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If you own a small business, you probably wear many hats. Along with everything else, are sales your responsibility? Despite our best marketing efforts – new business doesn’t always come to us, does it? Sometimes we have to go find it. Sometimes we need to prospect. This could be a very short post because the truth is – there’s one thing anyone can do to improve their prospecting abilities – Get Out From Behind Your Desk.

The success of your venture may depend on getting out of your office and finding new business. If you’re like most small business owners, there are not enough hours in the day. How will you find time to prospect? Start small – a couple hours a week, making prospecting a priority, while delegating less important tasks.

When to Prospect

Visit nearby businesses after an appointment – you’re already in the area, which makes for a good opening line. “Hi, I’m John Doe with ABC Widgets. I was delivering product to Apex Inc. across the street, and thought I’d introduce myself. If I may ask, what are your widget needs?” Budget an extra 30 minutes to an hour to prospect when you’re in the field visiting a customer, checking on work, or making a delivery. Use networking events to meet prospects.

How to Prospect

Politely introduce yourself. Determine who the decision maker is and ask to be introduced. Use a short elevator pitch ending with a question. In a perfect world, this always works, but it’s not perfect. Prepare to leave collateral material, business cards, and to ask for the decision maker’s card so you may followup.

A Road Trip

Last summer, I spent three days with an out-of-state sales rep. The best thing about the trip was – after three days – I had nearly every example of how not to prospect I could ever use. He is no longer with our firm.

As we drove around an industrial area, I’d point out potential businesses to approach and “Bob” would explain why we shouldn’t stop. Don’t over qualify.

At several stops, which Bob would’ve bypassed, we found interested prospects. For example, when we stopped at a supplier of flatbed trailers, Bob approached the receptionist and said, “I’m Bob with TKO Graphix. We do truck graphics – you probably don’t need those for flatbeds do you?” Don’t reinforce negatives.

As Bob headed toward the door, I found the new truck manager and learned they had begun selling vans and needed a graphics provider. At the next stop, “Bob” approached a salesman he knew and asked if the boss would let us show him what we had. The salesman checked with the boss and informed us he was too busy. I asked the salesman to ask his boss if he had 1 minute and 18 seconds he could spare. Intrigued, the boss agreed. I shook hands and said, “I have one question, what are your graphics needs, and how are they not being met?” 45 minutes later, we were measuring a vehicle for an estimate. Don’t give up easily.

As we continued to drive, Bob kept pointing out closed businesses and sharing how tough the local economy was. I told him that wasn’t a problem, and we’d only stop at companies still in business. Due to a non-competition clause from a previous employer, he said he couldn’t call on his established customer base, making it nearly impossible to hit quotas. I said that only leaves us several thousand businesses we CAN call on. Don’t make excuses.

In three days, we stopped at more than 20 businesses, talked to a dozen decision makers, and gave six estimates. We did it by being positive, asking questions, and building rapport. As we approached the entryway of one national firm, I noticed a cat feeding from a dish. Two employees came out and I asked about the cat. The cat was a stray the front office had adopted. They were excited because they had just found it a home. After a few minutes of cat talk, they introduced me to the new marketing manager who was looking for a graphics provider. I couldn’t make this up. Build rapport.

Create a Prospecting Plan

Over the next 30 days, set a goal to prospect. Plan where you will concentrate your efforts, what industries or companies you will target, and how much time you will allot. For example, plan to prospect the nearest industrial park three days per week, one hour per day, target B2B businesses, and attend two events with networking potential, such as your local chamber of commerce.

Are you ready to put on your prospecting hat? Prospecting isn’t easy; the closing percentage is lower than many other forms of marketing. It takes time, patience, and practice, but it does work. It introduces you to prospects you may have never met any other way. It gets your foot in the door, and it can give your business a shot in the arm when it’s most needed. Do you prospect? What strategies have worked for you?

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