Targeting Top Prospects

Mike Weinberg

When charged with acquiring new business, the natural and essential first questions are: “Where is the business going to come from?” and “Who should I be pursuing?” If we are putting together a prospecting and new business development sales attack, we need to know where to go and whom to target. That’s why selecting targets is the first step in the process. Quite simply, we can’t prospect if we don’t know who the prospects are.

Most salespeople spend the majority of their time in reactive mode responding to potential opportunities that come their way. The need for a defined list of target accounts does not register because, honestly, they are not targeting anyone. However, the proactive new business hunter requires a strategically selected list of appropriate target accounts in order to launch the attack.

In some sales positions, the list of target prospects is supplied to the salesperson. However, in the majority of small and mid-size companies, that’s not the case. Often, the challenging task of identifying and choosing potential clients is left to the salesperson. And that can be pretty daunting, particularly for a new hire.

I like to use a series of “who” and “why” questions to help identify strategic targets when creating a list:

  • Who are our best customers (by industry, size, business model, location, etc.)?
  • Why did they initially become customers? Why do they still buy from us?
  • Who do we compete against in the marketplace?
  • Why and when do they beat us? And why do prospects choose us over them?
  • Who used to be our customers (said differently, who used to buy from us)?
  • Why did we lose the business?
  • Who almost became a customer but didn’t (deals where we came close but lost)?
  • Who has referred business to us in the past?
  • Who should be referring business to us?

Selecting target prospects is one of our few chances to be strategic. We need answers to these questions in order to create a confidence-inspiring list of smartly chosen prospects and referral sources. I’d go as far as saying that building a great list is easy once we have these answers and just about impossible without them.

First and formost, I want to pursue prospects that look, feel and smell like our very best clients. We know we bring value to the equation. We have instant credibility. Our story is relevant and we have happy clients to prove it. If a salesperson isn’t confident pursuing prospects that fit this profile, then he probably shouldn’t be in sales.

To the seasoned new business developer, these best customer lookalikes are a softball down the middle. We should have no trouble getting in, asking the right questions, identifying opportunities and telling a compelling story supported with case studies.

Mike Weinberg is founder and president of The New Sales Coach. This article is excerpted from his new book, “New Sales. Simplified.” (American Management Association).