7.4. Go Fish: Resources to Help You Find Your Prospects

In the last section, you read that prospecting can be compared to setting up the plans and laying the foundation for a building project. You could also say that prospecting is a little like going to class or making your bed—you’ve got to do it, and you know that it won’t be long before you’re doing it again (assuming you make your bed regularly!). Because prospecting is one of those jobs that’s never truly finished, it’s helpful to draw on a number of sources and be creative about the places where you find your leads.

Where to Find Prospects

It helps to be your customer. Imagine yourself in your prospect’s shoes and think about where you would go for information. For instance, if you are a photographer who specializes in professional yearbook and graduation pictures, you might want to set up a Facebook account so you can let students in local schools know about your service (Stone, 2009). Meanwhile, if   you are in B2B sales and your ideal prospects are car dealerships in northern California, you might build up your professional network by joining the local branch of the National Auto Dealers Association or by joining some community organizations in your city.  Prospecting takes knowledge and creativity, so start your prospecting and qualifying with the top ten power prospecting list below. No matter what business you’re in, think of this section as your GPS for finding the leads that will fuel your business growth.

Top Ten Power Prospecting List

  1. Existing customers
  2. Referrals
  3. Networking and social networking
  4. Business directories in print & online
  5. Newspapers, trade publications, and business journals
  6. Trade shows and events
  7. Advertising and direct mail
  8. Cold or warm calling
  9. Being a subject matter expert or thought leader
  10. Organizing your prospects

Power Prospecting Source #1: Existing Customers

It costs five times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing customer (Wertz, 2018). So it stands to reason that your best new customers are your existing customers. Salespeople who make an effort to deliver excellent customer service during and after a sale know the secret that some of their best prospects are the customers they already have. One of the keys to retaining your best customers is to keep in touch with your customers’ needs and update your solutions as their needs change. Say you work for a marketing company that offers a variety of services to businesses. One of your customers, a publishing  company, is using your printing services, but they’re turning to another organization for their public relations needs. If you are aware of this, your existing customer is now a prospect for additional sales. You might tell the company, “You know, your current PR people are setting up events and concerts to increase your publicity, and that seems to be working only moderately well. If we were running your PR, we would integrate your events with a variety of other media. For instance, we think a blog would be a hugely effective tool.…” If the company is already a loyal customer and you let them know that you are aware of their needs and can offer a better solution, then you may very well make a new sale.

Power Prospecting Source #2: Referrals

There’s nothing more powerful than getting information about a product or service from a friend or   people you trust before you buy. Think about the last time you bought a printer. You probably checked out the customer reviews on Amazon, asked your friends, checked out some blogs, and maybe even got some insights on Twitter. Before you bought your particular printer, you knew exactly what to expect from people who have bought and used the product, and you learned that if you buy it at Office Depot, you get free shipping and two free ink cartridges. Although you  never shopped at Office Depot before, you were sold before you even clicked “buy now” on the Office Depot’s Web site. Imagine that you did not even come in contact with HP or Office Depot. You made your purchase based solely on the information from others. The power of the referral cannot be underestimated.

Referrals and word-of-mouth advertising have always been one of the most effective—and cost-efficient— ways to get new customers. It used to be that the circle of referrals was limited to people who used your product or service in a given geographic area. The Internet has amplified that network, especially with user-generated content such as communities, blogs, customer ratings and reviews, and social networking sites. So as a salesperson, you have to think creatively about all of resources you have to generate referrals.  The internet has challenged the traditional  funnel approach to sales “flipping” it and using it like a megaphone so that your loyal customers can broadcast their love for you.  In Figure 7.3 shows the traditional funnel and the flipped funnel in terms of creating word or mouth and referrals.

Figure 7.3 Source: Salesfusion, 2020.

Want to see how it works? When Naked Pizza, a small takeout and delivery operation in New Orleans, decided they wanted to compete with the city’s chain pizza places, they turned to their existing customer base for sales prospects by putting their Twitter address on every pizza box that went out the door. As Jeff, Randy, and Brock, the company’s founders put it, “Even your most core customers must be continually and softly nudged.” (Leach, Crochet, & Fillinger, 2009). The prospecting effort has been a huge success with their existing customers posting tweets that have introduced the brand to new customers. The Twitter-enabled follow-ups allowed Naked Pizza to continue the conversation and ensure that a greater number of first-time buyers become repeat customers—and that they spread the word to more new customers. Talk about a megaphone!

