Prospecting for new business from your desktop.
Business is grown in just three ways – grow your existing account base, develop new revenue streams with new products or ideas or get new business. All three options have their own positive and negative effects on a business but all three have to be considered in a slow economic times or when your business has reached a certain level of market maturity.
This article will focus on gaining new business through prospecting. Each company has a set of key elements that bring its product or service to the market. These key elements are presented to a targeted group of prospects who have the need for your product. Locating this targeted group can sometimes be elusive and the lack of new prospects will deter the growth of your business. So how does a company look for new prospects?
The internet allows us an affordable way to do our own searching for prospects. I have worked with a sales person lately who needed to open up 16 new accounts a year selling a high end hair treatment and shampoo line. The opening order cost for any new account was a minimum investment of $3,000.00. After understanding who will use the product and I turned to the internet for some quick searching. Sometimes entering a key word or description of the product will turn up hundreds of potential customers. In my first online search I came up with thousands of hits. I used a drill down technique for each search. By simply adding the word “Florida” after the key words and a comma, I was able to narrow the list down just to the specific targeted territory.
Another internet strategy I use is to enter a key word for who would use the products. In this case I entered “high end hair salons, Florida” and “hair salons and spas, Florida”. This resulted in another list slightly different then the first but added several hundred additional more prospects. I also looked for competitive websites. There are times that a competitor will post their entire account list on the web – yours for the taking.
Now that we have some new prospect names – what do we do with them? Here is where most companies, sales managers and sales reps fail. It can be a daunting task to have 43 pages of new prospects. Where does one start? My first suggestion would be to go through the entire list and read the name, location and type of account they are if this information is available. Often times it would be a good idea to share this list with your controller or “accounts receivable” person within your company to see if you can eliminate any deadbeat accounts. If you have a sales manager it might be a good idea to share this list with them also to see if there is any history there. I would not suggest eliminating any names because you don’t like the area they are in or the name of their business. Remember, a good sales person does not make the decision for the buyer and one should never be quick to discount new business.
Qualifying the prospect is the next most important thing to do. It’s time to make sure that they fit your customer type and that they will have a need for your product or service. Go to their website and look around – you may find out that they already buy your competition or have a missing need to fill with your product. You can learn a lot about a company from an on-line search. I would also call them up. The first call is an exploratory call. If it’s a large company and you get the receptionist see if you can ask some qualifying questions to that first screener. Questions I have used are “Do you currently sell or use (enter your product or service hear)? If you get a yes, dig some more on the who, what and how much? If you get a “no”, find out if they ever tried to sell or use your products? If it sounds like a possibility for a customer, ask the screener for the person who is in charge of making that buying decision. If they can set up an appointment for that person do so on the call. There are times when you make one call and get to the decision maker immediately. In this case, I would recommend a conversation that starts off with “I hope that you can offer me your opinion about my product or service” and then get into some qualifying questions.
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Don’t forget while we are prospecting to ask for referrals and leads to new business. Sometimes the next big contract comes from your last source of business. If you provide a valuable product or service and maintain a professional and courteous relationship with your customers-they will refer you to others.
Ken Ninomiya has marketed and sold products internationally for nearly 20 years. He holds an Executive MBA from the Chapman School of Business, FIU and currently is VP of Sales and Marketing for EKN Links. EKN Links is a solutions company for domestic and international businesses providing sales, marketing, Public relations and business strategies. Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.eknlinks.com.
By Ken Ninomiya, MBA, Professor
VP Sales and Marketing of EKN Links