Five Strategies to Improve Prospecting

Like anything else in business, it’s always good to take stock of what’s working and what is not. Sales prospecting is one of those areas that always needs attention. Prospecting is an activity required by salespeople to generate new leads. That means moving the most likely candidates for printing products or services from unaware suspects to hot and likely to buy prospects. Prospecting is definitely a vital skill to develop to be successful in selling.

In the printing industry, with all the seminars and articles on prospecting, it is amazing how few printing salespeople consistently and systematically prospect for new clients. Many are often bogged down with fulfilling orders and getting requirements from existing customers. They make little time to prospect for new ones.

Though much new business in printing comes from existing accounts, it is very dangerous for salespeople not to generate a consistent stream of new accounts by prospecting.

Here are five prospecting strategies we see exhibited by top printing salespeople:

1. Know your objective

The immediate objective of prospecting is not to gain orders, appointments, or requests for quotes. It is to gain a conversation with targeted customers to determine if they are a good fit for what you are selling. We call these customers qualified suspects or leads. These are customers that are most likely to buy. They are authorized to make a decision, have the money or budget to make purchases, and generally are the best fit for the salesperson and print provider’s products and services.

Having a steady stream of qualified leads allows salespeople to use their time and resources effectively and, eventually, to close orders.

2. Pick your battles

Randomly calling a list of companies in a given geographical area is generally not a good use of precious time. All research points to targeting groups of potential customers by size, type of business, vertical market, and location to be the better approach. This allows the caller to better tailor the conversation to what will most likely interest the customer.

For instance, in the non-profit space, instead of a generic pitch in an email or on the phone, the message could be, “We are helping non-profits improve their marketing efforts. In one case, the approaches we use helped Glow Worm Institute overachieve their fundraising objective by over 10 percent. If raising more money is one of your challenges, I would like to discuss our direct mail programs.”

3. Use social media

Social media is a simple to use and free sales resource. Printing salespeople must learn how to use it to their advantage. For example, we were working with a commercial printer who was attempting to network into a large company. The owner had more than 500 names on his LinkedIn contact list. He simply typed the targeted company into the contact search feature and out popped a vice president from the targeted company who was a friend of the printing company owner’s brother. Once discovered, making an introduction was easy.

Like everything else in selling, practicing, experimenting, and developing powerful, targeted messages is the best way to generate prospects within social media.

4. Make time to prospect

We are regularly asked, “When is the best time to prospect?” The answer is that salespeople always need to be prospecting. That means a combination of targeting, qualifying, calling, networking, and following up.

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Great salespeople start with a plan. Sometimes it is an informal plan where the salesperson has built it into their day-to-day sales process. For others, writing down specific prospecting activity objectives daily and blocking out specific time on the calendar is a good way to maintain a disciplined approach. Setting aside specific times to phone and email prospects is crucial to generating new prospects.

5. Put away the canned phone scripts

Salespeople probably have only about 10 seconds to get the interest of targets. To do so, it is imperative to stay away from any industry, company, or manufacturer jargon. For instance, phrases that include types of presses, imaging processes, workflows, substrates, or file formats should be avoided.

Practice approaches with non-printing people, including family members. If they understand what you are selling and the value of what you bring, it is likely your customers will as well.

Phone prospecting is 50 percent process, organization, and planning. The other 50 percent is skill. The more you do, the better the skill develops. Prospecting calls need to sound natural and conversational. Practice until you do not need notes or scripts. Customers hate canned and irrelevant sales pitches.

Persistence and Patience Are Required

Sometimes it is not about skills, strategies, or knowledge. A common mistake for many printing salespeople is they never call potential prospects more than once. A customer’s receptivity for new ideas is not consistent over time.

Many successful salespeople develop a cadence for prospecting. For instance, they may send an email or direct mail piece first to create curiosity and interest, and then call on the phone a few times until they get through.

If the client will not respond and agree to a conversation after five attempts, it is time to move on. If you are still convinced this is a good prospect, put the contact name in your file to follow up in a defined period of time.

No matter what the approach, consistently prospecting is the only way to ensure long term success in selling. This may be a good time to take another look at your sales prospecting.

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant who works with printing and technology companies in the graphic arts to improve their sales and operational effectiveness. He is the founder of Intellective Solutions, a provider of customized sales, operational, and sales management training material and services. Contact him at 845-753-6156, or visit