Successful salespeople establish a clearly defined pattern for prospecting. They know that you can waste a monumental amount of time calling on leads who are not prospects for your product or service. When all you have is a name and address, you have only the possibility of developing a prospect.

Truly qualified prospects are those who are exactly right for you because they possess the necessary characteristics that make them logical buyers for your product or service. Applying a detailed screening process to each lead greatly increases your chances of successfully completing a sale.

One good description of the best prospect is someone to whom you have been referred by a person the prospect respects, one who has the ability to make a buying decision and to pay for the product or service, and one about whom you have all the personal information you need to make a good presentation.

Your goal is to cultivate prospects who pass the MADDEN Test: Money; Approachable; Desire; Decision-maker; Eligible; Need.

• Money – Separate the talkers from those who actually have the money to buy. Does the individual prospect have enough money to pay for your product or service? Is a corporate prospect solvent enough to pay its bills? You may wish to check the prospect’s standing through a credit-rating service.

You will save yourself and your company many headaches by determining a prospect’s ability to pay before spending your time and energy gaining a client who may become more of a liability than an asset.

• Approachable – Can you get an appointment? Your desired contact person may be at a higher level in the organization than you are normally able to access. Do not hesitate to ask for help from colleagues or other company executives who can assist you when there is a real possibility of gaining an important client.

Individual prospects are often approachable only if you are willing to fit your time schedule into the unique time needs of their business or profession. Be flexible. Your chances of success increase if you and the prospect meet at a time that is mutually convenient and comfortable.

• Desire – The prospect may be quite satisfied with a present supplier and have no desire to change. You can sell such a prospect only if you create or discover a desire that will motivate the prospect to move from the present supplier to you.

The prospect may desire to save money, to enjoy a wider variety of services, to receive more dependable service or quicker deliveries – all of which may have been the basis for selecting the present supplier in the first place. A desire to own the product or use the service is also important.

• Decision-maker – Be sure the person you visit is the decision maker. No matter what enthusiasm for your product or service you are able to create in one manager, if that manager does not have the authority to sign the order, you will be forced to repeat the entire sales process with another person.

If you are not sure who makes the decisions in a particular company, try to see the highest ranking executive possible – even the president. Let the executive tell you whom to see. Do not hesitate to ask.

A survey made by McGraw-Hill’s Laboratory of Advertising Performance discovered that 90.3 percent of purchase decision makers interviewed had not been called on within the previous two months.

Obviously, salespeople spend a great deal of time talking to people who are not in a position to make a buying decision. When you first contact a prospect, ask who else will be involved in making the decision and set up an appointment with all individuals at one time.

• Eligible – Determine whether the prospect is eligible to buy from you. Some prospects are already committed to a competitor and cannot buy from you. More and more, large corporations are requiring branch facilities either to involve corporate purchasing or to access suppliers on national contracts.

Others need a product with greater or smaller capacity than you can offer or a service that is more or less extensive than yours. For example, some prospects for insurance obviously cannot pass the necessary physical exam, or are beyond the set age limit.

• Need – Determine the need level for your product or service. Will the business you gain be worth the amount of time you must invest to get it? Some companies are still operating with a minimum of computers. Is this situation due to a general lack of education about computer applications and usage benefits, a blatant disregard for high technology, or no real important need? Time is wasted if the latter two scenarios exist.

Always remember that you can never stop prospecting, no matter how successful you are at the moment. Some elements of change will be out of your control. Your customer’s company may merge or go out of business. A competitor could take your client away.

Does the mere idea of prospecting for new customers sound difficult, time-consuming, or boring to you? It doesn’t have to be any of those if you use your head instead of your feet. Following this approach will make prospecting perhaps a little more time consuming on the front end, but it will fill your sales pipeline with qualified leads instead of just warm bodies with names and questionable needs. And we all know that qualified prospects are key to successful selling.

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