Prospecting: Good Detective Work

My sister Nancy is a read-a-holic. Or, maybe it’s a book-a-holic? Either way, even before she retired to fun and funky Portland, Maine, she read five books to my one. And now, I don’t even want to think what that average is. And, like her namesake, Nancy Drew, she loves a good mystery. So, when it comes to reading, I listen up when Nancy gives me a recommendation and happily follow her lead.

This past winter, she recommended the Bruno, Chief of Police series. She knew that my husband Don would also love the character of Bruno for his love of fine food and wine and for the setting in a small (or should I say petit?) village in the south of France. Charmingly written by Martin Walker, Bruno is an endearing character. He’s the village’s only policeman. He’s also an excellent cook (a recipe for the perfect omelet with truffles is included), loves his local wines, rides his horse every morning before arriving at the village hall, coaches the local rugby team, and has a loyal dog and even more loyal friends.

But in the end, his cooking, riding and bonhomie take second place to his sleuthing skills. Bruno is first and foremost a detective, constantly thinking “outside the caisse” to solve the mystery.


Good salespeople are like detectives. They are always looking where their product or service can be sold-or where the “prime suspects” might be. They identify quickly where opportunities may lie. They probe for names of potential prospects and buyers. In other words, they literally “investigate” opportunity.

Here are four ways that you can deduce if the sales candidates you are interviewing have good prospecting skills . . . .

  • ACTIVITY – Get granular when interviewing about past prospecting activity. What was the level of phone prospecting? How many cold (or warm) calls did they make to get one qualified prospect? Good salespeople always have a handle on that number and should provide firm metrics. If they can’t, that’s a clear sign you may not be talking to a proven prospector.
  • SUPPORT – Does your candidate come from a company that had lead generation or heavy marketing support for prospects? Were they provided with super-qualified leads to start with, or was every potential prospect one they identified themselves? Determining how much support, or lack of support, your candidate had in past positions is critical. (Bruno, naturally, is following all of his own leads. He has no support.)
  • PROBING SKILLS – Good detectives don’t take things at face value. To get an idea of how deeply your candidate probes for opportunity, ask them how they work a trade show for leads and prospective opportunities. Get some metrics about their follow up to a trade show. If your salespeople will be farming and growing existing accounts as well as hunting for new business, ask them how they get deeper into those accounts looking for new opportunities within a company.
  • CREATIVITY – Sales is both science and art, requiring not only repeatable metrics but creativity as well. Here’s a true story of prospecting creativity. Years ago a friend of mine was selling for a major hardware/software vendor. He was covering the southeast territory. One day, while doing some heavy phone prospecting, he dialed a wrong number and got the corporate headquarters of Coca-Cola. Quick thinker and skilled prospector that he is, he probed the receptionist until he got the name of the purchasing manager for technology. That misdialed prospecting call resulted in a $250,000 initial sale and Coca-Cola as a major customer. To find out if you are talking to someone who is as creative as my friend, here’s a good question to ask: Tell me about the best, or most fun, sale you ever made – from start to finish. Then, sit back and listen for signs of their creativity.

Like Bruno, who sleuths to the truth in crime, good salespeople sleuth to the best opportunities. Now, if you could find some who are as endearing as Bruno, who also might cook you a meal or two and give you wine recommendations, you’d really be a lucky hiring manager. Bonne chance!

Who’s your favorite detective character? The first three respondents who tell me theirs, will get a Bruno Chief of Police book from me. It will arrive just in time for summer beach reading (only it will make you hungry- so pack your picnic!).

This entry was posted in Hiring Process, Sales Topics. Bookmark the permalink.