The myth of easy prospecting.

Long before the widespread popularization of Internet, France had developed an online messaging technology called Minitel, now abandoned. Minitel notably developed through dating sites with seductive advertisements.

In 2012, the year of its definitive closure, the most famous Minitel server (36 15 ULLA) still had 75,000 connections per month.

This many people, mostly male, who were eager to believe that:

  1. This pretty blonde lives in their area (although they’ve never spotted her at the supermarket, or at the bakery in 20 years, but hey, maybe she gets her groceries delivered at home),
  2. That she is single,
  3. That she no longer wants to be single,
  4. That she’s counting on Minitel to help her find Prince Charming,
  5. And that she usually connects at 08:30 p.m. (the connection peak time… which, as everybody knows, is exactly the time when a woman has nothing else to do).

75,000 users. No less !

The consenting victims of a communication trap as simple as it is universal: credulity.

An easy analogy with all those who currently boast the myth of “easy prospecting”, the business version of “women of easy virtue” (or “men of easy virtue”, so as to not leave ourselves wide open to criticism for sexism).

In the same way, thanks to the miracles of technology coupled with Big Data, a myriad of start-ups – usually driven by bright young people who have never made a sale in their lives – want to make us believe that we will find customers effortlessly. Exactly like the adverts promising effortless weight loss before the summer season.

I have a lot of respect for entrepreneurs. I am one myself. For all that, I am wary of abusive promises. This kind of communication, very active on Linkedin, inspires me the following personal comments:

1.       Technology is wonderful.

In many fields today, it has indeed become possible to know that this or that company is in the process of, or better still, will soon consider purchasing a product or service. Increasingly qualitative and clever, multifactorial algorithms allow to generate leads in a way that was unimaginable until recently. Keeping in mind the following definition of lead: “a company that is 80% likely to engage in a purchasing process”.

2.       Welcome to the red ocean.

The problem with these leads is that your competitors have exactly the same. And that these automatically detected leads represent only a portion of the companies that will actually engage in a purchasing process. All the other companies go unnoticed. As a result, everyone ends up fighting for the visible, “easy” leads and stays away from all the other potential leads. Don’t forget that the sale is not an exam, but a contest: there is only one winner.

3.       Value is not so much in the algorithm as in the data.

And yet data is like fish: the best are fresh and wild-caught. You can’t win MasterChef with frozen farmed salmon. Quality lead data requires a qualification, i.e. a “service” layer involving “living human beings”.

4.       Commodity vendors: these technologies will not only help you in your work. They will take it from you.

In the field of commodity sales (i.e. services with a low business impact), generating leads represents a major part of the sales approach. Why stop there? The next step will be the transaction itself. That’s the way the story goes, and it’s called “matching”. If your average basket is worth less than €10K, you should quickly look for another job.

5.       Predictability predicts everything. Except the unknown.

The prevailing fantasies about AI and deep-learning are making us lose sight of the fact that these technologies consist of nothing more than huge machines collecting statistics, i.e.: the past (level 2 AI). What high value-added services offer their customers is precisely a break with the past. The challenge is to sell change, and the unknown. In this context, predictability becomes random, even through the analysis of weak signals.

6.       Sourcing is not playing.

These days, oil has never been so abundant because oil and gas exploration has never been so effective. Satellite images processed by the right algorithms help save considerable time. But the difference with sales prospecting is that you don’t ask the oil fields for their opinion.

7.       Value vendors: prospecting means convincing a human being.

And often several human beings. One by one. Prospecting means educating, bringing new perspectives, changing what someone thinks, sometimes even changing the way that person thinks. Lead the person to make a decision he or she wouldn’t have made without us. It is closer to the art of dialectics than a mathematical science.


So, no, prospecting isn’t easy.

And that’s great news. No algorithm today and no weak AI tomorrow will be able to replace the best salespeople, whose remunerations are in constant progression. Persuasion-related professions still have a bright future ahead of them.


François Drillon


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