Finding Prospects

A prospect is a prospective client, someone who could potentially use your service but hasn't done so yet. They may not have heard of your service, or they may not know enough about your service to determine its value, or they simply haven't been asked.

Identify

Who is a prospect for your consulting services? Of course, that depends on what service you perform for clients. If you're a consultant who specializes in selecting appropriate pets for clients, your prospects are people who want to find a new pet. To turn these prospects into clients you must first think like they think, only faster. As an example, consumers who are considering a new pet may read classified ads or visit pet shops. The consultant can place an advertisement under “Pets and Supplies” offering advice on pet selection. The consultant could offer a fee for referrals from pet stores.

The U.S. Census Bureau is an excellent source of statistical data for market surveys. Based on the latest decade's census, the bureau divides large cities into census tracts of about 5,000 residents within Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas (SMSAs). Data on these tracts cover income, housing, and related information that can be valuable to you. Results of the 2000 census are now available. Data from the 2010 census, taken in March, will begin to be released by the end of that year. (Visit http://2010.census.gov for specifics.) For this and other market information, contact the Office of Business Liaison, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, DC 20230 (www.commerce.gov/OS/OBL.index.htm)). The U.S. Census Bureau (www.census.gov) also offers business statistics, data, and special demographic studies among its services. Canadian census statistics are available online at www.statcan.gc.ca.

Tracking

How should you keep track of your prospects? There are many ways, depending on how many prospects there are and how you plan to market to them. Some consulting services business owners use 3"× 5" index cards. A typical prospect card will include both basic information — name, owner, address, telephone number, business, etc. — and qualifying information and notes from prospective contacts.

If you're using a computer to automate your business records, there are contact management software programs that will help you keep track of prospects. They range in price from about $50 for a simple system to $500 or more for a specialized prospecting system that can even help you write personalized sales letters. As an example, a good contact management program will give you standard fields or areas where you can type the firm name, contact name(s), address, telephone and fax numbers, the names of mutual friends or associations, and information about contacts. Some programs can even serve as a simple order entry form. If you're making regular telephone calls to prospects, the program may help you schedule callbacks, maintain records of conversations, and help you write personalized proposals that can be quickly printed for mailing or even faxed to your prospect while they're still thinking about you.

There are numerous client and contact management software programs available in the marketplace — everything from database programs to integrated network systems. To ensure that client record systems are consistent among all sales people, businesses typically purchase a license to use a contact management program throughout their company. One of the most popular is ACT! by Sage Software (www.act.com).

Qualifying

Depending on the service you provide and its cost, you may want to establish a screening or qualifying process for prospects. You cannot afford to spend much time contacting people who will never become clients. You can require a small initial consultation fee or have an associate screen prospects for you. One successful business consultant charges for initial consultation unless the prospect has been in business for at least a year and meets other basic criteria. If qualified, the initial consultation is free.

The majority of your prospects will make first contact with you by telephone or e-mail. They may have read your ad in the newspaper or phone book, visited your website, or heard about you from a mutual acquaintance. In any case, it is vital that you make the most of this first contact, answering their questions while getting answers to your own questions about them.

The prospect wants to know:

  • Why should I use your service?

  • Are you qualified to offer me effective consulting services?

  • Are your services of greater value than the price?

  • Are you trustworthy?

  • You want to know:

  • What's your name and how can I contact you?

  • How did you hear about my service?

  • What do you need to know to make a decision to hire me?

  • Learn all that you can from the prospect. It not only develops a bond, but also establishes that you are a good listener — an important characteristic for success. In addition, you'll make important inroads into the industry, learning who's hiring and who's laying off, which trades use consulting services and which don't, and many other important facts.

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