The Biggest Prospecting Challenges for B2B Sales Professionals (And a Way to Overcome Them)

October 23, 2018

Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by Julie Thomas, CEO, ValueSelling Associates.

More than half of sales professionals give up too easily on cold calling, if they make the calls at all. A prime reason: fear.

A newly released survey of 160 U.S. sales professionals in a wide variety of sales roles and industries found fear to be among the biggest prospecting challenges for B2B outbound sales. 53% of salespeople surveyed admit they are quick to quit cold calling and almost as many (48%) confess they are afraid to pick up the phone.

The survey, which my company conducted with media company Selling Power, also found outbound prospecting is hindered by sales reps’ lack of organization and consistency (60%), difficulty accessing decision makers (42%), and weak social media skills (38%).

Given how fundamental outbound prospecting is to the sales process — and successful sales careers — it’s surprising how many sales reps lack confidence in it. This is despite the fact that, next to client referrals, cold calls ranked second in prospecting effectiveness.

In order to become top performers, sales reps and managers must constantly be filling their pipelines with qualified prospects. That aspect of sales is rarely a cinch, but these days it is even more challenging.

Other findings from our research may help explain why certain aspects of outbound prospecting continue to give people pause.

It’s getting harder to reach a prospective buyer to set up an initial phone or in-person meeting

The most common difficulties cited by respondents include:

  • Getting the prospect to respond (59%)
  • Access to the real decision maker (46%)
  • Finding the correct contact person in the company (32%)
  • Getting a referral or introduction (25%)

At the same time, it’s more important than ever to find those decision makers and get that introduction

63% of respondents believe conducting research to locate target prospects capable of making purchases was key. That skill was followed closely with knowing how to garner introductions via a reference and in-person networking to get to the next stage in the buying cycle. 

So, the drive to reach decision-makers is there, but the lack of early successes is impacting future efforts. As a result, frustrated sales reps give up too quickly. 

More than five touch points are required to secure an initial meeting

More than half of sales professionals (54%) say it takes more than five touch points, such as phone calls, email, social media outreach, to book an initial meeting. In 10% of the cases, it took 11 or more touches. This demonstrates why tenacity and determination are necessary skills in sales.

Most organizations do not provide enough training on outbound prospecting

Of the 76% companies that provide outside training, close to half (46%) provide training only once a year. And, 28% of these organizations provide this training only one time total, as part of initial onboarding.

This last point deserves special attention because repeated, incremental sales training for everyone on a sales team is one way to overcome the challenges cited in the survey, or at least reduce the apprehension surrounding them. The right sales training provides a framework for each sales team member to follow and a means to jump-start sluggish outbound prospecting activities. It also can elevate someone’s communications skills and help erase their unease with using the phone, email, social media or face-to-face networking for initial outreach.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to enjoy a long, prosperous sales career if you don’t devote an appropriate amount of time and energy to properly prospecting. The ValueSelling-Selling Power study indicates that kind of prospecting isn’t happening; respondents said only 18% of their sales reps spend nine hours or more on weekly prospecting — the amount of time weekly that our clients have found ideal for proactively finding leads.

If you find it difficult to muster the courage to pick up the phone to make cold calls, consider where that fear is coming from. Chances are it is tied to a lack of competence and, in turn, confidence. If you can boost your sales and communications skills, you not only establish a friendlier relationship with the phone—but also a lot more opportunities and orders in your future.

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