There aren’t many certainties in selling. What works well for one person can be a dead end for another, and what looks like a sure sale can easily deteriorate into a missed opportunity. One thing you can count on, however, is that a lack of strong, qualified leads will always be a stumbling block on the way to sustaining and growing your business.

In that way, prospecting and lead generation are somewhat unique activities. While you can be a strong presenter, closer, or negotiator, none of that will ever matter if you don't have enough leads to work with. And yet, coming up with a full sales pipeline is a constant challenge for sellers.

Here are a few of the common reasons why:

Prospecting and selling are different skills. Great salespeople aren’t always great lead generators. They may be fantastic account managers, or perfect when it comes to closing warm leads but struggle to find new opportunities from scratch.

Nobody likes awkward conversations. There are entire books and seminars devoted to “cold call reluctance,” and they all come down to the same thing: Nobody likes calling strangers and asking for business. Most of us don’t enjoy receiving those calls, and so we certainly don’t relish making them.

A full pipeline can lead to an empty cupboard. When do we concentrate most on prospecting and lead generation? When we don’t have enough sales opportunities in the works. The moment we do, however, many of us cast prospecting aside for activities that are more enjoyable, meaning that it’s only a matter of time before we find ourselves back at square one – with no new leads to pursue.

Looking at this short list, it’s easy to see why sales reps have so much trouble finding enough leads. Prospecting and lead generation just don’t fit in with most of their skill sets and motivations. But that doesn’t mean these problems can’t be overcome. The real secret to beating them – and ensuring a steady flow of new business in the future – is in understanding that the keys to lead generation are discipline and the right message.

Discipline

The need for discipline, as often as it comes up in sales, is relatively straightforward: You just have to commit yourself to prospecting on a fixed, regular schedule and be accountable to it. There's no secret. You simply have to understand that prospecting works over the long term, start doing it, and keep going even when your pipeline seems full.

Because this is so important, a key component of any successful selling strategy has to be monitoring and accountability. It's up to you, either as the seller or person in charge of overseeing sales, to be sure that daily, weekly and quarterly targets are hit. Otherwise, it's only a matter of time before you run out of leads.

The Right Message

Having the right message is just as critical. One reason so many of us hate receiving prospecting calls is that we don't really trust the sellers on the other end. In other words, we get the distinct feeling that they are more interested in our money than our needs.

But there's no rule that says that's how you have to make your calls and introductions. Instead of being "just another seller," there's no reason you can't distinguish yourself by finding out exactly why someone would do business with you before you pick up the phone. Then figure out the best way to convey that message while being genuine.

Having the right message doesn't just make you more comfortable with the process of finding and approaching new potential customers. It also allows you start better conversations -- ones that are focused on the other person’s needs and your benefits -- rather than tricking them into setting an appointment.

Prospecting and lead generation have been challenges for sellers since the invention of commerce. By focusing on discipline and the right message, however, any seller – whether they consider themselves to be in "sales" or not – can keep a steady flow of new customers and business coming in like clockwork.
Kendra Lee is a top IT seller, prospect attraction expert, author of the award-winning book, “Selling Against the Goal” and president of KLA Group. Specializing in the IT industry, KLA Group works with companies to break in and exceed revenue objectives in the small and midmarket business (SMB) segment.