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Building a career in requires as much sowing as harvesting. Yet too many techniques focus only on finding the “ripe and ready” deals today, with little planning for the future. Do you want a quick deal, or do you want a career?

Why do most salespeople wash out of their industries so quickly? For example, about 60% of new real estate agents don’t make it past the year and a half mark; nearly 90% never make it past five years. Some people blame the commission-only structure of most sales positions, yet the top producers in any industry seem to make that structure work just fine. Others blame the low barrier to entry, attracting people with little or no background in being their own boss or running their own business – yet every office has a manager and every industry association offers a plethora of sales courses.

Yet the fact remains, most salespeople simply don’t last.

In our experience, the turn-over rate isn’t because they can’t find a sale to make this month. With the amount of leads that companies can generate today for their new salespeople, getting going shouldn’t really be a challenge. But the lead generation angle offers us a very good vantage point to see the problem of why so many salespeople don’t last: Our research shows that more than 88% of leads assigned to salespeople are simply abandoned after a few short days, at most a couple of weeks. Which gives us a very good idea as to how salespeople who get going still don’t last. 

They don’t sow the seeds of their future harvests.

Marketing won’t do this for them, either. Marketing generates awareness, but its call to action is immediate; unless a customer is in the active consideration or evaluation stage, marketing isn’t a long-term sowing strategy. What long term sales viability requires is prospecting. Long-term relationship building with prospective new clients; and long-term relationship maintenance with past clients. To sow your future sales, you must work the harvest in multiple stages: fertilizing, seeding, nurturing and cultivating your future bounty.

Plenty of traditional prospecting methods exist: Anything that creates a conversational moment works – from a telephone call to a lunch meeting to a social gathering. Even online social networking will do it, because it requires you to interact with people as people, as relationships, not an immediate “hey-you-wanna-buy-a-watch?” moments.

But in the market of the foreseeable future, creating a solid foundation for a sales career requires more diligent effort over a longer period of time. Decision making has slowed down significantly, as consumers continue to de-leverage and delay purchases big and small. So you’ll need to adopt new long-term strategies that will pay off during your career – if you have a long-term strategy. For example:

  • First time home buyers aren’t going to “bounce back” any time soon. The numbers just don’t add up. With interest rates locked at nearly-nothing for the next two years, their parents and grandparents won’t earn enough on their savings or fixed-income investments to offer downpayment cash as readily as they once did. And today’s twenty-somethings continue to graduate with record sums of credit card and college tuition debt. If you’re interested in first-time buyers for your future business, you’re might consider working with them far in advance – years in advance – of their potential purchase date. Offering advice on managing their credit, financial planning and savings during their late teens and early 20s might be the kind of prospecting required to prepare them to be your customer and break the stay-at-home-until-thirty Gen Y trend.
  • People going through a foreclosure today are solid opportunities for the future. Even if they cannot afford their home today, owners in foreclosure represent consumers who bought a home before and will probably wish to do so again someday. Reaching out to offer them some assistance – not necessarily listing their home or even helping them find an apartment – would make a huge impact on someone going through a tough time. Simple things like putting them in contact with good movers, offering a postal-mail changing service, or ideas on rehabilitating their credit for their eventual return to the housing market in a few years position you as the person who reached out during tough times, not just when you needed an immediate sale.
  • Mentoring other agents can be a powerful long-term prospecting tool. Even new agents can mentor other agents by motivating each other, creating momentum and sharing ideas on topics like technology that don’t require a long sales record. But why limit yourself just to agents in your office? Why not reach out to an agent in another company who has lost a listing or had a sale fall through, and take them to lunch? Provide them some encouragement and support – you don’t have to recruit them – keeping in mind they will be an important source of buyers for your future listings.

Of course, each of these examples focuses on people who are in some sort of troubled waters. Certainly, long-term prospecting doesn’t mean only finding distressed situations, but arguably such moments are opportunities when you can be of great value to people without much more than a handshake or a hug. Reposition these examples in your mind for good times, too: Congratulating a seller on moving into a new home (even if it wasn’t your listing or sale!) or mentoring agents whose careers are on an upward trend represent equally smart ways to build long-term relationships.

All that’s required is a small shift in focus away from simply making a sale with every activity, to building a career for the long term.