Whether you sell pizza or insurance, if your existing customers are happy, they’re usually happy to refer you to their friends, online or offline.

Power Prospecting Source #3: Networking and Social Networking

Networking works.

The art of networking, developing mutually beneficial relationships, can be a valuable prospecting tool, not only for retaining old prospects, but also for connecting with new ones. The larger and more diverse your network becomes, the bigger your pool of potential prospects. Your networking connections often become sources of referrals for your business, just as you will become a referral source for theirs.

If you’re a member of the American Chemical Society and you work for a chemical supply company, you might use your membership to get acquainted with chemists who work at a variety of labs. You could offer them your card and let them know that you provide supply discounts for fellow Chemical Society members. Now these prospects will be more likely to buy their chemical supplies from you than from a company or individual with whom they have no personal connection. If one of your customers needs a chemist with a particular specialty, you, in turn, will be able to refer him to someone in your network.

Joining a professional trade association is one simple way to network with others in your field, or with prospects in your target industry. If your business is location specific, joining community organizations can also be a valuable tool for connecting with local business leaders and prospects. Consider service organizations like the Rotary or Lion’s club, the Chamber of Commerce, Meet-ups,  fraternity organizations, and other affinity groups that will allow you to build relationships with members of the community.

What about social networking? You’re probably well acquainted with online social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter  but you may be less familiar with the ways people leverage these tools in a professional capacity.  “In fact, companies who use social selling practices regularly are 40% more likely to hit their revenue goals than those who don’t have a social selling process.” (Cook, 2019, para 10) and “ 78% of salespeople engaged in social selling are outselling their peers who are not.” (Newberry 2019, para 21). What does this mean — social selling practice? It is different from  social marketing as social selling is “ the art of using social media to find, connect with, understand, and nurture sales prospects. It’s the modern way to develop meaningful relationships with potential customers so you’re the first person or brand a prospect thinks of when they’re ready to buy.”  (Newberry, 2019).   Social selling is being present on social media sites to add value, create or build  relationships, show  expertise, and  gain word of mouth referrals.   Building connections through social media   builds trust  which we have already learned is essential in building  relationships in  sales.  Keep in mind that 87% of B2B buyers say they would have a favourable impression of someone introduced through their professional network (Newberry, 2019).  Clearly, this is an essential channel for prospecting.

Power Prospecting Source #4 Business directories in print and online

Forget Google for a minute. It might surprise you to know that your local library can actually be a potential goldmine for finding prospects in B2B sales. If you spend even twenty minutes with a knowledgeable librarian, they can point you to business lists, journals, and business directories that will help you generate a pool of leads to contact. Your ideal customer profile is an important guiding tool here.

If you want customer information that is location specific, check out your local chamber of commerce listing. It is one of the best sources for finding local businesses. If the listing is not at the local library, chances are the librarian will have the contact information for the chamber office. You can also review business lists and directories published by local newspapers and regional business journals. Local newspapers and their Web sites often provide listings of local businesses along with key information about the company. The Book of Lists is published locally and contains the top businesses, employers and often fastest growing –it is usually done by State or Province.  Check out BC’s Book of lists. You need a subscription to access this list but you can generally find these books at your local library or through the library website, and they are an excellent source for digging up prospects that most closely match your ideal profile.

If you want to search businesses by industry, ask a reference librarian to help you look up the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code and the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code that most closely matches your ideal prospect’s business—or access the indexes online, and bring the codes with you to the library. NAICS and SIC codes are numbering systems that classify businesses by their particular industry, so they can be valuable search criteria to mine general business directories.  For example, you could use the SIC code 6371 to find all businesses that deal with pension, health, and welfare funds. (NAICS, 2020).

Power Prospecting Source #5: Trade Publications and Business Journals

Where could you go to learn that three bottled beverage companies have recently lightened their package designs, that a new biodegradable shrink film is now on the market, and that the Pharmaceutical Packaging Forum has chosen a location for its next event? These definitely are not top headlines on Bing! But to people in the packaging and packing materials industry, this is important news, and many of them use Web sites like Packworld.com to stay updated. Trade publications, journals geared toward people who work in a certain industry, and trade Web sites are good sources for netting prospects. For instance, if you work for a company that designs food and beverage packaging, and your department specializes in bottle design, you might read an article on Packworld.com and find out that Flybeverages is using a new shrink wrap on its new line of nubby bottles which include Nectr seltzers, Matt’s High Sodas, and Uncle Arnie’s Iced Tea Lemonade but instead of alcohol, this line contains between 10 and 100 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (Reynolds, 2020). You decide to make a call to some managers at competing companies like Fiji. You tell these prospects that you’ve read about their competitor’s new bottle design and ask if they are interested in some packaging updates as well, which will help save on shipping costs and provide some good PR.

