Riddell: Key to gaining clients: Prospecting, as for gold

Riddell: Key to gaining clients: Prospecting, as for gold

May 18th, 2010 by John Riddell Jr. in Business Diary

We often overlook a profession that was at one time an integral player in our country's development and movement west. Many great migrations were led by solitary individuals who walked around trying to find riches hidden from everyone else's sight.

Prospectors searching for gold, oil, uranium, silver, and other resources served as catalysts for great hordes to follow, all anticipating riches beyond their wildest dreams. But it is important to recognize that prospecting is not the same as mining. Knowing how and where to look is not the same as knowing how and where to dig, move, store and process. Different skill sets with different metrics. This same differentiation applies to today's world of prospecting in sales.

Most companies and salespeople know that the simple formula for increased success in selling is to increase exposure to the number of people who have the need and the ability to buy whatever product or service they are selling.

At its basic, this is sales prospecting. Yet as simple as it is obvious, it is the one area where many salespeople are negligent. Recognizing that you cannot make more minutes in the day, many amateurs choose to spend most of their precious minutes with existing customers. These existing customers represent a safe, inviting haven, one in which rejection is not to be found; one in which additional sales with little or no effort may someday appear. Suffice it to say that these folks are not long for a successful career in sales.

Recognizing the operational imperative of effective prospecting, companies and individuals spend a tremendous amount of money exploring better and cheaper methods of uncovering potential. At its core, however, almost all of these approaches leverage a creative skull session with a "wagon wheel family tree" to uncover and map these opportunities.

The WWFT has, at its hub, the current features and benefits that are being successfully touted to an identifiable customer group. From this hub, spokes emanate outward each ending in a new hub that "might" identify a new customer segment with the need for many of the same features and benefits.

From this map of potential prospects, the company gives thought to ease of access and costs and prepares marketing materials. Their use is tested.

Qualified prospects become qualified leads and this is where professional selling moves to the front. After a bit of time characterized by selling success, this second hub then becomes the catalyst for the new round using the wagon wheel family tree. Interestingly enough, when asked the right questions, existing customers can provide very fertile input for new spokes.

The great leap of faith for start-up businesses, however, is recognizing that prospecting is hard and it costs money. Dead-end spokes provide a very real world example of the "foregone profit" aspect of opportunity costs, yet success seldom occurs without accepting them.

The professional salespeople I have been fortunate to learn from always applied two rules to prospecting.

* First they treated prospecting as an integral part of their daily schedule, ensuring that time was committed each day for it.

* Second, they set prospecting goals for themselves. One pro I knew in Oregon would reward himself and his wife every week when he exceeded his prospecting goals by going out for a nice dinner. After a while his wife expected that weekly dinner, and he never let her down.

John F. Riddell Jr., director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth-Hamilton County, writes every other Tuesday about entrepreneurs and their impact on companies and the marketplace. Submit comments to his attention by writing to Business Editor John Vass Jr., Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at business@timesfreepress.com.