I’ve said many times that the best reps in B2E are the ones that are great at prospecting. Presentation, networking, negotiating and closing skills all help a rep to get the most out of their pipeline, but without prospecting chops, there’s no pipeline to be finessed. What makes a great prospector? Many of the same skills that make a gold prospector successful make a B2E rep successful. So today for fun we’re going to explore what qualities made the great Alaskan Gold Rush prospectors successful and what we can learn from them.
Optimism – In 1896 gold was discovered in Northwestern Canada, on the aptly named Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River. Within a year, news of that discovery reached San Francisco and Seattle, sparking a stampede of adventurers into the Yukon Territory. Imagine their optimism. Imagine their joie de vivre. Great sales prospectors have a touch of this X Factor too. Think about one of amination’s most loveable gold prospectors, Yukon Cornelius from “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Yukon frequently tosses up his pick axe shouting, “Yahoooooo!” in his never failing attempts to strike gold. We never see him victorious, but he never gives up. I’m sure his attitude will one day be rewarded. Every day start with a fresh Yahooooo as you attack your prospecting. We don’t strike gold every day, but we always get more than “nothin’.”
Persistence – 100,000 started out for the Yukon, but only 35,000 actually persevered long enough to make it; only 4,000 found any gold and only 150 became rich. Every day we have to pick a point where we give up. If that point is before you even begin prospecting most days, soon you’ll be out of the game. If that point is after only one email to a prospect, you’re under the impression the gold is just laying around on the river bank. Mine your territory as though gold comes in tiny fragments hidden in the silt and muck. Understand as the gold panners did that it takes hundreds of emails and calls to be successful. Realize every message you leave is a tiny pink billboard on a principal’s desk that advertises your product. FYI, billboards work. They plant a seed that’s nudged along one impression at a time. Fight for your time in front of prospects as if only 150 of 100,000 people are putting in enough effort to earn their 30 minutes.
Working high and low season – In Alaska the ground is frozen in all but the summer months. Some prospectors would only work those warm months, but they’d have to be darn lucky to do as well as the ones that created a method of warming the surface dirt with wood fires so they could work their claim year round. The B2E business cycle is driven by a roller coaster track of peaks and valleys when budgets are prepared and spent; when needs are generated and fulfilled. That cycle lends itself to reps telling themselves, “no one’s buying right now” at certain times of the year. Guess what? Education is ALWAYS buying. They might not always be issuing purchase orders, but they are always reviewing, planning, evaluating, and budgeting for the tools that will help them improve. Be ever vigilant and ever on task.
Territory – Were the prospectors that found gold just lucky? I’m sure some luck was involved in becoming one of the millionaires, but everyone knows that we have the power to make our own luck with persistence and skill. One of the skills involved in gold prospecting is picking a good claim. Some territories are more target-rich than others. In B2E you might not have control over what geographic territory you are assigned to, but you do control which targets within your territory you focus on. Pan for gold where the science tells you it can be found. Study demographics of your buyers to look for more targets just like them. Ask many questions about funding and policy and alternative resources that can purchase your products. Don’t make assumptions about what will work in your territory based on stories from another state or region – keep chasing down your own gold mine and when you do, strip mine it!
Knowledge – The best gold prospectors understood geology. Even if they weren’t educated in the field, and most of them were not, they didn’t just grab a pan and jump in a river; they found mentors, they asked questions. You won’t be a strong B2E prospector without authentic knowledge of education. Even if you are a former educator, you need to keep studying the most current thinking on your subject matter so that you can stand out among the cold callers that just say, “Would you be interested in looking at x?” You need bring expert knowledge to the table so that call becomes, “Are you interested in doing x better?” Read trade journals, ask lots of questions in the field, and attend webinars and conference sessions.
Avoid Fool’s Gold – All that glitters is not gold, and good prospectors know how to separate what is real from what is not. This is the most difficult lesson to learn in sales, and the knowledge comes by both experience and wisdom. Let’s see if I can impart a little wisdom. Sometimes you prospect so well and so hard that you turn up pyrite. This is the person that rewards your persistence by giving you the 20 minutes you so desperately asked for 15 times, but doesn’t really have any interest and quickly shows you the door. Or the person that agrees to a web meeting just to get you to stop calling them, but then doesn’t show up and stops returning calls. You’ve poisoned your well at that point. That prospect is now pretty much dead to your product.
Gold prospectors learn to avoid fool’s gold by testing it. You can test your prospects by qualifying them. Even though it sometimes ends in a no go, include qualifying questions in your prospecting so you and your prospect both know if the meeting is worth your time. You want to craft 3-4 questions that surface whether your prospect is “like” your buyers in terms of need, funding, and ability to implement. As a rule, you should never book an appointment without at least one matching category. If you can’t get an answer out of them, that’s a bad sign. Better to part as friends and live to fight another day when there is a good fit for your product at that school or district, than to annoy someone to the point where you are not welcome back. Read more about qualifying, in “3 Rules for Qualifying the B2E Way.”
In conclusion, bear in mind that B2E sales has a far, far higher success rate than gold prospecting. The progress you make in each of these key skills will contribute to ever increasing returns in your sales performance. Remember, prospecting is the foundation of all sales success. Yahooooo!