Note: Upon her indictment on federal money laundering charges and her arrest February 8, 2022, Inc. dismissed Heather Morgan as a contributing columnist. As is our practice, we do not unpublish editorial content, and rather have added this note for full transparency.

Having lots of sales conversations is great, but if your sales team isn't having them with the right people, that could actually be a waste of everyone's time.  

When surveyed, 7 in 8 salespeople said that they had at least one sales meeting last year that they felt was a complete misuse of their time. However, they could have probably avoided those wild-goose chases if they had been smarter about qualifying their prospects.

Here's what you can do to make sure your team doesn't make the same sales mistake:

1. Define who you want to sell to.

One of the best things I did in Salesfolk's early days was clearly defining what a "qualified buyer" looks like for us. I wrote down all the criteria that someone needed in order to become my customer, and even tried to describe our ideal customer as best as I could.

That's when I realized was that we needed to focus on working with businesses that had at least 5 salespeople, since it was important that they did enough volume to see ROI from our email campaigns.  Having 5 salespeople also meant that these companies were more likely to have already found product-market fit, which is another prerequisite for our customers to be successful.

Before then, we wasted too much time talking to people who weren't ready to be our customers. Conversations would go in circles, often taking three times as much time and effort as it had to close our best customers. Even when I did close those deals, they usually became our worst customers. They were demanding and had unrealistic expectations, which i would spend hours trying to meet, without any success, because they didn't have strong enough product-market fit.

Always clearly define the criteria of who you should and shouldn't be doing business with, or else you'll get stuck on deals that go nowhere, or worse, have unhappy customers who want their money back.

2. Reach out to people who match your ideal customer persona.

You would not believe how often sales organizations create lists of sales contacts that do not match the details of their ideal customer personas.

Building sales prospecting lists is not a fun task, but doing a terrible job of it will sabotage your sales efforts from the gate. If you sell software to VP's of Engineering, the contacts you're reaching out to should only contain VP's of Engineering; not CFOs, VP's of Marketing, or other salespeople.

It's crucial to build a highly targeted list of contacts that actually matches the criteria of your ideal customers, or else you're just wasting everyone's time.

Even if you're under pressure from your investors or boss to rapidly scale and grow faster, you should never try to substitute quality for volume. It just doesn't work.

Not only will you not get the desired responses you want, many of the people who respond to you might not actually be in any way qualified to make a buying decision or become your customer.

3. Don't send misleading sales prospecting emails.

It's tempting to write emails so enticing that anyone who read them would want to respond to you, but don't do so at the expense of offering something too-good-to-be-true that you can't actually deliver.  

Misleading your potential customers will always hurt you more in the long run.

We've had a few clients that have done this before (against our wishes), sending emails that bait and switch prospective customers with something they can't really offer. However, every time this happens, their salespeople find themselves in meetings with confused people who don't actually have the ability to make a buying decision.

Even if you do manage to get the right person, you might kill the deal because they feel tricked or misled.

It's important to create sales emails that lead to productive sales conversations with people who are qualified to buy from you. You can do this by clearly stating the purpose of your outreach, along with some hint of the desired outcome.

I would even go so far as to add "disqualifiers" to your cold emails that give chances to let people "raise their hand" if they're not the right persons to talk to.

For example, if you were selling software, but you knew your customers needed to be already using to work with you, you could add a sentence that says "Please let me know if you're not using Salesforce, since our tool only exports Salesforce users right now."

If you're actually talking to the right person from the start you'll avoid wasting time with the wrong person. And you never know, even if someone isn't fit to be your customer right now, they could be later. Or they might even refer you to their friends at another company that is ready to be your customer right now. (We've actually won dozens of deals this way.)