Many industry trade journals offer free e-mail newsletters or even free copies of the magazine. But what if your ideal prospects aren’t limited to a particular industry but are specific to a certain location? In this case, business journals, which are often regionally published and offer business news and industry information for particular cities or states, will be helpful.  Think Yam or Douglas magazine in Victoria. Your local library will undoubtedly have a subscription to one, or even several, business journals for your region. Additionally, Bizjournals.com links you to the Web sites for forty regional business journals.

Power Prospecting Source #6: Trade Shows and Events

If you’ve ever been to a trade show or expo, like a career fair or bridal show, you know they’re a good place to find out about products and services about which you might not otherwise be aware (and to get some fun free giveaways while you’re at it). While most people who stop by a given booth at an expo might not be seriously interested prospects, trade show displays and product demonstrations generate enough strong leads to make this activity a worthwhile prospecting endeavor. For one thing, trade shows are industry-specific events that have the advantage of bringing your target market to you. If you are a horse breeder and you know that an estimated ten thousand visitors will attend the Horse World Expo in Syracuse, New York, you might decide it’s worthwhile to go (Palmateer, 2007). You could look into giving a presentation about judging horse pedigrees, for instance, or maybe you will pay to set up a booth with videos and photos of the horses you breed and sell. As a salesperson, you can use trade shows not only to present and demonstrate your products but also to identify and qualify prospects (Weitz, Castleberry, & Tanner, 2003). Asking a few specific questions can help you assess a prospect’s needs and determine whether he has a genuine interest—as well as the resources—for buying. Trade show booths usually have a place for leads to enter their contact information so you can follow up with your prospects and save leads in your customer database.

Power Prospecting Source #7: Advertising and Direct Marketing

When you think of “junk mail,” you probably think about something you would normally throw in the trash but have you ever received a direct-mail advertisement that you’ve actually considered, or even responded to? Maybe you are a member of the Canadian Library Association, and someone has sent you an e-mail about an upcoming library conference in a nearby city because you opted in, or gave permission to receive information from the company. Or maybe a local real estate agent has sent out fliers to the residential areas in your zip code and you just happen to be thinking of selling your house. Direct marketing, or communication in the form of direct mail or e-mail sent directly to your potential prospects, gives you the advantage of reaching a large pool of leads without having to invest the time to individually contact each one. Methods such as direct mail and e-mail allow your prospects to self-qualify since only the ones with genuine interest will follow up. On the flip side, direct mail yields a lower rate of return than most other methods—about 5.3% ( Patel, 2020). E-mail has similar response rates depending on the offer or communication.

Figure 7.4  Response rate by method.  Source: Patel, 2020.
Response rate by selected method

As you can see from Figure 7.4, although the rates are low for direct marketing, the cost is low making it worthwhile to still invest in this prospecting method, considering the relatively low inputs of time and money it takes to reach so many.  You do need to ensure that you target your mailing lists (paper or email) so that the time and money you do put into direct mailing or e-mail campaigns will not be wasted if you send out your communications at random.

Power Prospecting Source #8: Cold Calling & Warm selling

In the last ten years, Pat Cavanaugh, CEO of a Pittsburgh-based promotional products company, has grown his business 2,000 percent—and he’s done almost all of it through cold calling. Cold calling, or making an unsolicited phone call or visit to a prospective customer, can be quite effective for the salespeople who know the right approach, but it’s also most salespeople’s least favorite prospecting activity. For one thing, you never know whether the person on the other end of the line will be rude or hang up on you altogether.   But according to Rain Group, (2019), and supporting Cavenaugh, cold calling pays off.

