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Prospecting: The Who, What and Why

prospecting for leads

By Troy Harrison

Prospecting. Nearly all salespeople have to do it. Few are good at it. Fewer still like it. It’s a conundrum, isn’t it? In training salespeople from all around the world, I’ve found that prospecting – in any country or any language – is a universal challenge. It’s even more challenging now because of the rise of social media. Right now, it seems, salespeople are living on the extremes – either eschewing conventional prospecting for social media, or focusing entirely on cold calling to the exclusion of social media. As in many situations in life, the solution lies in the middle.

Constructing an effective, unified (including conventional prospecting and social media) prospecting effort can be greatly simplified by asking three key questions:

  • Who are you going to approach?
  • What are you going to say to get his/her attention and create buyer motivation?
  • Why do you want to say it?

Too many salespeople start a prospecting effort without answering these questions, and that leads to unsuccessful prospecting as well as unsuccessful selling. Let’s define “successful prospecting.”

Successful prospecting yields a consistent flow of appointments with contacts who can independently make a buying decision for our products and/or services. In other words, successful prospecting leads to a consistent flow of sales. I talk to salespeople all the time who tell me that they are able to successfully prospect, but then their sales are stalled later because they aren’t in front of the actual decision maker. What they really mean is that they aren’t really successful prospectors.

Now that we have that definition, let’s look back at our “who, what and why” in various potential prospecting venues.

One statement that I said in 2004 when I started my business, and that remains true today, is that a quality data-driven teleprospecting program is the cornerstone of any successful prospecting effort. Data-driven teleprospecting means that we can target and segment our market by using comprehensive databases such as InfoUSA, Dun and Bradstreet, Hoover’s, or others. If you’re trying to prospect without one of these tools, you’re working with one hand tied behind your back. In this day and age, there’s simply no excuse for not using databases. Not even cost. ReferenceUSA (an offshoot of InfoUSA) is available free through most public libraries.

So, with respect to data-driven prospecting, here are some things to think about.

Who: You need to be approaching the person who can make a decision to purchase. With modern databases, it’s easy to find that person. Here’s where it starts. In any organization, the power to buy independently begins in the corner office (president/CEO/owner/etc.) and emanates out only as far as the person in the corner office wants it to. Hence, you’d better be at the C-level, or the V-level (vice president), at the least, for most B2B service companies.

What: What you say to this person needs to be something that grabs their attention quickly. Most people have “walls” already built – defenses against salespeople. What you say to this person on the phone will either grab their attention and get them to pull the walls down, or get them to quickly begin adding height to the wall.

Why: Here’s your guideline: People buy solutions to problems. Hence, focus on the problems that your contact is likely to face, and then demonstrate how you can help solve them. “I want to talk to you about . . .” Is an old approach and unlikely to succeed in today’s world. The first 15 to 20 seconds after the phone is answered is critical to your success – think through your words and make them the most effective words you say. Now that you’ve answered those three questions, let’s look at social media with the same three questions in mind.

Who: This is much tougher with social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook. I liken social media to a message in a bottle; much of the time, you’re putting out a message and hoping that it finds the right person and resonates with that person. Most of the time, it does not. Twitter and Facebook have frameworks that make it difficult, at best, to target the right contacts; LinkedIn is much better for this. In fact, in business-to-business sales, I recommend that LinkedIn be the main platform used for this reason. The truth is that your defined decision makers haven’t changed from above – it’s just that the method has. Stay focused on this, and your social media efforts will more likely be effective.

What: The “what” can take many forms in social media. I always recommend confining your posts – no matter what the platform – to professional postings in nature. Seek out articles, give tips, etc., that will benefit your readers (preferably your customers and prospects). On LinkedIn, you can send messages to targeted contacts that mirror your “what” from your teleprospecting efforts. You can also use LinkedIn for introductions. This can be very effective. In fact, I have a technique for generating appointments on LinkedIn that is included in my “Ultimate Guide to Prospecting” training course (available on the “Buy sales tools” page on my website).

Why: This is where most social media efforts fail. Few salespeople think through their postings all the way and end up with a high frequency of posting that is nearly meaningless in terms of business development. Remember, whatever you post, your message should be geared toward creating motivation in targeted buyers – anything else is a waste of your time and efforts.

An effective prospecting effort integrates teleprospecting and social media in such a way as to be highly time-efficient with both. If yours isn’t, consider getting help or good prospecting training to improve.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”, “The Pocket Sales Manager,” and a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, email or visit

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2017, Direct Business Media.


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