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Keeping Track of Prospects

A no-fail, low-cost way to identify key prospects and turn them into customers

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Q: My organization cannot afford a CRM/sales force automation system. Is there some sort of manual system I can use to keep track of my prospects and my time?

A: Many sales organizations use the image of a funnel to represent the sales process. It's a useful model because it's very visual. If you visualize a funnel, you'll be able to see instantly the number of suspects, prospects and customers you're working with. A single glance will tell you exactly where you stand--and where you need to focus your sales activities. Picture, for a moment, a common household funnel, and at the same time separate your sales opportunities into three distinct categories:

  • Suspects: People who've never heard of you before hover above the top of your funnel, waiting for some action (like a first call) from a salesperson to nudge them into the next group or confirm that they don't belong in the funnel at all.
  • Prospects: These are people who are interested in learning more about what you have to offer. They have taken part in some form of sales outreach effort; the closer they are to making a commitment to buy your products, services or solutions, the deeper inside the funnel they go. The fact that the funnel gets narrower, of course, reflects the fact that a good many prospects are removed from the sales cycle, for any number of good reasons--lack of money, lack of interest, industrial downturns, new management philosophy--and in fact never make it to the "exit" point as a customer.
  • Customers: Finally, some prospects appear as new customers--coming out of the funnel.

The funnel model is an extremely effective method of visualizing the transitions these people make. Lots of suspects turn into a smaller number of prospects, which eventually turn into a still smaller number of customers.

Just as important, the sales funnel is a great tool for your time-management system. This model allows you to pinpoint exactly where you need to spend the time. Let's see what effective "funnel management" looks like.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that your sales cycle is two months long. Write down in chronological order each of the steps that are necessary to move suspects to prospects and prospects to customers. Then divide your entire process into three regions: the top third, the middle third and the bottom third.

Sound funnel management is really the same thing as sound time management. Day after day, you must tackle your funnel--and schedule time for each group--in the order of each third's priority, without skipping any group. That priority list, in order, is as follows:

  1. Look at the bottom of the funnel. Take the steps that are necessary to bring closure and commitment to each and every prospect currently in the bottom of the funnel.
  2. Look at the top of the funnel. Take the steps that are necessary to convert as many suspects into prospects as you can.
  3. Look at the middle of the funnel. Take the steps that are necessary to move these prospects down--or out--of your funnel. (Typically, you'll do this by providing agreed-upon information and determining the next step or responding to requests from prospects with whom you've met previously.)

If you follow this bottom-top-middle sequence day in and day out, and if you make sure that activities in these areas constitute at least 75 percent of your working day, you'll have a robust funnel, and you'll almost certainly beat your yearly goals and/or sales quota in a way that makes everyone sit up and take notice.

If you don't follow the system I've laid out, however, your performance will probably look like a roller coaster that swings up and down or, at best, leaves you either a little bit above your goals and quota or a little bit below them. You'll feel like you're never really getting ahead, and you'll probably work harder than you have to because you'll have to stop constantly to "prime the pump" and track down new suspects.

Don't skip any steps. Don't cheat yourself out of any income. Work the funnel and your calendar in the way that I've suggested here. You'll be glad you did.

Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, Secrets of VITO, call (800) 777-VITO or visit

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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