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by Dorothy Leeds

In 1849, during the time of the California Gold Rush, men and women with pioneering spirits went in search of a glittering fortune. One of the methods they used was panning for gold, where they'd sift through the dirt, the rocks and the riffraff until all that was left was solid gold.

But, as the Forty-Niners soon discovered, not every pan contained golden nuggets. Sometimes all that they found was that they were panning in the wrong stream.

Salespeople do a lot of "panning" for prospects. Every time we get a lead, we hope it's going to turn out to be a golden opportunity. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case, and not every lead pans out.


Sometimes sales don't pan out because we're looking for customers in the wrong place. Many salespeople don't really have an active or organized system for prospecting or generating leads.

There are many ways to generate leads besides making cold calls from phone books or directories. Exactly where your leads come from depends on what it is you're selling. Here are few ideas that may help your panning planning:

  • Advertising: You may want to take out an ad in a local newspaper or trade magazine. If possible, include an offer for a free give-away -- a `helpful hints' brochure, for example. That will get you names and phone numbers or addresses for further contact.
  • Direct Mail - If you send out direct mail letters or flyers, be sure to include a reply post card or coupon for people to return with an order, or perhaps to indicate that they'd like more information about your product or service. The more targeted, or specific to your product or service, your list, the higher your ratio of return responses will be.
  • Seminars: A broker friend of mine runs a free seminar once a month. She gives participants valuable information, and they give her their names, addresses and phone numbers. She then has a good number of leads of people she knows are interested in what she has to offer. The seminar strategy, accompanied by an organized follow-up system, has worked well for several other people I know, including a dentist, a nutritionist and a graphic artist.
  • Writing Articles: Get your name out there. Write articles for newspapers and trade magazines. Once again, make a give-away offer -- a newsletter, perhaps, or an informational brochure. (This doesn't have to be an expensive four-color design. A few simple, but helpful xeroxed pages will do.)


Is everyone in the world a potential customer? Not really. After all, no product or service is right for everyone. How do you know what kinds leads you should be going after? You need to ask yourself some smart questions, like:

Who are my Ideal Prospects?

What economic bracket do they usually fall into?

What kinds of organizations do they belong to?

What do most of my existing customers have in common? Are they married, single, divorced, widowed? Do they have children? Do they have particular political leanings? Do they have similar occupations, education, hobbies, illnesses, transportation needs, family concerns?

The more you know about what your customers have in common, the easier it will be to go after qualified leads, or leads that are likely to put you in touch with people who are interested in what you have to offer.

In order to find out what kinds of prospects you should be actively seeking, paint a mental picture of your Ideal Prospect. This is a picture of a person who has the need for your product or service, has the desire to buy, has the necessary budget, and the decision making authority. You can use this portrait as a standard against which you measure all potential customers and clients.

In my business, my Ideal Prospect would be someone who is planning a meeting for next month and must find a speaker immediately, who has read one of my books and seen me speak, who is looking for a woman expert in sales techniques, who has the appropriate budget and the authority to sign a contract on the spot.


Now, these Ideal Prospect situations don't come along every day. But you can't assume that Ideal Prospects are going to sell themselves, either. If you don't recognize an Ideal Prospect when you see one, you may just let the sale slip away.

Friends of mine totaled their car when it overturned on the highway about a month ago. Luckily, they were smart people and were wearing their seat belts. They weren't hurt, but the car was a goner. Two days later, they were out shopping for a new car. They had become Ideal Prospects. They were in immediate need of transportation, had the necessary finances, and were ready, willing and able to make the decision to buy.

My friends had been very happy with their old car. They wanted the same car again -- same make, same model, same color, same options, same everything. They went to a local car dealer and told the salesperson exactly what they wanted.

The salesperson said, "We don't have that car in stock right now. We should be getting them in two weeks." And he stopped talking. So naturally my friends said, "We can't wait two weeks," and left.

They went to another dealership. This time the salesperson asked a smart question. "We don't have that car in stock right now. But tell me, what was it about the car you had that you liked so much?" This salesperson realized that my friends were Ideal Prospects and he knew that by asking only a few smart questions he could satisfy the customers and close the deal right there. He sold them a car that was not exactly the same as their old one, but fulfilled all their needs and would be ready for them to pick up the next day.


To picture your Ideal Prospect, ask yourself these questions:

Does this prospect want or need what I have to offer?

Does this prospect have the necessary budget?

Does this prospect have the authority to make the decision?

Does this prospect know and trust me, my company, or my product/service?

Of course, you will have other criteria that are particular to your product or service. There are very few real-life Ideal Prospects, but if your prospects have no resemblance at all to the ideal, you're going to waste a lot of time trying to turn them into buyers.

Now, as much as we would like it to be otherwise, not every prospect is ideal, and not every prospect becomes a customer. So my advice is this: The ABC's of sales tell you "Always Be Closing." Well, now we have the ABP's of Sales: Always Be Prospecting.

Even the most successful salesperson is always on the lookout for new customers. The only way to stay successful is to keep panning for prospects until you come up with the gold.

  Dorothy Leeds
  800 West End Ave.
  New York, NY   10025
  212.932.8364 (FAX)

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