Module 8: Identify Your Customers

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Prospecting Resources

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Prospecting Resources

Resource #1: Existing Customers
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.

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.

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 services. [1]

Meanwhile, if you’re in B2B sales and your ideal prospects are car dealerships in northern California, USA, 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.

Say you work for a marketing company that offers a variety of services to businesses. One of your customers, a recording company, is using your printing services, but they’re turning to another organization for their public relations needs. If you’re aware of this, your existing customer is now a prospect for additional sales.

Resource #2: Referrals
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.

There’s nothing more powerful than getting information about a product or service from a friend or people you trust before you buy.

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.

Seth Godin, best-selling author and entrepreneur, talks about “flipping the funnel.” He challenges salespeople to think about turning the sales funnel on its side, thinking of it as a megaphone.

He suggests that when many of your customers enter into the conversation on Web sites such as Digg, Flickr, and Delicious, the power of your message gets even stronger, and new referrals find you. [3]

When 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. [4] The prospecting effort has been a huge success with their existing customers posting tweets that have introduced the brand to new customers.

Consider Flycaster & Company, a Florida-based branding and advertising agency for businesses. For a number of years now, almost 100 percent of the firm’s new customers have been referred to them by friends and colleagues.

According to John Spence, one of the company’s managers, referrals are the “best possible” source of prospects for any B2B business. [5]

So let your customers speak for you. Their voices will be heard by people you could never reach.

Resource #3: Networking
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.

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.

Joining a professional trade association is one simple way to network with others in your field.

Professional networking sites like LinkedIn are increasingly important, and there are many industry-specific networking sites you can join, like Sermo for doctors or INmobile.org for people in the wireless industry. [7] Your profile on professional networking sites becomes a tool for selling yourself as a brand. These sites allow you to list your education, professional experience, and testimonials from satisfied customers, and as you add contacts, you become connected to their contacts, allowing your network to grow. [8]

What about social networking? You’re probably well acquainted with online social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, but you may be less familiar with the ways people leverage these tools in a professional capacity. According to professional networking expert Clara Shih, online social networks can be an effective means of prospecting for sales with organizations.

After all, the decision makers at any organization are individuals with whom you can build relationships [6] By connecting socially with key individuals, not only can you open lines of communications with potential customers, but you can also build your knowledge of your prospect base.

Resource #4: Directories
It might surprise you to know that your local library can actually be a potential goldmine for finding prospects in B2B sales. There are 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’s location specific, check out your local chamber of commerce listing for finding local businesses.

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.

For instance, the fastest-growing companies, minority-owned businesses, and lists of companies by industry such as video production companies, health care companies, public relations agencies, law firms, and more are included with the contact information, profiles, and key facts for specific businesses in US states. You can generally find these books at your local library, and they’re an excellent source for digging up prospects that most closely match your ideal profile.

For example, you could use the SIC code 6371 to find all businesses that deal with pension, health, and welfare funds. [9] You can also search through industry-specific directories like the Standard Directory of Advertisers, and you can check out professional trade associations related to your prospect profile.

Ask your librarian if she can access a copy of Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations, which lists more than 160,000 trade organizations. Finding a relevant association should be no problem, as you can find a professional organization for virtually any industry you can think of. [10]

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 US businesses by their particular industry, so they can be valuable search criteria to mine general business directories for specific kinds of companies.

Resource #5: Online Databases
Going to the library can be hugely helpful because it gives you access to people who are professional at finding information.

Also, the added perk is that your library will probably give you free access to several online business directories and databases. [11]

So how do you know which business directory to use? It helps to know whether your ideal prospect would be a private company or a public company. Is your ideal prospect a large organization that attracts top executives? In this case, you’ll mostly be searching for public companies that sell stocks and bonds to the general public.

US Public companies are required to file financial information and other company reports with the U.S. government, so these organizations are easier to find in general business directories, and their directory listings usually provide more detailed company information. [12] However, not all large companies are publicly owned. State Farm Insurance and Cargill Foods, for example, are both private companies. [13]

If you’re only interested in smaller, local businesses, you will be dealing with private companies, or companies that aren’t owned by the public. In this case, some directories and databases will be more helpful to you than others.

