Rounding Up the Likely Sales Prospects

If you sell products or services for a company, you should have learned during your product knowledge training where the likeliest places are to find your products or services in use. Those are, obviously, the best places to begin prospecting. Once you have some business under your belt, you'll have time to get more creative with staking out other claims.

If you're on your own, start with your local Chamber of Commerce or your local library, both of which have listings of all sorts available. All you need to do is ask the right questions to narrow down the list of potential prospects. If you have some money to invest in lists, you might want to contact a list broker. These are people who have all sorts of lists available and can review your particular demographic needs with you to provide you the best list of potential customers to contact.

The simplest place to start is with the people you already know. Talking with them first will help you find easy leads and give you an opportunity to practice your prospecting presentation with people who are least likely to give you a dose of rejection.

Among friends

With friends and relatives, you're less likely to be rejected or to fail, the two biggest fears of anyone who tries anything new. Contact them and tell them that you're in a new business or you've started a new career and that you want to share the news with them. Unless you've done this every six months in the past, they'll be happy for you and will want to know more. It's with them that you'll test your presentation skills.

If your friends and relatives are not good candidates for your offering, contact them anyway. The first rule in prospecting is to never assume that someone cannot help you build your business. They may not be a prospect themselves, but they may know others who are. Don't ever be afraid to ask for a referral. A key phrase to use in getting their permission to share with them your new product, service, or idea is this: Because I value your judgment, I was hoping you'd give me your opinion. This statement is bound to make them feel important and be willing to help you.

After you've contacted all of your close friends, move on to acquaintances. If approached properly, most people are more than willing to give you advice. Ask the right question, and they can advise you right into a great connection with a big client.

In the wide, wide world

Unless you represent a unique product or service, the opportunities for making contact are practically unlimited. You simply need to test a variety of methods to narrow down those that bring you the best people.

If what you sell is good for businesses, begin with your local Yellow Pages. Businesses' listings should tell you that they're serious about staying in business. If your product or service can bring them more business or make them more efficient, you owe it to them to contact them. If you want to broaden your field of prospects, check out an 800-number directory.

If you're computer literate, you may be able to do some prospecting on the Internet. Post bulletins and get involved in providing valuable information as well as selling your product or service.

Through professional help

If you're starting a new business, get some advice from others who have already been there and are willing to share their knowledge. SCORE, the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, has an excellent reputation for putting new people, or those who may be struggling, together with a retired or semi-retired professional from similar fields.

If there's no SCORE office in your area, keep an eye out for a mentor who can offer similar assistance. Mentors can be found through Sales and Marketing Executives, a professional support organization that has offices in most major cities. Or you can contact your local Small Business Administration office for advice.

You can also hire an advertising agency and a public relations firm to handle much of your market awareness and prospecting for you, though that option depends on your financial situation.

By phone, by mail, or face to face

These are the three major ways you can contact your prospects: by mail, by phone (telemarketing), or face to face. Most professional salespeople integrate the three methods into an effective prospecting strategy. For some, one method works better than others. Different situations call for different responses. You need some experience to determine the best methods for you at the appropriate times.

Telemarketing

Salespeople who telemarket must have thick skin and they have to use a survey approach to the call rather than just trying to set appointments straight out. A certain amount of rapport-building must take place with every new contact, whether on the phone or in person. The survey (five or fewer questions) presents a simple, nonthreatening method for that, while providing information about whether to pursue a contact as a customer. You have two possible goals for these calls:

  • To arrange a time for a face-to-face meeting

  • To get permission to send information and make another brief follow-up call

If the prospect declines your invitation to arrange a face-to-face meeting, then at the very least you want permission to send more information and talk to her again.

Mail

If you use mail as your primary method of prospecting, choose your mailing list carefully. Instead of sending a piece of mail that talks about your product or service, mail a one-page introductory letter, indicating that you'll be calling on a certain date and time. Include your photograph on the letterhead or on a magnet or other novelty item you enclose. Again, it's a matter of establishing rapport.

Face to face

Face-to-face prospecting is best, but it's also the most time-intensive. With most people having too much to do, you won't get too many appointments. What you will get, though, is a load of information from receptionists, who can help you eliminate a company as a prospect or advance your chances of obtaining an appointment.

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