As a sales consultant, I’ve seen and worked with thousands of sellers from dozens of industries at all stages of their careers.

I’ve seen the best of the best and the worst of the worst and everything in between. I’ve seen sellers who failed miserably as well as those made huge fortunes.

The single biggest difference I have seen between the successful sellers and the also-rans comes down to one word: prospecting. The successful group prospects, while the also-rans only think they prospect.

Those in latter group are busy—there is little doubt about that. The problem is that, although they are busy, they aren’t prospecting. Oh, they can produce lists of prospects, some of whom they’ve called. 

They can show the tons of letters and emails they have sent. They can produce receipts for advertising and filers they’ve plastered all over town. But they have spent very little time actually connecting with and getting in front of decision-makers.

We salespeople tend to focus on activity—after all, activity is what gets us in the door, gets us the sales we need to succeed. But activity alone is fruitless. Activity for activity’s sake is just as sure a path to failure as inactivity.

Prospecting is a very specific activity (connecting with a decision maker) and it requires actual contact. If you cold call, that means being on the phone, not getting ready to be on the phone. It means connecting with quality prospects through highly targeted and personal letter and email communications, not sending out thousands of pieces of spam and hoping someone responds. 

Investing time and energy in the wrong activities has killed many a sales career. As salespeople, we have three very basic duties: finding and connecting with quality prospects, working with those prospects to help them solve real issues and insuring that they are taken care of during and after the sale. Everything else is busy work.

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Paul McCord is a best-selling author, speaker and leading authority on lead generation. He has more than 20 years’ experience coaching and mentoring salespeople. For more information, go to mccordandassociates.com.