Another thing to consider is whether you want the option to refine your search to include a number of criteria closely matching your ideal prospect profile. Several online databases allow you to input multiple search terms like location, company size, and minimum and maximum sales volumes.

Resource #6: Publications
Trade publications, journals geared toward people who work in a certain industry, and trade Web sites are good sources for prospects.

Many industry trade journals offer free e-mail newsletters or even free copies of the magazine. It’s a good idea to take the time to sign up for the free updates and check to see if the publication offers a free subscription. 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 Pepsi has released a new, eco-friendly bottle design for its Aquafina product that uses 50 percent less plastic. [14]

Resource #7: Shows and Events
Trade shows are industry-specific events that have the advantage of bringing your target market to you.

As a salesperson, you can use trade shows not only to present and demonstrate your products but also to identify and qualify prospects. [16] 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.

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.

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. 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. [15]

You are a sales representative for a textbook company and you attend a faculty book fair at a large university, when professors stop by your booth, you might ask about which texts they are currently using. This is a quick way to identify potential need.

One professor might tell you she uses a particular textbook, but her students don’t find it engaging. You have identified a need, and you now have a prospect. You tell the professor about a textbook that covers similar information but uses a more conversational style and ask if she would like a copy. If she says yes, you now have an opportunity to take her contact information, and you have permission to follow up.

Resource #8: Advertising
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’re a member of the American 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, gives you the advantage of reaching a large pool of leads.

Resource #9: 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. Additionally, most salespeople feel pressured to actually sell their product or make a pitch during a cold call, but according to Cavanaugh, cold calling isn’t about making sales; it’s about establishing a connection with the prospect. [20]

It is essential to get the prospect to like you in the first thirty seconds. [21] While this may sound like it’s putting a lot of pressure on you as the caller, you can actually think of it as a way of taking the pressure off. Remember, you don’t have to sell your product during the call; the goal is only to make a positive connection.

The goal of the cold call should be to find out whether your prospective buyer’s needs match your solutions. If you know you can’t help your lead solve her problems, you shouldn’t pursue the call further. [22]

If the lead does have a problem that you can address, you should go ahead and offer to make an appointment to meet in person. Sometimes, it may simply be a matter of timing: your prospect might ask you to call back in few months. In this case, get your calendar out and set up a specific time when you can try to call back.

You could also ask something like this: “In the meantime, would it be OK if I sent you occasional updates by e-mail to let you know about new developments and promotions with our product?” This enables you to periodically follow up so that you maintain a connection with your lead. [23]

Finally, it’s important to research your prospect before making a call. You should 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. Doing your research allows you to personalize your introduction.

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.

Resource #10: Be an SME
Presenting yourself as a subject matter expert, an authority in your field, is one way to get your prospects to come to you. CEO and consultant Keith Ferrazzi, started using this technique shortly after graduating from college.

According to Ferrazzi, you should make a habit of writing and publishing articles in your industry. [24]

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, with helpful advice on some aspect of marketing, or by publishing informative reports 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. Registering 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.


Prospecting takes creativity and knowledge. You have to look for potential buyers in many places.

Existing customers and referrals can be excellent sources of prospects because the customers are already familiar with your service and can speak on your behalf.

Networking provides the opportunity to leverage your existing relationships to develop new leads.

Business directories and databases (in print and online), trade publications, business journals, are all excellent sources to identify leads.

Trade shows and events give you an opportunity to talk to prospects.

Advertising and direct marketing provide a way to reach out to many prospects who may have an interest in your product or service.

Cold calling is an opportunity to approach the prospect and learn more about how you can meet her needs.

Being a subject matter expert can set you apart and help generate leads because of your expertise.

Qualifying the lead includes identifying if the prospect is ready, willing, and able to make a purchasing decision about your product or service.

Imagine that you sell real estate in your area. Discuss three ways referrals can find you.

