By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Image courtesy of Imagery Majestic at

seller-on-phone-2Business development (BD) is one of the most challenging parts of a salesperson’s job. Building and maintaining strong pipelines is a leading indicator of sales success. Sellers that rely primarily upon inbound leads are backseat passengers hoping cars will take them to their desired destinations. They don’t control their destinies without the ability to proactively initiate new opportunities at Key Player entry points.

Most people have concluded (I agree) that traditional cold calling techniques won’t deliver the desired results. Sellers face sobering realities:

  •       About 4% of phone calls will be answered by Key Players
  •       On average more than 7 touches are needed before contact is made with executives
  •       Few sellers make more than 3 contact attempts

Sellers that view BD as a random activity are unlikely to be successful in generating new opportunities. There are shortcomings of not having an overall plan: 

  •       BD activities stop as soon as pipelines are deemed to be adequate.
  •       When pipelines are thin “binge calling” (i.e. making 20 calls in one sitting) amounts to frantic random attempts to contact executives.
  •       Many of these BD calls are “one and done” with about a 4% chance of reaching the intended target. It’s virtually assured the 7 contact threshold won’t be met.

My suggestion is that BD should be an ongoing, consistent effort and that general territory salespeople should allocate 10% of their time regardless of how strong their pipeline may be. Sellers should build a process by:

  •       Defining a series of touches (phone calls; voicemails; emails; collateral)
  •       Each touch should focus on a potential business issue for a specific title.
  •       The frequency of touches should be determined so that 7 attempts occur in a fairly concentrated period of time. My suggested “stake in the ground” is to try to contact prospects every three business days. Each attempt starts with a phone call. If the seller gets voicemail they reference a business issue and commit to send an email with some relevant collateral to the issues stated. The suggested maximum is 10 touches which worst case would be 5 voicemails and 5 emails.
  •       Try contacting 2 or 3 new prospects a day. While that sounds like a modest number, keep in mind that until you make contact with a prospect, the number of calls (first plus second, third, fourth and fifth touches) will quickly ramp up. 

With that in mind understand there are no perfect scripts, emails or cadences. My thought is that it would be better to try to contact executives early and late in business days because I believe you are more likely to have success. That said there are statistics to justify all different times. My ultimate justification of calling early and late is that it leaves prime hours of your business days to making calls on identified opportunities. 

There are many excuses for not doing BD. Some sellers are paralyzed in trying to figure out the ideal approach. In point of fact unlike death, gravity and taxes, no BD approach ALWAYS works. There are no silver bullets. My thought is the salespeople that put a process in place and try to adjust as they see what does or doesn’t work will stand the best chance of being successful.

Nike’s brilliant tag line from years ago still seems to apply. Figure out what you feel is an optimal BD approach and “Just do it!” Using a consistent approach can allow sellers to make changes moving forward based upon what is/isn’t working.