How To Ignore Your Best Prospects

by Paul Talbot

Most of us who sell do it every day. We deliberately turn a blind eye to what may be our best opportunities.

Peter Drucker, universally regarded as a leading mind on management, points out the problem. He suggests that we need to "study what goes on outside the business and especially to study non-customers."

What's to be gained from paying attention to people we're not doing business with? New business. But is it the right kind of business? Can our financial objectives be achieved and can we deliver meaningful value for the non-customer? Is this collection of non-customers worth pursuing?

Many of us tend to pass judgment on the companies we don't do business with. We base our judgments on a volatile mixture of pride and information that may be outdated. We assume that the conditions which existed in the past continue to exist, and the issues of pricing or whatever derailed agreements previously remain the way they were. We assume that our organization is the same and that the non-customer is the same.

Naturally, the first step is to update our information. Is there a new way we can approach the non-customer? Have we improved or evolved our product or service and added a new component of value?

And what about the non-customer? Have their needs changed? Is price as important as it once was or has a new consideration taken its place? Have the people at the non-customer's organization changed? Have their attitudes towards your company changed?

Great salesperson instinctively understand the critical importance of knowing their clients. Drucker reminds us that "knowing as much as possible about one's customers" is vital. But he also notes that "the first signs of fundamental change rarely appear within one's organization or among one's own customers."

Drucker suggests that our non-customers "almost always" send the signals of fundamental change in our business. The great salesperson knows that being ahead of the proverbial change curve is always the profitable place to be.

There are obvious risks. A great salesperson may discuss the notion of approaching a major non-customer with a manager who considers the effort a waste of time. In this instance, the salesperson needs to enlighten the manager. Once the non-customer has been approached and the business needs and issues have been updated it may turn out that opportunities indeed do not exist.

But even if the outcome is unfavorable intelligent effort has been demonstrated. Assumptions have been turned into facts. Information, perhaps potentially valuable competitive intelligence, has been gathered. And good selling is never wasted.

But that's the gloomy downside. The potentially profitable upside is the creation of a new customer, a reversal of a prolonged loss, and a share loss for your competitor.

As a great salesperson your next piece of high profit prospecting should be to identify your organization's largest non-customers. Work with your management to plan an approach. Then go see what happens. Failing to make this effort is turning your back on what may be your single greatest opportunity.

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About the Author

Paul Talbot is the Director of the Center for Inspiration and Motivation. Get your complimentary copy of "The Seven Sources of Inspiration" and our free, daily newsletter at

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