Selling Today: Casting a Wide Net and 'Going for the No'

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by: John Caddell

Market segmentation is a very attractive concept. Analyzing a group of customers, comparing it to the capabilities of your product set, and deciding who are the highest-probability targets. Salespeople then focus their efforts on this narrower set of prospects. Sales then follow.

At its worst, though, segmentation allows you to fall in love with a small pipeline. After all, if the prospects are in the target segments, they should be easier to close than an undifferentiated mass.

But these days, negative factors are overwhelming positive factors in buying. In other words, companies’ reluctance to do anything during this downturn means that there are far more automatic “no’s” out there than during boom times.

For the salesperson, as a result, the small pipeline is the kiss of death. No amount of persuasion, reference-sharing, value proposition development, trial closing, etc., will turn around a prospect who’s not ready, willing, and able to do business with you. And today being a “ready, willing and able” prospect means having a business problem that’s so acute that you are willing to surmount all the obstacles to get it approved and funded.

How does the salesperson deal with this? Understanding the business problem her solution addresses is the first step. Then, finding customers suffering acutely from that problem is paramount. This may mean ignoring or de-emphasizing market segments in favor of casting a very wide net, to get lots and lots of suspects. And then, using Jeff Thull’s terminology, “going for the ‘no’”–meaning very quickly assessing whether they prospect has the business problem, and whether its acute enough to take that person’s time, resources and budget to address it right now. If it’s a no, say “thank you” and move on.

Someday, we may be able again to isolate high-potential prospects through market segmentation. At this moment, I’ll put my money on a ton of leads.

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