delaying the sales cycle enormously. And with a prospect you’ve been speaking with for months/years, the issue is not whether your solution is appropriate, or what their ‘need’ is, but whether or not they can manage the internal stuff that has created and maintained the status quo before you got there.


In the above situation, my client might have been better served if he’d started his first prospecting conversation something like this:

How are you currently adding new learning tools to the ones you’ve already got to help your folks have even more excellence when doing their jobs?

At what point would you and your Buying Decision Team be seeking additional solutions?

How would you all know that anything new would fit comfortably with the existing tools? And how would the members of your team know that it would be worth exploring additional options in case it were possible to achieve even more excellence?

Given that these folks were responsible for ensuring that all of the employees of a large university had the appropriate skills, personality issues aside, when you come from the angle that the team first has to figure out how to work together for change, puts you onto the Buying Decision Team immediately. Otherwise, you end up with the internal junk that goes on being outside of your control.

When you do this on your first call, several things happen: 1. it becomes very obvious to you both if it is possible to achieve change; 2. it gives the prospect new tools to change; 3. it will put you on the Buying Decision Team in those situtuations where change is possible (even if the prospect didn’t know how to do it prior to your conversation); 4. if will differentiate you from the competition, make you a true consultant, and get you away from any objections.

And, ultimately, you will know who is the right prospect and who to spend time on. Not to mention you can probably ‘convert’ many who didn’t think they had a need.


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