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Are You Fishing for Business with the Wrong Net?

If you favor mass mailings and fear the phone, all you're going to catch is debris and maybe a minnow or two. Consultant and author Kim DeMotte says you need to adjust your net and get back to the basics of selling.


Tempe, AZ (December 2003)—How do you look for new business? If you're like many companies, you buy a massive mailing list, send out an expensive, glossy, four-color brochure, prop your feet on the desk, and wait for the barrage of phone calls. Or, if you're feeling high-tech, you mass e-mail a Web newsletter and wait for the leads to pour in to your website. Either way, you're probably not too thrilled with the results. According to consultant Kim DeMotte, that's because you're trying to fish for leads with a net whose mesh is just too small—and your passive, non-discriminating approach is inherently flawed.

"Think about what happens when you literally fish this way," says DeMotte, author of the new book The Positive Power of NO: how that little word you love to hate can make or break your business (2003, Facts on Demand Press, ISBN: 1-889150-40-1, $17.95). "You get old tires, rusty cans, and maybe a few fish of varying size and quality mixed in with the debris. Then you feel compelled to keep the fish you scooped up, whether or not they're really the kind you wanted. The same thing happens when you drag a small-meshed net through the marketplace. It's just not a good method for finding appropriate leads—what you really need is no-nonsense, straight-forward, phone-based prospecting."

DeMotte, who specializes in helping businesses change the way they pursue leads, says there are two reasons salespeople avoid honest conversations with potential clients. First, it's hard work. Waiting for people to call you is a lot easier than calling them. Calling the people you already know is more comfortable.  The second and probably most pervasive reason is fear; they're afraid of hearing the n-word: no.

"Many companies build a culture around avoiding rejection," he says. "The irony is that no is not a four-letter word; it's a powerful, time-saving, profit-generating business tool. When companies realize this truth, they invariably switch their small-meshed net for a custom-designed one and start putting themselves in front of potential clients. Then they find they don't catch just any fish that happens to swim by at the right time. Minnows and small fish actually pass right through the mesh, conserving time and valuable resources. The fish caught in the appropriate mesh will be big, fat, profitable ones." 

So how can you get rid of your anything-goes net and start catching fish that are actually good for your business? DeMotte's book (which, incidentally, offers essays from a select group of business experts) explains the process in detail—but here are a few tips to get you started: 


Explore the psychology of why you fear hearing—or saying—"no." First things first. Before you can start reshaping the culture of your company, you need to understand how it has reached its current modus operandi. If you or your sales team (or whoever is in charge of seeking new business) have designed a system of no avoidance, you need to delve into the reasons why this is the case. Do you take no as a personal rejection, a value judgment on who you are as a human being? Are you afraid that business is so scarce that you can't tell a potential client no? Such soul-searching can help you reject faulty psychological assumptions and more clearly define what strengths you have and which markets you're really suited to serve.


Pick up the phone. Now. If your company is sending brochures to hundreds or thousands of names on a broadly general mailing list—then passively waiting for calls—you're probably wasting a lot of money on printing and postage. But more to the point, you're wasting corporate time and energy. Your sales force needs to bite the bullet, get on the phone and have real conversations with potential clients. Think of it as the business version of the famous Nike "Just do it" slogan. These conversations need to be honest, in-depth and aimed at quickly getting at the truth about whether the prospect needs your products or services. Either someone needs what you're selling or they don't. Period. Trying to manipulate prospects into saying yes or convince them that they need you—when they really don't—is terribly inefficient. If you're destined to hear a no, get it fast and up front . . . then move on.


Clearly define your company's "red ring." Being prepared to hear no is not enough. You also must be able to say it to prospects that aren't right for you. (You can't be everything to everyone, nor should you try.)Throughout his book, DeMotte uses the image of an archery target to illustrate how a company should set its limits. The yellow bull's-eye in the center represents those customers to whom you say yes. What's more critical, however, is the red ring encircling your bull's-eye. It represents no. In an Ideal Target, the red line is clearly defined and sharply delineated. It should not be paper-thin and ringing a huge bull's-eye (DeMotte calls this an "Anything Goes Target"), bleeding into the bull's-eye ("Big Fuzzy Target"), or on the other end

of the spectrum, overly thick and surrounding a pinpoint of yellow ("Anal Target"). The Positive Power of NO details how to set the limits that make up your Ideal Target—but understanding the necessity for doing so is the first and most important step.


Don't qualify prospects; DISqualify them. Prospecting is sifting; it is the process of sorting out what is useful or valuable. It's ironic that we often hear the term "qualify" associated with prospecting. A person prospecting cannot qualify anyone or any company, any more than you can force a minnow to become a fully grown rainbow trout. Sales managers do their sales process a gross injustice when they implore their charges to qualify prospects. In its zeal to do so, the sales force may ask such questions as, "Do you think you will ever, ever, ever need our widgets?" Then the prospect decides there is just no cost in saying maybe, or even yes. And the salesperson's heart grows lighter as he drives back to the office. "YES!" he tells himself. "I've got one!" You can avoid this scenario by having a filtering process based on a sharply-defined target. A prospect is either a bull's eye or she's not a bull's-eye. The salesperson hasn't qualified a prospect—he's failed to disqualify her! See the difference?


Disqualify prospects using logical and emotional criteria.  Logical qualification is a measurement of how much you or your company will have to bend (expand your bull's-eye) in order to do business with this prospect. It involves questions like, "Do you ever buy widgets? Any plans to ever buy widgets?" Emotional qualification is a measurement of how far your prospect has to bend (expand his bull's-eye) in order to do business with you. Perhaps he's satisfied with his current source or he buys from his brother-in-law or he just doesn't like you. If prospects don't have LQ and EQ ratings within your present numbers, they are disqualified. Forget them and move on. When you find prospects who fail to disqualify themselves on both scales, voila! These are the ones you are looking for! These are the ones worth investing your sales resources in.


            No one is saying that putting yourself in front of customers—and more to the point, turning down the ones who are wrong for you—will be easy. It won't. But in a cynical sort of way, "phone fear" could turn out to be your biggest advantage. 

"It's a safe guess that most of your competitors are still relying on more passive forms of prospecting," says DeMotte. "When you resolve to take the more courageous route, you're already a step ahead of them. By immediately establishing an open dialogue with prospects and disqualifying those who aren't right for you, your team frees up its time and energy to concentrate on the ones who will really benefit your company. Let your competitors have the minnows. After all, you now have bigger fish to fry."


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About the Author:


Kim DeMotte is the founder and managing partner of Power of NO™, a St. Louis-based firm specializing in improving corporate sales and management effectiveness. He works with companies developing strategies for saying "NO" when and where it is appropriate. He has successfully owned and operated two distribution companies, a manufacturing company, two service companies, a software company and a consulting firm. He can be reached at or at (877) 245-8250. For more information on The Positive Power of NO, visit his website at


About the Book:


The Positive Power of NO: how that little word you love to hate can make or break your business (2003, Facts on Demand Press, ISBN: 1-889150-40-1, $17.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 929-3811.



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