Marketing Basics

Prospecting 101: Principles

Customer prospecting is a marketing basic, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Prospecting can be daunting, even for the most outgoing business owner. Successful prospecting involves directly asking people to spend money on your business. You’ll get plenty of no’s, which can make it difficult to keep pushing until you get a “yes.” 

Luckily, there are guidelines you can follow to make the process more manageable for you and more effective for your business. We’ll talk about how we think about prospecting, as well as our favorite principles that will help guide you as you seek out new leads for your business. 

Defining Customer Prospecting

First off, what exactly is customer prospecting? We define it as getting the right people to buy your product or service at the right time and using their contact information to start a relationship.

The prospecting process probably looks different depending on your product or service, whether you’re digital or have a storefront, and who your customer is.  

A general contractor that relies on getting on a bid list will likely focus on building relationships with general contractors and city councils. If you need to win bids to make money, you need to prioritize getting in with the right people and finding out about upcoming jobs. 

A subcontractor who sells their services to homeowners, builders, or other parties probably might focus on door-to-door prospecting, home and garden shows, or building relationships with community leaders. Both types of businesses, however, can make good use of the same prospecting principles. 

What are Prospecting Principles? 

Prospecting principles are ideas that apply to the prospecting process no matter what type of company you run. Unlike prospecting tactics, which you will likely need to tailor to your own business, prospecting principles are somewhat universal. 

We’ve come up with five key prospecting principles for you to incorporate into the day-to-day of your business. 

Prospecting principles are ideas that apply to the prospecting process no matter what type of company you run.

1. Set Goals

Setting goals is the most involved prospecting principle on our list, and it sets off a chain reaction among the rest of the principles listed below. Defining your goal makes you significantly more likely to achieve it. 

Have you heard of SMART goals? The SMART system defines a good goal as something that’s specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. Use the SMART system to help you write a prospecting goal that makes sense for your business. 

We also suggest using a pyramid system to create tangible goals for your prospecting process. Begin by imagining or drawing a triangle divided into three sections. The top of the triangle represents “meetings.” Put a number there that corresponds to how many prospecting meetings you’d like to have within a certain time frame (we suggest a week). The section below represents “calls.” The section is bigger because you will usually have more prospecting calls than meetings in any given time window. The bottom section will represent “emails” and will have the largest number. Work down the pyramid as you begin to contact potential prospects. 

Pyramid graphic with meetings on top, calls in the middle, and emails on the bottom.
Defining your goal makes you significantly more likely to achieve it.

The actual numbers in the pyramid will differ depending on the size of your business. Let’s say, for instance, that your company uses the numbers 1-5-10 to represent meetings, calls, and emails. If you manage to schedule a meeting on your first call, you don’t need to move the rest of the way through the pyramid. If you’ve made five calls and you don’t get a meeting, you can move on to emails. If you send ten emails and don’t manage to get a call or a meeting from those, that’s okay — the most important part of the process is building the habit of reaching out to potential customers. 

2. Be Consistent

This takes us into our next principle: staying consistent with the habits outlined above. A lot of contractors complain about a lack of available jobs or the lowest bid always winning the job. Not every prospect always results in a job. In fact, most prospects probably won’t pan out. That doesn’t mean that prospecting isn’t effective. Your ratio of prospects to jobs might be pretty high, but keep in mind that prospecting trickles down to jobs: the more prospects you establish, the more jobs will emerge for your company. 

The more prospects you establish, the more jobs will emerge for your company.

3. Know Your Ask

This principle probably sounds simple — after all, as a business owner, you probably know your business better than anyone, and you’re very well-versed in what you’re trying to sell. That said, you should think of your “ask” as something apart from your product or service. 

An ask doesn’t just have to be about getting a job. When you go into a meeting with a potential customer, you should have other, smaller asks ready in case they’re not interested in spending money on your product or service. For example, you can ask for their contact information, an invitation to a city council meeting, or for them to download a free resource from your company. 

Even if they’re not ready to buy from you, you still might be able to gain something from the meeting. Extend your ask beyond a sale. You never know what might come from it in the future. 

4. Celebrate “No”

This is a difficult principle to embrace for almost anybody. It’s not in our nature to celebrate being told “no.” A refusal is almost always a bad thing, right?

That’s not always the case in prospecting. Like we mentioned above, a meeting that doesn’t end in a sale isn’t necessarily a failure. Beyond that, calls and emails that don’t result in a meeting aren’t failures, either. Being told “no” is, in a way, a success. It means that you’re doing the work that’s necessary to get jobs. 

Being told “no” is, in a way, a success. It means that you’re doing the work that’s necessary to get jobs.

While prospecting, celebrate your efforts no matter the outcome.  

5. Be Helpful

The little things go a long way when you’re trying to get prospective customers. In general, other people will want to be helpful to you, but they’re more likely to follow through on it if you’re helpful to them. This can extend to small aspects of a meeting, like buying coffee or holding a door. 

Make sure you’re never doing too many favors for free (as this can impact your profits), but small acts of kindness and making an effort to be helpful for others will make them keener to spend money on your business. 

A Good Foundation

Prospecting is a habit — adopting the right principles and mindset makes it easy to maintain good practices every day. Don’t be afraid of being told “no,” and diversify your asks to make as many prospects a success as possible. 

Doing business is about more than just getting a job, and these prospecting principles will help you maintain the relationships you need to do well. 

For more information on prospecting, see our overview of prospecting tactics. If you’re ready to discuss how to put those into action in your business, schedule a Free Growth Assessment with our team. We’ll help you create a strategy for prospecting success.

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