Positioning beats Prospecting

A fact that few people like to accept is that: every person that earns income is actually involved in selling. They may not be directly selling. It may be their time, as a non-skilled sub-contractor to dig the foundations for a hospital. It may be their skill as a nurse, their expertise as a doctor, their dexterity as a surgeon, their experience as a consultant surgeon.

Regularly they have to sell themselves to get what they want. Some will say that is negotiating. Which is true – as it is the very essence of selling. Indeed a key point – not a turning one, but a key one – is that we don’t ever get what we deserve; we get what we negotiate.

A fact that people actually in sales readily accept is that the better they become at selling the more reward they enjoy for their efforts. Entrepreneurs and Business owners know that sales are vital for their cash flow – unless they are relying heavily on borrowing.

Customers are of course the life-blood of a business – for without them there is no business. Indeed that is another key point – not a turning one, but a key one – without customers it is impossible to get rich.
And to get customers what is the best thing people in sales are taught to do? Prospecting.

Every new business that seeks new customers will be advised to go prospecting.
Prospecting is what you must do, everyone will tell you. And here lies the biggest fallacy of all. Prospecting is not what it is made out to be. Furthermore it is, and always will be, the weakest link in the chain of selling.

Prospecting is horrible! I personally hate it. Prospects hate being prospected. But for 20 years I was prospecting like an obsessive old ‘forty-niner’ in the California gold-rush up to the armpits in sludge looking for a scrap of gold until I realized it was the worst, most demeaning methodology for winning new customers, new business and earning money through selling.

From 1975 to 1995 I would actively prospect. I was good at it, was told I was a natural at it. As a young Estate Manager (actually a Man Friday, but I had a boss that believed in great titles!) of 20 years old I had to prospect for new tenants.

As an Estate Agent (which actually was a step up) I would regularly prospect new vendors and clients. As a Property Developer (at last my own boss!) I would prospect the proverbial horses to water desperate to dunk their bewildered heads in it.

As a deal-maker I would prospect banks for finance, sellers and purchasers. In the early nineties, when empire building, I would prospect every night of the week. I would prospect to the point of exhaustion – to get another client.
And then it happened. I finally had an epiphany: A moment of utter realization that what I was doing was utterly misguided – that there was a far better way of building a business that ensured profitable and sustainable growth – without ever having to prospect again!

It happened in 1996 at a conference soon after I had delivered a forthright (actually controversial) keynote address. I was approached by a gentleman who informed me that listening to my keynote had confirmed the research he had had carried out on me – and that he would like to commission me instead of the big four consulting companies that had been prospecting for the commission. Naturally I was more than intrigued (actually blown away).

It transpired that he was the chairman of the giant pharmaceutical: Pfizer. I had been sought out – because of who I was, not because of what I was selling. And this was the Turning Point: Positioning beats Prospecting every time.
When you focus on positioning yourself as the very best at what you do and discipline yourself to ensure you can deliver then prospects will seek you out because they want the expertise you can deliver for them.

Bizarrely, even though I had invested a great deal of time positioning myself through my books, articles, programs and keynotes, my perception of developing new business was influenced by a fixed mindset that I must do prospecting.

If I had continued prospecting I would have continued to waste my time (or my life) in talking to people that were either not interested in talking to me and unable to actually make a decision even if they were interested or people that could not hide the fact that I was wasting their time and wanted to defend themselves against me persuading them (i.e. trying to bamboozle).

So let me tell you – right now – that prospecting is NOT the way to build a good business or to make money.
Ultimately people buy people, not products or services and all of us want the assurance that who we are dealing with will deliver on their promise.

Consider for a moment what your preference would be if you actually needed a heart transplant: One, you are timely prospected by a trainee intern seeking out the experience to do heart transplants, or, Two, you choose to seek out a reputable specialist surgeon. Pretty obvious isn’t it?

Well, from 2002 - 2008 the ‘good times’ have ensured that amateurs won lots of commission very easily. Now from 2008 and until at least the foreseeable future, ‘hard times’ have changed – and, I am pleased to say, for the better.

The age of the professional is here. Customers and clients no longer will tolerate being treated like a transaction that has to put up with over-promise and under delivery services.

‘Prospects’ are discerning, they want the best, they want specialist service, they demand professionalism. And if it costs a bit more, even though times are tough and they prudently watch their spending habits, they are prepared to pay for it, if it delivers what they want. We have an emerging New Economy where the specialists will be sought out because they under promise and over deliver.

And the secret to thrive in the exciting New Economy is to get so good at what you do that prospects seek you out. Now, WHEN they have sought you out, THEN it is okay to follow up.

That kind of prospecting is okay because you have already mined the mother lode. Because when they do seek you out, and you inevitably follow up in a professional manner, the prospect is no longer defensive and moreover they are receptive to your service or product offering.

So the big question is not so much how you get good at what you do or make – which stands to reason is a definitive given to success – but how can you get everyone to know that you are so good at what you do or make that prospects will actually want to seek you out?

Well actually that is the simple part. Admittedly it requires productivity rather than activity – and focused productivity at that. But when you consider all the wasted, thankless hours trying to prospect customers for your business, the pros greatly outweigh the cons. And on the plus side (BIG PLUS!) you benefit immensely because you have then positioned yourself.

FIRST, plan to become ‘The Authority’ on your subject. Write a book or e-book and send it to your customers. Get an article published in your local paper. Publish an online one-page newsletter or e-zine.

For the last 15 years I have not prospected or submitted an unpaid-for proposal. I have not had to. Easy for you, you say, as you have already positioned yourself. No, because it will work for you and anyone else too.

The Principle Of Positioning Will Beat The Practice Of Prospecting Every Time... and irrespective of what business you are in, because every business is ultimately the same – it relies on prospects/leads being converted into one-time buyers that in turn choose to become life-long customers.

Take restaurants, for example – of which I have successfully been involved in several. Most will perform basic advertising and marketing and then wait for customers. With my restaurants customers would queue down the street to get in – even in the rain!

With targeted marketing campaigns we would be overflowing every night. Yet when we sold them as on-going concerns they would inexorably become empty as ‘new owners’ went about their traditional campaigns.

NEXT, speak about it. Whenever there is a networking event, offer to give a talk. You may hate it at first, but it beats prospecting, and you get good at it. Get on a local radio show. Become the Expert on Your Subject in Your Area.

THEN, invest in publicity and marketing yourself. Too many businesses have too small a marketing budget when they launch a new product or service. The ‘Perception’ is that it needs to be used on advertising and big PR lunches and brand building.

This could not be further from the truth and a totally misguided perception. Big corporations will continue to be prospected by hungry advertising and PR agencies eager to have a part of big marketing budgets that make a corporation feel good but actually are a complete waste of money.

A wisely invested marketing budget will have people seeking you out. And when prospects start seeking you out, then your whole world turns around. And one of the most amazing benefits you will discover is that prospects are not price sensitive when they are the ones wanting to buy.

They are however price sensitive when you are prospecting to sell. Effective Positioning will change your whole perception on how you price your products or services.

For now, even though it is admittedly hard to get your head around the fact that having prospects seeking you out is easier said than done, you already do know that prospecting is no fun and very hard, thankless work that does not deliver as expected.

The alternative of positioning YOU as the best at what you do, make or supply – whatever that is – will be a very profitable turning point in the long-term.

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