Cold calling

Cold calling by phone or in person to get your customer’s attention is much easier than email and you can customize far easier by phone or in person providing better value to your prospect. Its key to remember that, you don’t have to sell your product during the call; the goal is only to make a positive connection and start the relationship (McGovern, 2019). You don’t have to lay the schmooze on either. Instead, be direct and sincere, and be yourself. Your prospect, who is probably very busy, will appreciate directness and brevity. Cold calling is a perfect way to find out which in the buying process the lead is at. They might still be a lead for future sales, but at this time they are not a qualified prospect. For that matter, if your lead seems unreceptive, you might also decide to end the call or to offer to try back at another time. Ultimately, it’s important that your prospective buyer doesn’t feel like they are  being pressured in any way; people have come to expect pushy salespeople on the phone, and you want to set yourself apart from this perception.

What is warm calling?

If you can do any research on your prospect before making a call, try to know the size and scope of the company, key people, company culture, and anything about the company that has recently come up in the news. “Your initial contact with new prospects doesn’t have to be — and in fact, shouldn’t be — completely cold. It can be incredibly useful to warm up your prospects before making the initial contact. You can increase your chances of a warmer reception by familiarizing the prospect with your name or your company affiliation before you make your first call or send your first email. A few ideas as to how to achieve this: get introduced by a shared connection, comment on a piece of content the buyer shared on social media, or “like” a status update or job change announcement on LinkedIn. “(Cook, 2019, para 15). After explaining who you are, you might say, “I recently read in Crain’s Chicago Business that your company’s number one priority in the coming year is doubling revenues by increasing your sales force….” Doing your research and keeping a few simple tips in mind should take the pressure off in cold calling and give you the confidence to establish crucial prospect connections.

Power Prospecting Source #9: Be a Subject Matter Expert

Wouldn’t it be great if, rather than going out to track down prospects, you could get your prospects to come to you? Presenting yourself as a subject matter expert, an authority in your field, is one secret for making this happen. CEO and consultant Keith Ferrazzi, started using this technique shortly after graduating from college. Even though he didn’t have much experience under his belt as a new graduate,  he picked an area and began researching until others in his industry came to know him as an expert and would go to him for consultation and advice. Set up a blog or write articles offering free advice. According to Ferrazzi (2020), you should make a habit of writing and publishing articles in your industry.

If you include your contact information and a brief bio on your website, blog, or other sites, then qualified prospects will often find you on their own. For instance, maybe you work for a company that sells résumé and cover letter consulting services for job seekers. You decide to write an article explaining “10 Things to Avoid When Dressing for a Job Interview,” and you post the article on your blog and submit it to CollegeGrad, a Web site that publishes helpful blog posts like yours. You allow CollegeGrad to use your article for free in exchange for posting a link to your Web site in the margins of the Web page. Now when people perform a Google search on “dressing for a job interview,” your article may come up, ensuring that a number of people who match your ideal prospect profile see the information about you and your product.

When generating B2B leads, you can often find prospects by offering Web-based seminars, or Webinars, with helpful advice on some aspect of marketing, or by publishing informative reports (white papers) that people can download for free. For instance, a marketing consulting firm might offer a white paper on “Increasing Your Open Rate on E-mails” that businesses can download for free as long as they register their information on the firm’s Web page. Requiring users to register allows the firm to track contact information for new leads with whom they can then follow up by e-mail, cold call, or mail. Even better, if a lead finds that the free advice they downloaded is useful, they will quite likely contact the firm voluntarily to find out about the marketing services they provide.

Power Prospecting Source #10  Organizing Your Prospect Information

If you’ve ever ordered shoes from Zappos, you might be aware that the company is known for its excellent customer service but you might not know one of their secrets to achieving this: keeping detailed records of every interaction they have with a customer. These records are part of a customer relationship management (CRM) system, the tools a company uses to record and organize their contacts with current and prospective customers.  CRM is part of prospecting as it allows you to keep a record of your leads, your prospects, your sales, background information on your prospect and business, and so much more.   Using your CRM system to set daily or weekly targets and to update when someone drops out of the funnel and needs to be replaced (one out, one in concept).

Choosing a System

CRM software allows you to maintain relationships in a systematic way, following up more consistently with your leads and continuing to meet the needs of your existing customers. If the individual with whom you’ve been doing business at a particular company leaves, you should update that in your database and begin prospecting for another lead at the company. If you’ve recently mailed information to some of your leads, CRM software will help you keep track of which customers the mailing went to and how recently it went out, so you know when to follow up with those prospects by phone. You have a huge range of CRM programs from which to choose, and while these applications were once large-business luxuries, more recently there are versions that are priced within the reach of smaller businesses as well (Kroll, 2007).


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The Power of Selling Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Michelle Clement is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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