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Business Management

Improving Your Prospects, Part One

The best techniques for landing clients.



Companies try different ways to grow their business — some wait for prospects to walk through their doors, and others pursue would-be customers. It’s much easier, and less stressful, when customers contact you.

But, this places your company’s destiny in the hands of fate. Being proactive makes your own luck. Finding new prospects requires more effort, but it’s a faster way to grow revenue.

When I worked for one fleet-graphics company, every manager from the president down hit the phones for an hour or two each day. These prospecting efforts contributed to phenomenal growth — in the company’s first three years of business, sales grew from $800,000 to $1.8 million to $3.8 million. Today, it’s one of the largest fleet-graphics companies in the United States.

Most salespeople know prospecting is effective, but few make it part of their daily routine. Most people dread picking up a phone and encountering frequent rejections. Because phone prospecting can be excruciating, salespeople invent every excuse not to do it. Here are few I’ve heard recently:

• "The leads are no good."
• "It’s summer; everybody is on vacation, getting ready for their vacations or are just returning from vacation."
• "That’s telemarketing; that’s not my job."
• "I don’t have the time to do it."
• "I have more important things to do."

What could be more important in sales than discovering new business opportunities, determining a prospect’s needs or identifying a company’s decisionmakers? Isn’t that part of being a salesman? Of course it is. But, it’s easier to stay in a comfort zone and call on familiar customers rather than to speak to strangers.


Some salespeople fear catching a prospect on a bad day and stoking his ire. Honestly, what’s the worst thing someone could say? "We don’t have any trucks"; "We’re not interested"; or "We’re happy with our current supplier." Granted, someone giving such a response probably won’t yield a sale, but these words are hardly fatal. $image1

Prospecting strategies

As with any program, establishing objectives is critical. Prospecting simply qualifies sales leads and separates those companies that might buy graphics from those that probably won’t. That’s it. The primary goal isn’t to sell graphics over the phone, nor to set sales appointments. The key objectives of phone prospecting are to:

• Discover whether a prospect can use your product. Do they have a fleet of trucks, a chain of stores or other signage requirements?;
• Identify the key decisionmakers; and
• Maintain contact with prospects that might need future graphics.

The phone process, which has worked for me, involves qualifying leads over the phone, following up with an information package, then calling to ask for an appointment. This approach requires preparing a follow-up, direct-mail package, which should include a cover letter, before you start calling.

Sending information prior to asking for the appointment helps familiarize the prospect with your company and services. It also helps stimulate interest in your business, which facilitates setting more appointments and, subsequently, creating more opportunities to make presentations and proposals that create more sales.


A few days after sending your kit, call again to see if the prospect has received your mail and is interested. Any delay in your follow-up will result in the prospect losing interest.

Only schedule an appointment if there’s real interest — this prevents wasted sales visits. Direct-mail programs don’t automatically require phone prospecting; some salespeople successfully follow up with e-mails.

The numbers game

We’ve all heard that sales is a "numbers game." If you contact more prospects, you’ll set more appointments and have more opportunities to bid and, consequently, make more sales. Today’s popular sales literature declares quality calls are more important that quantity. Targeting better prospects is important to sales success, but more is still better.

If one salesperson makes 25 new contacts each week, and another only makes one, who has the better chance of success?

If phone prospecting is part of your marketing program, set goals. When I worked for one screenprinter, we entered a realistic lead goal into our database, and documented calls made and direct-mail literature sent. Quantifying our activities measured our progress and kept the program on track.


As the business maxim says, "What gets measured, gets done."

Use sales-contact software to log information. At the very least, design an account-profile sheet that lists such pertinent information as the company name, key contacts, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, number of stores or fleet vehicles, competitors, sales potential, follow-up steps, and when and where to make them. $image2

Developing your prospect list

If you want consistent sales, keep the proverbial "sales funnel" full with new sales leads. Today’s wealth of resources should provide ample prospects. Here are a few possible sources:

• Manufacturers’ directories, such as the Thomas Register;
• The Yellow Pages;
• Former customers;
• Networking;
• Referrals; and
• Industry-related associations.


I have used directories of all types as a lead source. Every state where I’ve lived has a manufacturers’ directory. Other directories exist for grocery, drug or convenience stores, as well as foodservice-distribution and trucking companies.

Don’t forget the Yellow Pages — if you’ve been selling graphics programs to beauty salons or heating and cooling contractors, find similar businesses.

Industry associations

Other good lead sources are industry associations. As a fleet-graphics salesman, I belonged to the Calumet Safety Council., which comprised fleet managers. I was like a kid in a candy shop.


If you’ve enrolled in sales seminars or read sales books, you’ve learned that referrals can be a valuable sales tool. Any salesperson worth his salt knows that, but few do it. When was the last time you asked customers if they knew of other companies in their area that could use your services?

I worked with one salesman who constantly did this to drum up new business. He would say, "I really don’t know this area very well. Do you know anybody else around here with a fleet of trucks that I should be calling on?" He would call the prospect and make sure to drop his customer’s name as his icebreaker. Will this technique work every time? Probably not, but what does?

Former customers

It doesn’t hurt to ask a former customer how you can get back in his good graces. What’s the worst that can happen? Can he threaten to take his business elsewhere? No, he’s already done that. It never hurts to give an account one last shot.


It pays to have friends in the industry. One of the best sources for leads, leasing and trailer salespeople, will know long before you will who’s buying and leasing equipment. In one year, the leads that I received from one Chicago leasing company amounted to $300,000 in sales, with a gross profit margin of more than $100,000.

In ST’s October issue, Jim will continue his discussion of effective prospecting. He’ll outline preparing phone scripts and how to effectively and tactfully obtain customer information.

Important Sales-Prospecting Points

• From the top down, make prospecting a regular part of your shop’s routine.

• Leave your comfort zone. You can’t grow business relying exclusively on existing clients.

• Use prospecting calls to separate strong prospects from weak ones.

• Send a direct-mail information packet immediately after prospecting, and follow up the package with a phone call within four working days. Any lag time can cause prospects to lose interest.

• Some sales "experts" claim that making a few calls to "quality" leads is preferable to making frequent sales calls — don’t believe it. At the end of the day, someone with more prospects has more opportunities to make money.

• What gets measured, gets done. Keep a record of prospective customers, their decisionmakers, contact information, potential sales and the type of follow-up required.

• Widen your circle of influence. Join appropriate business associations, enlist clients for referrals, network with others in the industries you serve — and never be too proud to ask a customer what you can do to win back his business.



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