Just like salespeople create a daily action plan for sales, salespeople should plan to prospect. Set the goal – what outcome is desired from prospecting? Be sure the goal is “SMART” – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based.

There is one word in sales that seems to conjure up dread among sales people: the “P” word. Prospecting.

While once commonplace and often highly anticipated by outgoing, friendly sales people, prospecting is a lost art. Yet, every salesperson that does not prospect is stopping sales. Every manager who doesn’t proactively teach sales people how to prospect is stopping their forward progress.

In the early days, sales managers would take five or six sales people into the community. They would go to a local donut shop, talk to the customers and leave, knowing that everyone there knew who they were, what they did and why they should keep their contact information. Then they went next door. It may sound old-fashioned in today’s multi-media world. But personal communication builds relationships and is most effective as a first step.

Why Prospect?

In general, there are five potential results that can come from effective prospecting:

  1. Positively communicating with the community.
  2. An immediate appointment or sale.
  3. Referrals to active prospects.
  4. Contacts for a file of future prospects.
  5. A prospect locator or bird dog.

Plan to Prospect

Just like salespeople create a daily action plan for sales, salespeople should plan to prospect. Set the goal – what outcome is desired from prospecting? Be sure the goal is “SMART” – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based.

Consider this as a goal– if a salesperson makes five new contacts and gives out five business cards a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, he or she will make nearly 2,000 new contacts. It’s simple math:

5 contacts a day x 365 days a year = 1,825 new contacts

(or if you prospect only 5 days a week, then 1,300 new contacts)

Let’s evaluate this against our SMART goal criteria.

  • Is making five new contacts a day a specific goal? Yes.
  • Is this a measurable goal? Yes.
  • Is securing five new contacts daily attainable? Yes.
  • Is the goal realistic? Yes.
  • Is it time-based? Yes.
  • Does it make sense?

The more contacts you make and business cards you give out, the more people will know you, remember you and eventually, call you.

One there is clarity about a starting point and the goal; create a strategy or strategies that identify how to achieve the goals. These may include:

  1. Improving the skills that maybe weak.
  2. Making a time commitment to prospect a certain amount of time each week – two hours? Four hours? More? Book time in advance on the calendar and be disciplined in keeping prospecting “appointments.”
  3. Decide how to quality a prospect. Look at the outcome desired from prospecting and develop a list of criteria that defines a positive, acceptable result.
  4. Schedule time for follow-up/prospecting. Sales people often lose opportunities because they neglect to take the next steps with new contacts. Put time in on calendar for follow-up so new leads don’t grow stale. Even keeping to a schedule, you can never do enough follow up. Prospecting doesn’t require an enormous amount of time and can even be worked in to everyday activities. Every time a salesperson goes out, he or she should give out business cards.

Think about simple ways to extend awareness. For example, carry an inexpensive, branded pen (they can be bought for less than $0.30 each online) and leave it in the check sleeve presented by the waitress when you dine out. That pen will pass through multiple people over its lifetime, all of whom will read the information.

  1. Know what to say. Identify the value statements that will spark interest or action. Make notes, but practice until the presentation is natural, not rehearsed.
  2. Develop a list of questions that might be asked and think about how to answer them. Be prepared.
  3. Never ask a question unless you know what the answer is. For example, how do most people answer this question: “Is this a good time to talk?” Most will say “No.” So, don’t ask! Ask questions you know will start a conversation; avoid those that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
  4. Invest the time to track and measure. Assessing success, refining and improving strategies requires measurement.

Identify Potential Sources

Successful prospectors know that, while there are many approaches, the best methods are in person, telephone, written communication, e-mail or instant messaging. Personal prospecting should be done every waking minute of the day. Wherever the salesperson goes, he or she should always be looking for a good prospect. Here’s a brief list of potential ways to find prospects:

  • Never forget your existing clients. There is as much or even more business to be gained from current clients as there is from prospecting. Ask clients for referrals to friends, family and colleagues. At the same time, find out if they have a need for a new vehicle as well. Continuously follow up with clients to build and keep the relationship, and to get a referral.
  • Virtually every place a salesperson goes is a good place to prospect:
    • Social settings: picnics, parties, family gatherings, political events.
    • Events: sports, holidays, graduations, reunions.
    • Meetings and activities: civic groups, religious organizations, Scouts, health clubs.
    • Neighborhood: stores, coffee shops, malls, airports – anywhere you can meet people
  • Your relationships. Think about the people you know and see or talk to regularly. Each of them knows at least one person, who knows one person, etc. If you start the ball rolling by asking five friends to ask five friends, to ask five friends, and so on, the prospecting tree will only continue to grow.

The list is endless. Most likely the people you encounter in these places will share an interest, which provides a common ground for conversation. As you talk, get to know more about their interests, their hot buttons and other information that you can relate to your product or service. This gives you an ability to offer them something they are interested in.

Choose the right words to capture a prospect’s interest instead of turning them off. For example, an effective introductory question at a car dealership is, “What type of car are you driving?” Without fail, this will provide an answer and start a conversation.

Listen. Everyone likes to tell stories about cars. Get them talking. By asking what vehicle they own, you might find someone who has a five-year old car and is ready to trade up. Or someone may answer: “I drive a lemon that’s in the shop for the umpteenth time.” Soon, you give them your business card, offer to introduce them to your service department, show them what’s new, and get an opportunity to deliver a vehicle or ask for a referral.

Tell people what you do in broad terms. “I am in the transportation business.” Even if you work for a single-point dealership, you can offer any type of transportation because every dealership sells pre-owned cars, and every dealer knows other dealers they can deal with. Offer to help with any transportation need, and then, be ready to do so.

Always get the referral. Tell prospects to keep you in mind for friends, colleagues, or family members. If each of 10 people you talk to tell 10 more about your conversation, who then tell 10 more and so on, the potential is mind-boggling. On average, for every one person you engage, you have the potential to influence close to 250 individuals.

Turn incoming phone calls into prospecting opportunities; be sure to:

  1. Give your name
  2. Get their name
  3. Create a sense of urgency
  4. Make the appointment

If you can’t get the appointment, then go deeper and ask for prospects – family, friends, and co-workers. Always have something to offer – find their hot button and talk about how you and your products can meet their needs.

Prospecting is an important part of any successful sales strategy. With careful planning, the “P” word will no longer evoke dread, but deliver results.   Understand the starting point, develop a plan, and make a commitment of time devoted to achieving the goal. There is no better time to revive the lost art of prospecting. It will keep sales people busy with leads and referrals all year long.

About the author

Richard F. Libin

Richard F. Libin has written two acclaimed books that help people of all walks…

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