5 Cringe-worthy, Ineffective Sales Prospecting Approaches to Avoid

5 Cringe-worthy, Ineffective Sales Prospecting Approaches to Avoid
October 5, 2016

Many times, sales training – and prospecting training in particular – fails to produce the intended result. And since there are no opportunities to pursue without a first appointment, it’s especially important prospecting training gets done correctly.

When prospect training doesn’t happen – or isn’t successful – your result is what I’m sharing today: five prospecting approaches I wish I saw less.

I’ll disclaim that these approaches sometimes do work.  But, so will just about anything, if you approach the right buyer at the right time with the right product or service.  There’s a lot of buying that occurs despite the sales person, which only perpetuates these behaviors. 

5 Horribly Ineffective Prospecting Approaches I’ve Experienced as a Buyer

I culled and categorized these five prospecting personas from the mass of prospecting approaches I've received since 2013, when I started tracking and saving some of the horribly ineffective approaches I experience, as a buyer. First:

1. The Pounce & Pitch

The Pounce & Pitch is simply this: the rep invites a buyer to connect, often on LinkedIn, and once connected, the rep immediately sends an InMail pitch, usually self-focused without a clear value prop for the buyer, attempting to set an appointment.  Often the actual approach is one of the others in this section. 

This is a common approach used by so-called social sellers, who see LinkedIn and Twitter as massive email marketing databases, without an opt-in (or, I suppose they may incorrectly consider the act of following or connecting as an opt-in). 

This is cited frequently in buyer circles as one of the least favorite things about connecting with salespeople on LinkedIn.  Nothing says “Welcome to my network” like knowing that you’re a piece of meat with a target on your back.  (For the record, that last comment is somewhat paraphrased from a Fortune 25 sales enablement buyer with whom I've spoken about the topic.  I left out the more colorful adjectives.)

Related: 11 Social Selling Stats All B2B Sales Reps Should Know

2. The All-About-Me Appointment Attempt

This may be combined with other approaches, as it’s a common theme among poor prospectors.  The InMails and emails I receive are mostly about the seller’s company, products, and services.  They name-drop other customers and if they’re a start-up, who their investors are. 

Often, these approaches are misguided by trying to sell me solutions I don’t buy in my current role.  They are almost never personalized or written from a buyer-focused perspective. Like John’s cartoon spoof on Social Media above, it’s obviously it’s all about the seller making his next sale.  I never feel like the next person they’re trying to help; it’s more like I’m just in the line of sight to their next dollar.

3. The I-Want-Your-Feedback Bait & Switch

By mentioning this, I don’t want to whitewash all feedback requests as obfuscated sales approaches.  I recently met with someone who requested feedback, and he was a man of his word about truly wanting market feedback from people with my experience set.  He earned an ally that day, by being a man of his word.  

But the large majority of feedback requests I receive are thinly-veiled attempts to pitch me. How do I know? Because I used to accept a lot more of these requests and very often the purpose of the meeting changed to a sales discovery session. And in some cases, this was even after I made it clear upfront that I was willing to provide feedback, as long as they were clear that I was not a prospect. Stunning and disappointing, but true. 

If you’re truly seeking feedback, be crystal clear upfront what the meeting will and won’t entail and live up to it.  If you’re using this approach as a smokescreen to conduct a discovery analysis or pitch, stop it now, either get out of the sales profession or start using authentic approaches.  

4. The Learn-About-Your-Business-to-See-If-We-Can-Help-Each-Other Approach

I’m surprised to still see this in use today.  Newsflash: It’s 2016.  Buyer behavior has changed.  So have buyer expectations. This is a not-too-shabby networking approach (and could still use improvement for that), but is a poor prospecting approach. 

Buyers research their issues and possible solutions online, often long before reaching out to vendors. In the same way, you should be researching your target companies, individual buyers, their issues and opportunities, and be able to bring your thought leadership, experience, and value/outcomes to the table. 

For clarity, I have seen top reps use something similar:

  1. They do the upfront research and identify possible triggers or signals. 
  2. When they approach the buyer, they mention what they've learned and suggest meeting to LEARN MORE about their business to CONFIRM or EXPAND on what they already know, to see if they might be part of a solution to accomplish XYZ (value/outcomes), like they did recently for ABC company (or similar companies).
  3. Often, they make an offer of providing something of value in the meeting.

See the difference?  While the start-from-scratch approach may work some percentage of the time, you can do better.

5. The Ten-Paragraph Email with the Schedule-Your-Own Appointment Option

I admit this isn't a very common approach, but I have seen it multiple times in the past year, so maybe it’s ramping up. I hope not. 

In any case, each time I received this approach, it was some combination of The Pounce & Pitch and The All-About-Me Appointment Attempt.  The kicker was that each ended with a request for me to use their meeting scheduling app to find some time to discuss their solutions further.  

I’m not sure I’d recommend the “schedule time with me” approach either way (but I wouldn't rule out the convenience - I just haven't A/B tested it and don't have any data/experience with it, personally).  In my cases, it was funny because the emails were so long and so self-centered that I almost feel asleep reading them. Yeah, let's schedule some time for more of THAT!  

The Common Factor in These Poor Prospecting Attempts

What I see frequently across all these approaches is a complete lack of upfront sales research with clear prospect/buyer targeting.  In many cases, there was little understanding of my buyer role in my organization. We can do better.

Editor's note: Mike Kunkle originally published this post in May 2015 on LinkedIn Pulse. It has been updated for comprehensiveness.