Assume you are selling advertising. Identify three trade organizations that you might use as sources for leads.

[1] Adam Stone, “Dennis Kelly Photography Took a Shot with Facebook,” Philadelphia Business Journal, June 5-11, 2009, 10-11.

[2] Jeff Bressler, “How Much to Spend to Acquire New Customers?” CEO World Magazine, May 13, 2009, http://ceoworld.biz/ceo/2009/05/13/hto-much-to-spend-to-acquire-new-customers (accessed June 10, 2009).

[3] Seth Godin, “How to Flip the Sales Funnel,” video, Selling Power,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McmEyr0oWew (accessed June 9, 2009).

[4] Jeff Leach, Randy Crochet, and Brock Fillinger, “How One Small Business Uses Twitter to Build Its Brand,” Advertising Age, May 29, 2009, http://adage.com (accessed June 9, 2009).

[5] John Spence, “Seven Steps to Successful B2B Marketing,” John Spence Blog, comment posted October 31, 2007, http://johnspence.com/blog/?p=52 (accessed June 9, 2009).

[6] Clara Shih, The Facebook Era (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009), 2.

[7] Jessica E. Vascellaro, “Social Networking Goes Professional,” Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2007, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118825239984310205.html (accessed June 9, 2009).

[8] Clara Shih, The Facebook Era (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009), 2.

[9] Occupational Health and Safety Administration, “SIC Search,” United States Department of Labor, http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/sic_manual.display?id=56&tab=group (accessed June 9, 2009).

[10] David Whitford, “Built by Association,” Inc., July 1994,http://www.inc.com/magazine/19940701/3005.html (accessed June 10, 2009).

[11] Boston Public Library, “Directories on the Internet,”http://www.bpl.org/research/kbb/websites/dirs.htm (accessed February 15, 2010).

[12] Center for Business Research, “Public vs. Private Companies,” Long Island University,http://www2.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/cbr/publicvprivate.htm (accessed June 10, 2009).

[13] “About Hoovers Handbook of Private Companies 2009,” Hoovers,http://images.hoovers.com/images/i/books/lookinside.pv2009.pdf (accessed June 10, 2009).

[14] “Beverage Bottles Lighten Up,” Packworld, May 1, 2009,http://www.packworld.com/news (accessed June 10, 2009).

[15] Paige Palmateer, “Inaugural Horse World Expo Coming to Syracuse,” CNY Business Journal, May 4, 2007,http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3718/is_20070504/ai_n19304825/?tag=content;col1 (accessed June 10, 2009).

[16] Barton A. Weitz, Sephen B. Castleberry, and John F. Tanner, Jr., Selling: Building Partnerships (New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2003).

[17] Tony Alessandra, “Direct Mail Prospecting,” Speakers Roundtable,http://www.speakersroundtable.com/sales-training-tony11.html (accessed February 15, 2010).
[18] Tony Alessandra, “Direct Mail Prospecting,” Speakers Roundtable,http://www.speakersroundtable.com/sales-training-tony11.html (accessed February 15, 2010).

[19] Tony Alessandra, “Prospecting, ” Assessment Business Center,http://www.assessmentbusinesscenter.com/media/articles/article_prospecting.pdf(accessed February 15, 2010).

[20] Susan Greco, “The Nonstop, 24-7 CEO Salesman,” Inc., August 2000,http://www.inc.com/magazine/20000801/19766.html (accessed June 11, 2009).

[21] Susan Greco, “The Nonstop, 24-7 CEO Salesman,” Inc., August 2000,http://www.inc.com/magazine/20000801/19766.html (accessed June 11, 2009).

[22] Hanzo Ng, “Prospecting, Cold Calling & Networking,” Malaysian Business, October 1, 2008, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn6207/is_20081001/ai_n30902653/?tag=content;col1 (accessed June 11, 2009).

[23] Keith Rosen, “Keep the Lines of Communication with Your Prospects Open,” AllBusiness, http://www.AllBusiness.com/sales/sales-management/4001387-1.html(accessed June 11, 2009