“Where there is smoke, there is fire”, goes the saying. Follow the smoke to find the fires, especially when your job is to put out fires.

Clients are often too close to the issues to see them properly, or even at all in some cases. As a sales professional you cannot rely on clients to communicate the actual main problem. They are too close to it and often will focus on symptoms and not causes. Sometimes they will even discuss a different problem altogether, mainly because it’s the one they can see. part of the creed of the professional salesperson is to become skilled in recognizing the problems we specialize in fixing, and helping our clients see the value of getting ahead of it. Like the Park Ranger in the fire tower, our eyes scour the horizon looking for smoke, because if we wait for the obvious and massive burn, it can be too late to prevent the damage.

My wife and I own a few rentals, and when we get a tenant who’s renting their own place for the first time, we always take the time to educate them on “smoke signals”, leading indicators of something being broken or malfunctioning. A $100 problem today is a $1000 problem a month from now, and a $10,000 problem in six months.

What are the leading indicators that your prospect’s may be missing because they don’t have the expertise you do in your field? It’s easy to assume that your client’s can spot these themselves, but their expertise and focus is usually in another area. These are what I refer to as pain points, or smoke signals. Clients often leave many clues about these, if you know how to look for them.

Here’s a specific example from my world: When I see a company constantly posting for entry and mid level sales positions, over and over again, I recognize that as a likely smoke signal for me. Any company that is constantly hiring is either expanding fast, or having trouble retaining sales talent. In either case, it points to a likely training issue. Hiring many people over a short period of time often leads to straining the company’s resources around new hire and sales training. That’s a smoke signal for me, and I’ll research further into companies I see doing that, because it increases my conversions on my prospecting.

Clients give us clues, if we look for them. I follow key individuals on Linkedin and note what they are posting or commenting on. I selectively reach out to front line managers and sales reps within a company to confirm what I suspect might be happening. I talk to clients of that prospect to see what their experience is. Sometimes I even call in or email in as a prospect for them, to see how they handle me. I poke and prod to confirm any smoke signals.

Because where there is smoke, there is often fire, and I love putting out sales fires.