I think we’d all like to have more opportunities in our pipelines. Some of you are fortunate to be getting new leads on a regular basis from your marketing departments or other sources, but for lot of us in the selling profession we have to find our own leads. Therefore, we want the highest possible return rate for the time we invest in prospecting and business development. I can’t spend my entire work week looking for new opportunities; I have to service existing clients, win some of the business currently in my pipeline, and tend to lots of other responsibilities. Here are a few suggestions that have helped me get the highest rate of return on my prospecting time:

  1. Use a short list. When I started out selling I had a naïve assumption that the bigger my prospecting list, the more success I would have. I subscribed to the concept that sales is a numbers game. If you have 300 people to call instead of 50, you’ll find more business. What I found with big prospects lists is that I’d reach out to these individual companies but because I was calling so many of them they were just cold calls. There wasn’t much preparation done; I didn’t try to learn much about the company beforehand. I remember making a call out of the Yellow Pages and asking someone, “So what does your company do?” In those days there was no internet to look up a company’s website, but I didn’t make any attempt to learn much about the client because I didn’t have time, trying to get 300 phone calls done. This is why I encourage you to make a short list. The shorter the list, the more focused you can be. If you have a pool of 300 accounts that you could be calling on to prospect for new business, instead of trying to approach all 300 at one time, make a short list of five accounts, maybe even three. Having a short, targeted account list gives you the opportunity to focus and do some of the preparation that you’d like to do. Don’t pick the 5 biggest accounts in your list as those are usually the hardest to get through to. Choose a variety of account sizes and industries. When you get a response you can determine one of three things: 1) that there is no opportunity with that account (the company went out of business or isn’t a good fit), 2) the account goes back in the pool for later (there’s no opportunity now but may be in the future), 3) there is an opportunity that goes into the active pipeline. When you put an account on the short list, the goal is to get it off the list in one of those three ways, then pull another account from the pool onto the short list. You’re still going to get through the entire list, you’re just going to do it five at a time in a way that we can accomplish something.
  1. Select more than just one person. Within those three to five accounts find more than one person to reach out to. Back in my cold calling days with a list of 300 accounts I’d have one contact at each account. I’d call them, leave a message for that one person, and that was it. Today, people are deluged with correspondence—voicemail and email—so that just one isolated message doesn’t get their attention. Therefore, reach out to multiple people in the company. Figure out who the key people are who use your product or services or would be involved in the buying process for what you sell. It may be a user in engineering, a salesperson, a finance manager. Whatever you can do to add value to your client’s business, think about the people within the company that would like to hear that story and pick up to five people. Then, research them on LinkedIn and by Google search and then approach them all at the same time. This will not only increase the likelihood of getting a response in a timely fashion, it might get those people talking amongst themselves about you, and it keeps you from getting stuck selling to just one person.
  1. Use several different mediums of communications. This is one of the areas where it’s crucial for us to diversify. Too many of use have become so reliant on just email, or just voicemail, that we sit down and send out prospecting emails in one sitting, feeling like we’re doing a lot of work. The problem is that customer only receives one isolated message from someone they don’t know. Here’s an example of putting different mediums of communication to use: Send a letter in the mail introducing yourself and telling them you’re going to call on Tuesday at 8:45. When you call Tuesday at 8:45, if you don’t reach them live, leave a voicemail. On the voicemail tell them you’re going to send an email right now let them know they can respond in whatever way is most convenient for them. In the email let them know that if you don’t hear from them you’ll also call on Friday at 2:15. You can weave together a series of correspondence using a variety of whatever outreach you can think of. People tell me that no one sends letters in the mail anymore, but that’s the point! Yours will stand out. Leverage telephone, email, and LinkedIn. Someone is 19 times more likely to respond to a LinkedIn inMail than a regular email. People laugh at me when I suggest using a fax, but it could be a great way to get their attention. Get creative in any way you think you can get through and don’t forget that sometimes calling to the front desk and asking a receptionist to take a message can be more effective than leaving a voicemail. Use as many different mediums as you can so you can reach out to them several times over a couple weeks and get noticed.