Having a strong pool of prospects is essential for any organization, whether it is for profit or non-profit. Your prospects are those people in your marketing territory who have the potential interest and ability to buy your product of service. For non-profits, your prospects are potential donors with a shared interest in your cause or charity and the available funds to donate. Whether you are a board member of a non-profit, a sales manager of a business or an individual volunteer or sales rep, the process of building a prospect list is essentially the same.
Prospects in Your Office
You probably have a wealth of sources in your office and at your fingertips. Begin by looking through membership and advertising directories. Your local business journal may publish a book of lists, compiling the top firms of various companies, businesses and associations. Make a list from people who have visited your office. If you have accumulated business cards, that will be an easy task to do. Look for names in business periodicals, and make a habit of recording them as you see them. Write articles and white papers about your business -- that gives you an excuse to call people for their opinions. You can build your professional reputation at the same time.
Prospects on the Internet
Use search engines to look for companies, industries or other groups in your targeted territory. Search for online directories. Chambers of commerce and some professional organizations post their membership on their web sites. You can also start a blog and post your articles, inviting comments from your readers. Your prospect list will grow as your blog attracts more readers. You can find more names and qualify the ones you have by searching with LinkedIn, which is considered to be a business-oriented version of Facebook. You can conduct searches for individuals in specific companies, industries or interest groups. Most individuals list employment, past employment, skills and interests on their LinkedIn pages.
Prospects from Area Resources
You can find many prospects from neighborhood resources. Begin at the library, which will have a variety of businesses and membership directories. If the community library does not have enough, check out a nearby college library. Join a leads club. For a small investment in membership, you will have other members turning up prospects for you, just as you will do for them. Go to networking meetings. Many chambers of commerce and local business associations hold “after 5:00” meetings specifically to share leads. See if there is a meet-up group that could include prospects for you.
Putting It Together
As you accumulate names, you will need to compile them into one database, eliminating duplication. To refine your prospect list, you may choose to do some initial qualifying to winnow out the weaker candidates. With a short telephone survey, you can ask key questions to determine if the prospect has a need, if they are dealing with your competition and whom their key decision-maker might be. You might offer something in exchange for the prospect's participation -- a white paper, for example. You can get more information about your contacts from LinkedIn. If you are looking for donors for a non-profit, your qualifying criteria will be individuals and firms with shared social values.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.