Sales prospecting by phone: when and how to back off if you find this prospect is not viable

Prospecting, as we use the word in sales, is looking for potential buyers. But sales prospecting is also about screening out those who will not likely be viable prospects, at least not this time ’round.


Keep in mind those prospectors out west in the Great Gold Rush of 1849. They spent months and years squatting by streams, patiently panning river sediment knowing that the game was about working through and discarding a lot of gravel in order to find the pieces of gold.

That’s a good analogy for sales: a key part of the work is in finding who IS NOT really likely to be a buyer of what you offer. After all, the time you save by NOT making a sales call on a totally wrong person is time you can use to meet with a much more promising lead.

What if something in the course of the initial conversation sets you wondering whether this really is the person you should be meeting? Is this firm really likely to have a need for what you offer? Is this the right decision maker, with the authority, need and budget?

If you’re on the phone setting up the appointment, and if the call is relatively convenient — in terms of location, travel, etc. — it may be best to take your chances and see how it works out.

But face-to-face sales calls are expensive in the time and travel invested. If you can’t make this sales call easily while in the area for another, then it’s worth asking some screening questions before you push for the appointment.

Sample telephone sales script for screening real prospects from not-likelies

Precisely what those questions may be will of course depend on your particular product and industry. This script that follows may help as a basic model that you can adapt. (Abbreviations: SR is Sales Rep, and DM is this potential Decision Maker.)

SR: “Mr. Hopkins? This is Tina Rogers of TGR Associates. I’m calling because I believe we can increase your firm’s productivity by reducing office overhead — perhaps by as much as 20% in the first year. But at this point, I’m frankly not sure if there is an appropriate mesh between our services and your needs. I’d like to ask you a few very brief questions. It’ll take about two minutes. Is this a good time, or would it be better if I called back later?”

DM: “Now is fine, provided it’s just a couple of minutes.”

SR: “I have done some initial research. Let me begin by confirming some of the things I’ve learned, just to be sure they are accurate. I understand that you’re the managing partner at your firm, and that part of your area of responsibility is to oversee all expenditures relating to the operation of the office. Is that basically right?”

DM: “Basically. There are some aspects I would clear with the management board.”

SR: “If the firm were to upgrade computer systems, would that be your area of responsibility?”

DM: “That would depend. If it’s software relating to office operations that’s my area — things such as accounting systems, word processing, and the like. But if it comes to the software on the professional side, such as specialized design software, then that would be handled by the partner in charge of professional operations.”

SR: “I see. Well, I think that may be the person I need to talk to. That’s the partner in charge of professional operations — is that the actual title? And what was their name?”

Sales judgment call

What if, after this kind of dialogue, you’re still not quite sure that this really is a viable prospect at this time?  Then you to make  a judgment  call on whether it is better to risk losing some viable prospect at the phone stage, or to invest your time (and travel time) on sales calls that may not be appropriate.

Related link

Sales hot buttons to use at the start of your first phone contact


The content in this and the other posts have been adapted from my books, How to Sell Face to Face: Survival Guide, and  Selling 101.    They are available in various e-book and paper editions; see below:

Survival Guide: Order paperback edition via Amazon

Survival Guide: Order e-book as Amazon Kindle (Amazon offers free apps that enable you to read it on your PC, Apple I-pad, I-pod, Blackberry, and others)

Survival Guide:  Order e-book via Kobo, usable on various kinds of e-readers

Selling 101 (third edition):  Order e-book as Amazon Kindle   (Amazon offers free apps that enable you to read it on your PC, Apple I-pad, I-pod, Blackberry, and others)

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