The Best Prospects

We are all looking to expand our client base and bring in more business.  Most of us are out there spreading the word about our products and services, meeting and greeting, delivering an expert elevator pitch to whomever will listen and positioning ourselves as experts within our field.

If the gods smile, our efforts will deliver unto us a decision maker and a real sales call. How can one increase the odds of making that happen? Effective prospecting is the method.  Prospecting is a vital function for all Freelancers and business owners.  If  the goal is to have a successful business, then we must make a practice of continually replenishing our sources of potential clients.

First,  let us dispense with the myths.  Prospecting is NOT sales.  Prospecting is a tactical function of sales.   It is the process of identifying and qualifying businesses and individuals who have the potential to become paying customers.

Prospecting is NOT a numbers game. Time = money and you have no time to chase so-called prospects who have a low probability of becoming a customer. You want only those with motive and money to hire you or patronize your business.

Prospecting need NOT be hugely time consuming.  Plan to budget about 15% of your weekly or monthly calendar for prospecting.  Make the time to keep your pipeline filled.

Contrary to common belief,  prospecting is NECESSARY even when billable hours are high and sales are strong.  Because business always waxes and wanes,  it is important to use the good times to create opportunities that will sustain  in the lean times.

So let’s think strategically about the prospecting function.  Start by identifying your key customer groups.  Do you typically work within certain industries? Why not target other businesses within that industry as likely prospects? Your experience within those industries will provide the trust factor that your prospects will appreciate.  You will  know the usual priorities, concerns and preferred benefits.

Are you a member of a business association? Do you have visibility within the group? Are any of the members your clients? Have you made good referrals for any members? Think about  which member businesses could benefit from using your  products or services.  Leverage your proximity to these targets to learn more about their businesses.  Once again, the trust factor will be on your side, especially if a member or two are clients of yours or you are visible in the association.

This approach can also work with job titles.  For instance, who usually hires you–the VP of marketing, the CEO, the CFO, or the director of development? Target that title as you prospect.  Prior experience will have taught you what will resonate with these individuals, thus adding to your  credibility.

Once you’ve developed a list of targets, devise an approach.  Might any of your colleagues have contacts within these organizations? Do company names appear in the online member listing of the chamber of commerce or neighborhood business association? Is there a trade show coming up that the prospect –or company representative–  may possibly attend (trade show sponsors are ususally listed on the show’s website)?

When you meet someone at the targeted company (oh, happy day!), let the contact/prospect know that you’ve done your homework and see possible alignment between their business and your product.  Emphasize outcomes and benefits.  Aim to schedule a time for further discussion with either the ultimate prospect or someone who can substantively influence the decision.

If you are met with an objection, handle it with aplomb.  If the answer is, “we already have someone” inquire about current or recent projects.  Offer a comment or two that displays your expertise in the subject. You may discover that the objection was just a smoke screen.

If the answer is ” I have to think about it”,  let the person know that you  respect their desire to make an informed decision.  Ask what information might assist the decision, who else in the organization you might speak with and when you can follow up?

The objective is to get a dialogue going and not get shut down.  If you choose your prospects wisely and plan a good approach,  you are guaranteed to bring in at least a mid-level client nearly every quarter.  Now get busy!

More next week,

Kim

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