Before You Start Prospecting for Leads

Phone Directory with Bookmarks
The phone book is not the best place to start. William Whitehurst / Getty Images

Prospecting is the first step in the sales cycle, but that doesn’t mean that the first thing you should do is grab the yellow pages and start dialing. Having poor-quality leads can be worse than no leads at all since you end up wasting a lot of time making cold calls to people who can't buy from you even if they want to. Some quick pre-prospecting work on your part will help you come up with leads that are actually compatible with your whatever you're selling.

Identify Mr. Prospect

The first step in finding the ideal prospect is defining who that mythical person might be. If you’ve been selling the same products for a while, you probably have an idea of what to look for based on your favorite customers, both now and in the past. All you need to do is sit down with a pen and a piece of paper (or a computer and your favorite word processing program) and write down a list of the qualities that your best customers share. If you’re new to sales or to the particular product you’re trying to sell, you may need to talk with some of your coworkers to get ideas. That might include other salespeople, your sales manager, and even people in other departments such as customer service or marketing.

    Choose a Strategy

    Let’s say you’ve done the above exercise and determined that your ideal client is married, in his mid-thirties, has an annual income of $100,000 or more, owns his own home, and has an executive-level job.

    Now you can start thinking about where you would find such a person. The usual rule with finding really good leads, as with most aspects of sales (or life for that matter), is that you either need to invest lots of time or lots of money to do it well.

      Investing Time

      If you decide to invest time in getting leads, that means research.

      For the above example of the perfect prospect, you can start by identifying the most affluent neighborhoods in your area. Then you can prepare a sales letter and mail or hand-deliver it to those locations. Or you can simply try going door-to-door. If online sales are your forte, you can identify websites where your prospects might hang out, like the local homeowner’s association website, and buy ad space or post your information on the site. Another option is to become a member of organizations where your prospects can be found—local churches, chambers of commerce, the yacht club, the high-priced gym your upper-middle-class clients frequent, etc. That gives you the opportunity to meet and greet prospects in an informal setting. Just be careful not to get too pushy or your tactics will backfire. If you sell B2B, you can try joining your local chamber of commerce or even look through the business directories at the nearest big library.

        Investing Money

        If you’d prefer to invest money to find leads, you can buy existing lead lists. Be careful to work with a reputable list broker, such as Dun and Bradstreet, otherwise you may find you’ve just wasted your money. You can also try buying leads directly from the source, such as a magazine that your prospects are likely to read.

        Finally, you can buy ad space in those magazines to get prospects to come to you.