Prospecting as defined by the online dictionary is the act of “searching for mineral deposits in a place, especially by means of experimental drilling and excavation.” In modern times, we use it according to its alternative definition – to look out for; search for. But somehow, in sales, the word “prospecting” seems to have become attached to cold calling or using the phone to call people you either know or don’t know to see if they would be interested in your products or services.
However, in our view, prospecting is much more than that. We consider prospecting to be the search for new business – by any method you can ethically and legally use. Networking, hosting “lunch and learns,” reaching out to people on social media and asking existing clients for referrals are just a few ways you can prospect for new business. Any way you can think of to initiate contact with someone who can help you move closer to a goal that’s important to you is prospecting.
And that leads us to another misconception about prospecting — that salespeople are the only ones who do it. If you are ready to take the next step in your career, wouldn’t it be wise for the people who can help you do that to be aware of your talents, skills and abilities? The more people who know about you, the better, right? Couldn’t giving a presentation at your local Rotary be an opportunity to meet people who can move you closer to that goal? Wouldn’t you love your next employer to be someone you met through someone you know at church? That, my friends, is prospecting!
“But I’m a stay-at-home parent,” you say, “I definitely do NOT prospect.” What do you do if your child struggles at school and you can’t resolve the issue with the teacher? Do you initiate contact with people who can move you closer to the goal of resolving the issue? Do you contact the principal? Do you contact the superintendent? Do you contact your state’s board of education upon realizing that the issue isn’t the teacher, it’s a problem with the law? Would it be wise for people who can help you change that law to know you and your story? Wouldn’t you do anything to advocate for your child? We think of prospecting as a subset of advocacy. The fundamentals arethe same. You, Mom or Dad, are a salesperson who prospects!
My favorite prospecting myth to de-bunk is this one: “Prospecting is only done in transactional sales environments. Our product/service is one that requires the development of relationships to sell.” Hmmm. Okay. Can you help me understand how you build relationships with people who don’t know you exist?!
We all “prospect” at one time or another in our lives. Some people do it well and are very comfortable with it. The vast majority of us, however, struggle to some degree. We say things like, “I’m not good at networking” or “I’m not a very good conversationalist.” Those are the words of someone who is probably uncomfortable rather than incapable.
A simple Google search yields plenty of advice, but you’re still not likely to do it. Why? Because you feel uncomfortable about doing it. I wonder how many goals you have sacrificed to this feeling? Stay tuned if you’re interested in reaching those goals you thought you were “incapable” of reaching.
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Suzanne C. Dudley, CPA, is president and CEO of Behavioral Sciences Research Press, a 40-year-old company that is best known for research and development of psychometric assessments used by corporations around the globe.