3 Truths and a Lie about Client Acquisition

By: David Zahn

Spend enough time in airline clubs, hotel concierge levels, or at local steakhouses where business service professionals tend to hang out and talk, and invariably the discussion will be steered to the best methods for acquiring new clients. The conversation will quickly split into two camps.

One group will be very selling-averse and believe that professional services are to be sold only via word of mouth between and among existing clients and their contacts. They may also subscribe to marketing techniques that include webinars, advertising, newsletters, videos, speeches, white papers, etc. However, the thought of actually "selling" their services is Kryptonite to their self-images of being Supermen and Superwomen.

The second group will be far more willing to directly contact prospects and offer one's services unsolicited. It is that group that this article addresses.

One of the common default approaches that consultants and other professional business service providers will consider is the cold call. As a management tool, a sales log of contacts made, business cards collected, or telephone calls completed focuses on action over results. While it provides the veneer of productivity, it actually hinders successful selling behaviors.

3 Truths and a Lie

We all have come to learn the following basic truths about selling:

  1. You can only sell to someone who can buy.
  2. A prospect must recognize they have a need before they make a purchase.
  3. The contact person must have a vision of how to solve the problem.

Cold calling spreads the net so wide that it captures far more than just those who currently or will ever fit into all three of those criteria simultaneously. Time, energy, and effort will be devoted to those who are not at all interested, are unavailable to talk, can't be reached without numerous attempts (only to then be identified as not interested), or are "false positives" (they respond to a cold call with interest but have no intention or capability to buying).

Truth 1: You can only sell to someone who can buy.

The first truth refers to spending resources with someone who is unable to make a purchase even if they were to be suitably convinced that the service worthwhile and would help the organization. Too much effort is spent trying to persuade a lower-level person who does not have budgetary authority or access of the merits of an idea or solution. While there may be need for these "gatekeepers" to vet or approve of a solution before the person with the ability to write a check consents to purchase, the process of how decisions are made needs to be sniffed out before the sales effort is initiated.

Truth 2: A prospect must recognize they have a need before they make a purchase.

Salespeople may perceive a need, and others within the targeted company may even agree. However, no sale is possible until the prospect responsible for authorizing payment for projects also recognizes the need. Trying to push for a solution in search of a problem to resolve rarely succeeds in the current environment where corporate budgets are scrutinized and "return on" calculations are mandatory before any discretionary budget monies are committed to projects.

Truth 3: The contact person must have a vision of how to solve the problem.

Even assuming the salesperson is speaking with a "true" buyer and that the buyer recognizes that they either need to fix something or must make a change to improve on their current position, it is still not enough to secure a sale. The buyer must also see how the current situation can be improved, and they must recognize the service being offered is key or instrumental to that improvement. If the buyer merely sees the problem as "the price of doing business" or "the cost of admission" and not something that can be repaired or improved upon, the chance of a sale taking place is remote.

Given the criteria every sale must meet to be successfully completed, the chances of a "cold call" leading to a purchase order are slim indeed.

A Lie: Sales is a numbers game.

Time spent believing "sales is simply a numbers game" and that if enough people are contacted, then enough people will buy is time that is wastefully spent. It is far more productive to focus on selling to prospects who meet the established pipeline criteria (based on their expressed interest in the company's solution more than the company's desire to close business—any business).

By aligning marketing's efforts with a truly concentrated and targeted sales approach with prospects (versus "suspects" that are assumed to have met criteria—without having verified that they are truly qualified as leads), the efficiency, productivity, and profitability of sales efforts will exponentially improve and resources currently devoted to "dead-ends" will diminish.


David Zahn, founder of ZAHN Consulting, LLC, is a pre-eminent authority on the process of consulting, having had personal experience on both sides of the relationship.


insight selling