For most companies, the ability to find potential customers is the difference between growth and bankruptcy.  Here's a systematic approach, loosely based upon a conversation with Thomas Ray Crowel, author of the excellent book Simple Selling.

1. Get a decent list of prospects.

Ideally, you want to be prospecting for customers who are already likely to buy. To do that, draw your list of prospects from the following sources in this order:

  1. Referrals. People whom your existing customers have contacted and suggested that they get in touch with you.
  2. Networks. People whom you've connected with personally at industry events or online via social networking.
  3. Website Visitors. People who've shown an interest in your offerings by accessing your website and leaving contact data.
  4. Purchased Lists. People who have the job title that typically buy your offering inside industries into which you typically sell.

2. Create a qualifying script.

Based upon your experience, define a conversational way to ask, during an initial conversation, whether or not the suspect has a budget, authority to spend the budget, and a need for your offering.

In most cases, qualifying scripts are built around open-ended questions that you ask during the conversation. I've provided you with a list of these questions in my previous post "14 Ways to Qualify a Sales Lead."

If you're calling somebody from a purchased list, you'll also want a basic cold-callings script. There's a good model for this in my previous post "A Cold Calling Script That Really Works."

3. Set reasonable prospecting goals.

Set a target for how many prospects you will need in your pipeline order to generate the number of sales that you need. For example, if you must generate five sales a week and on average close one out of fifty prospects, you will need to make 250 calls a week.

Based upon how many of your prospecting calls "go through," estimate the amount of time it will take to make those calls, including the time that will be required to have a meaningful conversation once you've gotten into one.

4. Get into a positive mental state.

Find a place where you won't be interrupted or distracted. Take a few minutes to focus yourself and your thoughts:

  1. Be positive. Believe you will succeed. If you fail try again.
  2. Be optimistic. Look for the best in people and expect good things to happen.
  3. Visualize success. Imagine ALL the emotions you'll feel when you achieve your goal.

5. Make the calls. 

'Nuff said.

While doing so, remember to listen as much (or more) as you talk. According to Crowel, the most common prospecting mistake is failing to notice when prospect wants to buy right now. Listen for stuff like this:

  • "We've been looking to buy something like this."
  • "I was thinking of contacting your firm about this."
  • "Oh, yeah, we definitely need to talk."

If you hear something like this, you can skip the script and jump right to the close.

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