Turning contacts into prospects

Put simply, prospecting is locating and meeting potential clients. It is a process, not an event – it goes on all the time in almost any circumstance. You can network anywhere. You will always have something in common with the people around you. If you have to queue at the bank anyway, why not have a chat? Will it get you a client? Maybe or maybe not – but it will you help pass the time pleasantly.

The point is not so much to get business as to extend yourself to other people, to be open to new possibilities, and to have fun while you are doing it. The contacts you make in this way may or may not evolve into friendships or business relationships, but at least you will have enjoyed yourself.

The objectives of prospecting are to:

  • meet someone (a suspect)
  • find out if the suspect is a prospect
  • learn about the prospect’s business
  • judge his or her ability and willingness to pay for solutions
  • find out what their problems are

The first few times you meet someone, you may have impersonal conversations, but at some point in your relationship you will want to move from small talk to more substantial issues, such as the prospect’s business.

One way to do this is to keep abreast of developments in industry or local business. Find out what business your prospect is in and comment on or ask a question about his or her industry. If the prospect is more receptive, you could even ask questions about his or her business.

If your prospect is open, you can probe more directly into some aspect of his or her business, but if he or she is reserved, don’t push too hard. A key point to remember is to look for the prospect’s SWOT – the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats facing their business. These are good subjects with which to open or sustain a conversation. Another way to talk business is to ask a question about local business conditions or events.

Once the prospect is talking about his or her business, stop talking and listen attentively. Being a good listener is more than just keeping quiet. You must actively listen by acknowledging what the prospect says with nods, comments, agreements, and occasional questions. Keep your attention and your eyes on the prospect and listen for hints of current business problems.

Remember, since people only buy solutions to problems, if the suspect doesn’t have a problem you can solve, you don’t have a prospect.

A brief conversation about possible causes and hinting at solutions can demonstrate your interest and expertise. Give just enough information to intrigue the prospect and make him or her want to hear more, but leave a little ‘mystery’.

Do not in any circumstances attempt to sell accounting services in either a social or a business setting. Your only objective in this preliminary encounter is to make an appointment to continue your discussion at a later date in a business setting – preferably his or her office.

Everything up to and including getting an appointment can be performed by anyone, with any degree of sales skills. It can be achieved by a person who never intends to sell, doesn’t know how to sell, or doesn’t want to sell – and even by someone who refuses to sell. A non-salesperson who creates a business opportunity in this way may then involve another member of the firm who does have sales skills to handle the rest.

The entire process of making contact, developing a rapport, and even closing a sale may sometimes take place in a single conversation – especially when dealing with a sole trader, but generally the sales process will involve numerous interactions over a period of months or even years.

Always remember:

  • when prospecting and developing relationships, be patient and low-key
  • in no conditions should you go into ‘selling mode’ while you are still developing a relationship
  • not everyone is a good prospect, even those who need you may not be able or willing to pay you
  • you will be in practice for a long time – and have all the time in the world – so you don’t have to sell to every prospect the first time you meet them.

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