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If you don’t know exactly where your next customer will come from, you are in more trouble than you think. It’s not a matter of luck, timing or technology. Rather, it’s simple metrics and focus. And: It’s entirely predictable.

Last week I read it in a sales-themed email newsletter. Then I saw it again on a web-marketing “guru’s” blog. Midweek, I heard it multiple times from some vendors at a prominent sales industry trade show. Each time, it was wrong, wrong, wrong.

“You don’t know where your next customer will come from. It could be anywhere! The web, print marketing, a walk-in, a referral. You just don’t know, so you better be prepared for anything.”

Ugh.

If you’re in the sales business and you don’t know precisely where your next customers will come from, here’s a little advice. Get. Out. Now. Moreover, if your marketing plan is more like buckshot than a laser beam, your budget will force you out soon, anyway.

Great salespeople know where their customers come from with great precision. They use marketing metrics. They study leads management reports. They analyze their closed deals for patterns. They read research. Their goal is to know where this business came from last time so they can make it happen again and again.

In our experience, it’s more important to know where your customers are coming from than what they want. If they don’t come, it doesn’t matter what they want.

What about this unsophisticated idea, proffered by so-called marketing experts (most with a solution to sell) that your next customer could come from anywhere? Research shows it’s exactly the opposite. Few customers come from random sources. Most come from specific, describable and most of all – predictable – channels.

Pick a sales business: Car dealers get most sales from existing and past clients. Amazon or Zappos target search engine traffic and repeat premium customers. Pharmaceutical salespeople focus on referrals between existing doctor clients and potential ones. Real estate agents generate more than 60% of their listings from referrals by friends and family and repeat business; a double whammy that producers sellers and buyers.

In every case, salespeople that use leads management data to identify and precisely focus on their greatest mesurable sources of business will win. 

Now, if you don’t have solid leads management data, that’s a challenge, but not too difficult. There are plenty of technology solutions, from complete systems to the sole spreadsheet. Just keep track of where callers, visitors, appointments and sales inquiries heard of your company. The top prospecting channels will emerge within a couple of weeks.

Still, do some prospects come from unlikely or unpredictable sources? Yes, but infrequently. Certainly not enough to say we don’t know or at least we should know. Worse, by highlighting the random lead events, we lose our focus on where the predictable (and usually more profitable) leads come from.

A marketing strategy that tries to do it all usually achieves none.

Great sales people prospect their most likely sources of new business. They don’t flail about willy-nilly on every and any marketing, technology or lead-generating opportunity that comes their way.

Luckily, for most salespeople, the number of top sources is small. Service professionals like lawyers, accountants and realtors generate most business from repeat clients and referrals. Service-and-product industries like restaurants, hair salons and automobile dealers add one or two additional sources like walk-ins, radio or internet.

Which means they don’t use every marketing channel. Just the ones that work. Otherwise, they would just as well pick their marketing strategy by throwing darts at a board.

Unfortunately, in sales, the turnover rate is high, so there are always plenty of newcomers who don’t yet know where their business will come from. Their managers could do them a great service by providing market data showing where the business comes from generally in the industry and specifically for their company. It’s important to novice and veteran salespeople to spend the most time picking up quarters, and stepping over the nickels.

Maybe it was just coincidence that I heard the willy-nilly claims three times in the same week. Let’s hope so. Figuring out where your next customer comes is very, very predictable indeed.