Narrowing Focus (Issue 682)

In which we are reminded that, while no territory is perfect, focus can improve our odds.

I remember my high school junior daughter and I were sitting in our family’s basement study space in the dead of a years ago winter, hovering around her computer screen at the beginning of her college selection deliberations.  We were playing with a ‘find which college is right for you’ web site.

“How many four-year colleges and universities are there,” she wondered?  About 2,500 it turns out.

“What do you think would be important for you in a college,” I asked?

“Two hours or less to the ocean, not in New England,” she said.  We ran the list.  Pretty long list!

“Size,” she said.  So we narrowed that down to schools with 2,500 to 5,000 students. New list.

“Academic challenge,” she added.  We ran the list again.

“Campus environment,” she thought.  Another list.

LOTS of lists later, there were ten criteria that led to a list of fifteen schools.  She applied to some of those and chose one…. from which she graduated yesterday, all smiles. Big congratulations to her!!!!!

Could she have been as satisfied and as successful at schools that didn’t make the final fifteen?   I’m sure she could… and the potential for a poor experience would have been higher.  Some characteristic or another would have been significantly “out of spec” and, thus, a distractor. Balancing all of the criteria, she picked the best one of the bunch for herself… and knocked the cover off the ball.

Often, we sellers start with  2,500 or more potential prospects in our territory universes, too. Some of us would do well to narrow the spectrum to 15; for others of us the right number might be 50 or 100. The trick is to establish criteria and focus, unwavering, on prospects that pass that screen. They’re the “most likely to succeed” for us.

So, as we think about the rest of this year and begin our planning for next, it’s worth a check, even for the most seasoned of us:  Are we wandering, opportunistically, from one potentially shiny object to the next? (A surprising number of us do that!) Or,  are we clear…. crystal clear…. about our top ten criteria and our reasons for choosing them… and, are we working to those criteria?

14 Responses to Narrowing Focus (Issue 682)

  1. Karyn Cordner says:

    Hi Nick
    Here’s my reaction to linking Weekly Sales Thoughts to your web site:
    When I first saw the required extra step to finish the article, I thought it was inconvenient for your readers. But the link is so quick, I thought, ‘well one click is not a big deal.’ I imagined your reason for creating the link to web site is to drive customers and prospects to better use the benefits, ideas and information on the web site. So now I have another thought: if you are indeed trying to grow business by better utilizing web site, then the resources in to need to be better presented along side the weekly article. Grab site visitors with something more compelling than what is on article link page in order to get them to explore further.
    Cheers, Elsie

  2. Tracie L. Gusola says:

    Prospecting can be a dificult process. However, if we establish our list focused on specfic criteria to identify who we should be prospecting then it is all about what I call “peeling the onion” and execution!

    • Nick Miller says:

      Tracie, great metaphor. Yes, and as I peeled an onion only last night, best to do that quickly and precisely, otherwise one’s eyes run and we can’t see anything!

  3. Lew Mutty says:

    Right on. Great example! Well done.

  4. John Hoskins says:

    Good one Nick.

    There was a rep on my team at Xerox in Chicago years ago who used to have the most insightful comments. I learned more from him than he may ever know. His comment on focus had to do with territory assignments. Good or bad we assigned territories by zip code back then. Presumably market coverage and efficiency were more important than effectiveness. Even then as a baby sales manager I didn’t question the logic – I marched along like a good soldier.

    Once when discussing realignments of geographies Charlie said, “You know sometimes with a big territory a rep has everywhere to go and nowhere to go.” I paused – pondered and then boom it hit me – he was right again. Without a focus its far too daunting a task to decide where to go – so you tend to do things in a shotgun manner that seems efficient but it is not often very effective. Less is more.

  5. Jeane Daley says:

    I love how you always tie your personal life experiences to sales! For me, the lesson in this example is understanding how important the right fit is for both the business and the bank. While as the banker, I may really want to bank Company X; but, in the end, it all comes down to both of us getting something significant from the relationship. When determining prospects, I’ve always considered exactly what I am trying to gain from the relationship and that has helped me narrow my focus. Thank you for sharing your weekly wisdom…and congratulations to your daughter!

  6. Michael Katz says:

    Hi Nick!
    I like the new format for the opportunity to read and share comments (although I find the typeface here on your site a little harder to read than in the email – I think because it’s not as dark).

    And I love the point you make about focus. It seems counterintuitive that narrowing the scope – of colleges, prospects or places to eat – would offer more opportunity, but I think you’re right that it leads to better results.

    And congrats to your daughter too (and you)!

  7. Dick Kazan says:

    Nick, This new format is nice and sharing a personal story like this one gives you a good connection with your readership.

  8. Dave Scribner says:

    Love the opportunity to see the responses of others. An outstanding treatise on prospecting Nick and, as usual, you adroitly weave a sales truism into an interesting anecdote or story. By the way, congratulations to your daughter…a grand achievement. When I sold life insurance my prospects were limitless. However, my Manager told me that there were four criteria to look for in a prospect. If I found prospects that met those criteria, I would make better quality sales which would last longer and be more profitable. It took more prospecting time and it required a lot of discipline to adhere to those criteria but it paid off. It was tempting to go for the low-hanging fruit which usually turned out to be rotten. Thanks Nick for a stimulating thought and keep them coming.

    • Nick Miller says:

      Dave, I like “four” criteria. Easy to understand, directionally helpful. Ten is probably too many, at least for a first pass. Thanks for your note, Dave!

  9. Lynn Fernandez says:

    The format works well and I like the access to the website.
    I enjoyed the comments.
    Congratulations to you and your daughter.


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