Prospecting: The First Step in the Selling Cycle

By Tom Hopkins

Prospecting can also be called finding new business. It involves strategies for finding the right potential buyers for what you’re selling. When considering your product or service, ask yourself, “Who would benefit most from this?” For example:

  • If the end user is a corporation, you need to make contacts within corporations. Usually, a purchasing agent is assigned to make buying decisions on behalf of the company, so you need to find out whom that person is and how to get in touch with her.

  • If your end user is a family with school-age children, you need to go where families are (for example, soccer games, grocery stores, dance classes, the park, and so on). Or acquire a list from a credible source and start contacting those people at home or through the various organizations they belong to.

To make an informed decision about which people to approach, you need to find out some information about them or the companies you’ve chosen as possibilities. Most of your research can be done online. This legwork is sort of a prequalification step in prospecting. You do even more qualification when you meet a prospective client — but why waste time on an appointment with a company or person who doesn’t have a need for your offering or the ability to pay for it?

Prequalifying helps you just like market research helps companies determine their best target markets. In fact, one of the best places to begin your research in finding the most likely candidates for your product or service is your company’s marketing department. The marketing department has done research during the product development stage to determine what people want in the product or service you sell. Study their results, and you’ll get a handle on where to begin.

If your company engages in advertising to promote your products, you’ll likely receive leads — names of people who called or otherwise contacted the company for more information about the product. Treat any client-generated contact like gold! What better person to contact first than someone who called you for information!

Other valuable assets are your friends, relatives, and business acquaintances. Tell them what type of product or service you’re selling. Listen to the ideas and suggestions they come up with. Who knows — one of them just may know people at one of your prospect companies who would be happy to talk with you because of their relationship. If there’s something good going on, people are always willing to share their stories with others.

A word of advice here that applies to all selling situations: Never begin any selling cycle until you’ve taken a few moments to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. Take yourself out of the picture and look at the entire situation through the eyes of the buyer. Mentally put yourself in her shoes and think about what would motivate you to invest your valuable time learning about your product or taking a salesperson’s call.

If you can’t come up with solid answers, you may not have enough information about your product to even be selling it in the first place. Or you may not know enough about your potential audience to sell to them. If that’s the case, it’s back to the books for you. Study more about both areas until you’re comfortable with being in that person’s shoes. In other words, don’t start prospecting until you have something of value to share with your prospects — something you’re confident is worth their while to investigate and, hopefully, purchase.

If you ever face challenges getting through to potential clients, you may need to take a somewhat unusual approach to get their attention or bring about a positive response. Here are some ideas:

  • Including a photograph of your warm, smiling, professional self or even a video of your product in action. If your goal is to arrange to meet with these people in their homes, they’ll need to make some sort of connection with you other than seeing your signature line on a letter or email.

  • Including a tasteful comic about the situation your potential clients find themselves in without your product or service. Your potential client will recognize the relief or benefit the product provides much sooner.

  • Adding a clever quote or anecdote to the bottom of a cover letter or email. You can find books that have quotes for nearly any occasion. Check out BrainyQuote to find just the right quote online. Taking a few moments to find this kind of attention-getter can make your initial contact stand out from the rest.

  • Using letters in place of numbers for your telephone number so it’s easier to remember. If your telephone number is 344-6279 and your name is Mary, you can use the alphabet on the telephone pad to ask your potential buyers to call 344-MARY. (If your name is Optimus Prime, this approach won’t work for you.)

These ideas may be a bit gimmicky if you’re selling corporate jets, but they’ve worked for folks who were marketing everyday products and services. The idea is to open your creative mind to unusual ways of reaching people and capturing their attention.

To ensure that your name gets in front of the prospective client more than once, send a thank-you note the day you make your first contact with her. Handwritten thank-you notes are the best and a wise use of the time they require. Thank-you notes are always read — and if the prospect hasn’t had the time to review your letter and/or brochure when she receives your thank-you note, don’t you think she’ll go looking for your name among other mail or emails she’s received? You’ll make a positive first impression that will very likely bring you closer to getting an opportunity to connect on a deeper level.