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Prospect Your Way to Selling Success – Step 1: Attention

For the past 25 years, we’ve been studying what I (and most sellers) believe is the most difficult aspect of selling: prospecting. 

Whether you’re an account manager or biz development rep, hunter or farmer, your income and value are based on the revenue you create. Whether hunting for new accounts or hunting within existing accounts, we all need to prospect. 

I’m here to help. My audacious goal is to make prospecting easy, to remove the mystery, and to make it less stressful on you and your potential customer.  

What follows is a step-by-step approach to getting more meetings. 


Step One: Get Their Attention 

So, you’re about to write an email or maybe you’re one of the remaining few who still use the phone to prospect. Or maybe you’re about to craft a message to connect with a prospect on LinkedIn. 


Where do you begin? Do you lead with…

  • Your best product or solution?
  • Your most compelling benefit?
  • A case study with some impressive ROI?
  • Something super creative, like the “you don’t know why I’m reaching out so you will have to respond to find out” strategy? 
  • Or maybe you go with a mutual interests approach, i.e. “I also went to Wesley in 1995”? 

Scratch it. They don’t work 98% of the time. This is why we hate prospecting — it’s like a 9th grade boy in high school trying to get a date — just a whole lot of rejection. 

You want to get someone’s attention? Here’s what ALWAYS works.  

Picture the person you are about to engage. See them sitting at their desk or cubicle. Got the picture? Now, picture the white board in their office.

What’s on it? 


If you want to get someone’s attention, don’t talk about you, your solution, or attempt to invent a new creative approach. Just lead with what’s on their whiteboard. Focus on what they are working on, one of their initiatives, or what they care about. If you can get super specific, that’s best. 

Here’s the truth: if I show you a picture of you, you will look at it. Every time. If I show you a picture of me, you will ignore it, especially if I’m a stranger. 

Why does that happen? A little neuroscience…

Marketing experts argue that we get anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 messages a day. Regardless of the number, it’s a lot. We are more and more overwhelmed with information than any other generation in history. Therefore, the brain employs a filtering system called the Reticular Activation System (RAS) to act as a gate between your subconscious and conscious mind to determine what messages get through. To make sure your messages land, you’ve got to make sure they get through the RAS. 

In short: if you want to grab the prospect’s attention, you need a key to that gate. 

Here’s the good news, there are only two criteria the RAS uses to determine if a message gets noticed. The first instance is that the message contains something you know you need. For example, you’re more likely to notice cars on the way to work the day after you decide to buy a new car. The second instance is something you don’t understand or is out of the ordinary, like a baby talking about investments or an ostrich in sunglasses with a yellow coat selling car insurance.

If you pay attention to the ads that grab your attention, you’ll see they always fall into these two categories. You either have a perceived need or your brain was trying to make sense out of something that just doesn’t fit.    

Bottom line, capturing someone’s attention is about alignment not selling. To get noticed, don’t try to change beliefs or sell. Instead, you should align your message to what they are already thinking. 

If you sell IT services and your prospect’s whiteboard has an action item to “reach out to IT services,” it’s easy. With an email that says, “Hey, are you looking for IT services?” you’ll get their attention. But, for the other 98% who don’t have that on their whiteboard, the email will remain unopened and deleted.

Therefore, to convert the disinterested, lead with a problem that’s on their whiteboard that, if it exists, will require IT services. The more specific the description, the higher probability your message will be noticed. 

For example, instead of saying, “Companies that are expanding often struggle with…” consider leading instead with “As you plan to open up seven new locations in the Midwest…”

 The second message can’t be ignored because of the details. RAS demands it.  

Here’s another approach. The other day, I got an email that began with the title of an article I wrote. The seller showed me my “picture” and I looked at it. 

Does “looking” guarantee a response? No, and we’ll discuss getting a response in Step 2, but it does promise getting noticed.  

You may be thinking, “What if you don’t know what’s on the prospect’s whiteboard?”

If you lack intel from an insider, make your prospecting message relevant to the role. You can focus on what people in similar roles have on their whiteboard and what their top three challenges are. My advice is to hit up Google and learn everything you can about the person, their role, or even their company in general. These details can help you hone in on the details that make your prop successful at getting through the RAS. 

But what if you know nothing about the person or the role you are attempting to reach?  Stop prospecting entirely. Go to school on the decision makers you serve. Hit the books and get some good background work in. In this case, you need to slow down in order to speed up. Otherwise, you’ll have to live with less than a 2% success rate with your prospecting. 

There’s one more benefit to leading your prospecting efforts with what’s on the decision maker’s whiteboard. 

And this benefit ensures not only that the curiosity of your prospect will be peaked, but that you will convey something important about you personally. Not only does this grab their attention, but this approach demonstrates you are that rare person, and furthermore, that rare salesperson, who is more interested in the others than themselves. These are the type of people strangers will meet with and give away an hour of their valuable time. 

In the next blog, we’ll dive into Step 2: Answering the question, “Why Meet?

As Co-founder and CEO, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively. Find him on LinkedIn

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