Prospect Like a Pro in 5 Easy Steps

In business and life, prospecting can be the key to your success. This simple system will take your prospecting to the next level.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #570

No matter how you define success, effective prospecting is the key to reaching it every time. You could be a consultant seeking clients, a job hunter seeking employment, or a member of a polycule seeking additional polyamorous family units. All of those require good prospecting.

Bernice, owner of Green Growing Things plant stores, has decided it’s time to enter the corporate market. Her carnivorous plants, especially the Audrey IIs, have been a huge hit with consumers. She’s built the company this far through direct-to-consumer outreach. But corporate clients are an entirely different matter. 

She’ll need a concerted, systematic effort in order to make a name for her business in the corporate world. That means being as rigorous with her prospecting efforts as she is with her yoga practice. Her year-end goal is mastering the prospecting equivalent of the Bird of Paradise pose. (If you don’t know what that is, look it up. If you dare). 

Know the prospecting roadmap

Prospecting isn’t as simple as it seems from the outside. It involves not only finding prospects but reaching out to them, tracking the results, and following up. Regularly.

Most people (and by “most people,” I mean “me”) tend to intermingle these phases. They’ll randomly go to a conference, randomly meet some people, and randomly follow up. Then they randomly wonder why they aren’t randomly getting more random business.

These steps take most of the random out of prospecting and replace it with something much more on-purpose.

Step 1: Generate prospect sources

Bernice is smarter than most people (and by “most people,” I mean “me”). Rather than going right out to knock on corporate doors, she makes a list of prospect sources. Not prospects, prospect sources. She’s looking for companies that might use plants, so she realizes she can find those companies through:

  • Her Chamber of Commerce
  • The monthly Human Resources Best Practices Dinner
  • The Inc. 500 List of Fastest Growing Businesses in her area
  • A subreddit about “humane working environments.” (After all, strategically-placed person-eating plants are a very humane way to make sure employees don’t raid the supply closet.)

You don't have to be a business owner to benefit from prospecting. If you’re a job hunter, you’re looking for job opportunities. Your prospect sources might also include a Chamber of Commerce, LinkedIn, job boards, GlassDoor.com, your college’s career services office, or your community’s business newspaper.

Step 2: Generate prospects

Having listed her prospect sources, Bernice takes a break with a cool, refreshing glass of all-natural, GMO-free, non-gluten, non-refined sugar, whole-grain, high-unsaturated-fat vegetable-and-fruit smoothie. YUM! Life is good. Generating prospect sources is something she only has to do once, and it'll yield new prospects for a long time to come.

I find it easiest to tackle a single prospect source at a time. Choose the ones that are easiest to reach.

I find it easiest to tackle a single prospect source at a time. Choose the ones that are easiest to reach. An online forum is easy to reach. Attending a conference 3,000 miles away? Harder to reach.

Bernice chooses one prospect source, the Reddit community for humane working environments. She can jump into it online immediately. The other sources require traveling.

Try a source and see if it really is a good way to find prospects. Once you’ve tackled that source, pulled it to the ground, grabbed the ball from its hands, and pounded your chest screaming “My ball now!” you can move on to another prospect source. 

Bernice discovers that a mere hour on Reddit gives her the names of several dozen prospects. She had no idea "humane-ity" was such a big deal. 

Step 3: Crank up your outreach machine

With a large list of prospects in hand, Bernice gets to work. She listens to Get-It-Done Guy episode 555, When Prospecting, Have a Strong Process in Place. There she learns how to reach out and follow up with a prospect list using a spreadsheet.

When you’re cranking through the process, it helps to keep notes for each prospect you contact. If a spreadsheet cell isn’t enough space for notes, use the spreadsheet to track your calling schedule and keep notes in a notetaking app with a separate note for each prospect. 

If multiple people need to share prospect notes, then it makes sense to put your notes online so you can all access and edit them.

Bernice is prospecting alone, so she tracks her prospect companies on paper. She has a template that captures the critical information for each prospect: square feet of office space, goals for the corporate culture, and distance to the nearest butcher store, in case someone forgets to feed the Audrey IIs and they trigger a code red. Blood red.

While electronic notes are easier to search, taking paper notes helps you remember each prospect and their details. If you can read your handwriting, taking handwritten notes can be faster when having a conversation, and paper can be easier to scan visually later. 

Step 4: Track using file folders

Since you’ll be gathering note on lots of prospects, you can file those notes as well. The tracking method in episode 66, Track Processes with File Folders, can help. Make file folders (either real or virtual) for each phase of your prospecting process: Cold Outreach, In Dialog, Hot Prospect, Negotiating DealsEvery time you connect with a client, file their notes in the appropriate folder.

Every day, follow up on everyone in the Negotiating Deals folder. Every few days, review your Hot Prospects folder. 

Bernice quickly discovers that companies love the idea of carnivorous office plants. In the words of one senior manager, “Carnivorous office accessories are a stroke of genius!” They ordered fifty venus flytraps for decoration, and two dozen Audrey IIs to “send a message about the value of hard work and the consequences of slacking off.” 

In no time at all, the Hot Prospects folder is bulging, and Bernice’s calendar is full of corporate sales meetings. 

Step 5: If you’re stalled, retreat to the previous step

Eventually Bernice has all of her prospects contacted and filed in the right folders. After her morning followup, she’s caught up. There’s nothing to do until she hears back from several of her contacts. But there’s no need to sit around twiddling her thumbs. If she wants to, she can keep going.

Remember how you separated out prospect sources from the prospects themselves? Here’s where that comes in handy.

Bernice can go back to her prospect source to get more people to add to her followup system. If that source is tapped out, or is something like a conference that only happens once a year, she has an instant backup plan: she goes to her list of prospect sources, chooses the next source to pursue, and starts again by finding prospects.

It’s all a numbers game, and when you’re well-organized, you’ll be able to handle the numbers with flair.

With several prospect sources already in her pipeline, she’s going to have more business than she can shake a stick at. Green Growing Things may be about to outgrow its humble roots.

You can outgrow your humble roots just as easily when you need to do prospecting. First, identify your prospect sources. Then choose a source and gather some prospects. Put them into a rigorous system to do outreach and follow-up, taking careful notes and organizing them so you always know where everyone is in your cycle. The key to finding a client or finding a job is consistent, effective action. It’s all a numbers game, and when you’re well-organized, you’ll be able to handle the numbers with flair.


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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.