What Is Prospecting?

Owners and managers of printing companies, probably want salespeople to do more prospecting. Printing salespeople should probably be doing more prospecting. With all this talk about prospecting, what exactly are we talking about? Here’s my definition: Prospecting is an activity chain that begins with the identification of “suspect” companies and ends with the first substantive conversation with the buyer.

In other words, prospecting is a stage in the overall selling process, with a starting point and an ending point of its own. Your overall goal is to create a new customer, of course, but the goal of this stage is more modest: the opportunity to have a serious talk with a likely suspect.

Here’s another important definition: They are suspects when you think they might be prospects. They’re only prospects when you know that they’re fully qualified. More on that in a moment.

Let’s talk first about that serious talk; that substantive conversation. Do you want it to be face-to-face or over the phone, or will a dialog via email or voicemail be sufficient? The answer depends on the complexity of your product and the logistics of your selling situation, but I hope we can agree on this hierarchy: face-to-face is best, followed by the phone, followed by the sort of “interrupted dialog” that’s most likely with email or voicemail. The important thing is that you establish the specific goal of your prospecting stage, because your next challenge is to engineer a process that will get you there.

Now, what is the goal of the conversation itself? Most salespeople seem to think it’s about telling your story. I think it should be all about hearing theirs. I think your first substantive conversation should be all about qualifying. Personally, I want to be sure that someone qualifies before I commit myself to the next stage of my selling process. Here’s something else to consider: It’s pretty easy to sell to a prospect. It’s nearly impossible to sell to a non-prospect.

Here is my definition of a fully qualified prospect: 1) they buy, want, or need exactly what you sell, 2) they have enough volume potential to make pursuing them worthwhile, and 3) they show real interest in buying from you. Setting the dollar volume issue aside for a moment, if they don’t buy, want, or need what you sell, will you ever sell it to them? How about if they buy lots of it, but they don’t have any interest at all in buying it from you? Yes, they may develop a want/need over time, or you may change their minds about buying from you over time, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are not fully qualified prospects right now. I think more time is wasted on efforts to sell to non-prospects than on anything else in selling. You avoid that by qualifying before continuing to the next stage.