Do you have a prospecting plan? If you want to increase your sales, it can be a big help.

A prospecting plan is like a business plan for your sales career. It’s a planning tool that helps you sketch out your goals, your best prospects, where to find them, how to reach them and what action steps you’re going to take.

Sound complicated? Don’t worry, it isn’t. All you have to do to get started is to answer seven simple questions.

1. What are your sales goals?
Do you want more new customers or more repeat sales to existing customers? Are you trying to break into a new industry? Is it more important to push a new product or revive a sagging performer in your line? Do you want to move cheap stuff or big-ticket items?

Be specific, with numbers and dates. When you know exactly what you want to accomplish, it’s easier to do it, because your goals will help define other aspects of your plan.

2. Who are your ideal prospects?
Hint: “everyone” is the wrong answer. Most salespeople waste a majority of their time with prospects who will never do business with them. To maximize your prospecting time, you want to spend it with the people who are most likely to buy from you.

Start your profiling by examining your current customers: What do they have in common? Then decide who else you want to target and list their defining characteristics: size, income, age, industry, health status, etc. This doesn’t mean that you will ignore everyone else, because you’ll happily serve someone who doesn’t happen to fit your profile. But your ideal prospects are the people you want to devote most of your time and energy to.

3. Where are they?
Whoever your ideal prospects are, you’ll find some of them everywhere. But you want to focus your efforts where the greatest concentrations of them are.

For example, if your target market is the elderly, you know that there are large populations of retirees in warm climates like Florida and Arizona. In any given community, you will find concentrations living in retirement centers and assisted living facilities. By contrast, if you’re targeting Generation X’ers, you’ll tend to find them in apartment buildings in urban areas and along the coasts.

And we’re not just talking about where people live. You might also want to know where they work, what business events they go to, where they go for fun, what they read, what they watch and what they listen to. Because they more you know about where your ideal prospects are and what they do, the easier it is to figure out the answer to the next question.

4. How will you reach them?
You have dozens of prospecting tools at your disposal, including networking, direct mail letters, cold calls, newspaper ads, trade shows, special events, referrals and more. Choose several and use them simultaneously.

Don’t despair if you don’t see results immediately. It takes an average of nine “impressions” (anytime a person is exposed to you, your name, your product or your company) to move a prospect from apathy to action. So be persistent in your efforts. And be fanatical about following up with each prospect. The more tactics you employ, the better your results will be.

5. What is your hook?
Here’s a secret about sales in general and prospecting in particular: Nobody cares about you, your company, your product or your service. Which means if you try to open with a sales pitch or by shoving a bunch of sales material into the hands of a prospect, you’re wasting your time.

What people really care about is themselves. So lead with a hook instead of a pitch. A hook is something that is of value to the prospect and requires no effort, expense or risk on their part. Its purpose is to grab their attention and create a sense of perceived value and appreciation.

Great hooks include:

  • Free samples
  • Free gifts
  • Invitations to an event or party
  • A short survey
  • Free articles, reports or white papers
  • Contest entries
  • Referrals

Think about how you could use one of the above ideas (or come up with your own!) as a hook and how you could get it to your prospects. A hook will radically improve your chances of securing an appointment to talk further with the prospect.

6. What steps are you going to take and in what time frame?
This is the most important part of your plan. Unless you commit to taking action, you won’t achieve the goals you’ve set. Schedule what you’re going to do and when, with as much detail as possible. Break each project into incremental steps, with a time line for each one. This will insure that those things get done.

7. How often will you review this plan?
After you’ve written your plan, review it periodically: weekly, monthly or bi-monthly, whatever works for you. Are you on track? How is each prospecting tactic working? Have you forgotten some items? Does the plan need to be revised? Adjust your plan and/or your actions as needed.

A prospecting plan can be a powerful tool in your kit. And the more effort you put into it, the more sales you’ll make.

Learn more about Don Cooper.