By Bill Lee

There’s perhaps nothing in the selling profession that is more rewarding and personally fulfilling than to take a customer away from the competition. And in addition to the way picking up a new customer makes you feel, it doesn’t hurt your pocketbook, either.

So if prospecting can be so much fun, why don’t salespeople these days do more of it? Why are so many of even veteran salespeople so firmly stuck in an existing customer rut?

I believe the answer is partly because the effort to professionally prospect for new business is darn difficult and time consuming and partly because too many salespeople are content with their current income levels.

But I believe that there is another reason: Sales managers don’t require their sales forces to prospect. I believe a certain amount of prospecting should be a condition of employment for every sales force.


1. Market intelligence: There’s no better way to find out the intimate details of competitors’ service levels than to call on your competitors’ customers.

So on every prospect call ask one or two key questions to find out how your company stacks up against the competition. Over the years, I have learned a lot about the art of asking good questions from Art Sobczak, author of the popular monthly newsletter, Telephone Selling Report (800-326-7721). Sobczak describes The Fundamentals of Question Types:


These get feelings, ideas and emotions -- not one or two-word answers. Often begin questions with “how,” “what,” “why.”

For example: “How do you like to schedule deliveries?”

Or, “What do you do when…?”


These elicit one or two-word answers. Their best use is to get specific information. Not recommended for frequent use since they’re conversation-killers.

“What is the size of one of your typical orders?”

Add-On/Layering Questions

Responding to what the prospect said with other questions designed to prompt them to continue speaking. For example:


“Then what happened?”

Parrot Questions

Repeating, as a question, what he or she just said.

"You’re having a problem getting on time deliveries? How do you mean exactly?"

Instructional Statements

You’re not asking for information, you’re telling them to give it to you.

“Tell me more,”

“Give me some idea of…”

“Please tell me…”

“Please explain…”

When you use these questions, make sure that you know where you’ll go when you get answers.

Building professional relationships. I know of no better way to establish a professional relationship with prospects you are not currently selling than to make prospecting calls on them. One of the main keys is to a successful prospect call is bringing your prospects some information that will help them be more successful.

An example: “I attended a conference last weekend and heard an expert present an economic forecast for this market. One of the most insightful statements he made was…”

If the prospect shows interest, end the visit by asking: “Would you like for me to make you a copy of his handout?”

Avoid saying something like, “Tell you what I’ll do, I’ll make you a copy of his handout and bring it by.”

If you put your offer in the form of a question, and the prospect answers, yes, you’re then in a position to in essence to do him a favor.

Discover opportunities. While on prospect calls, keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when you’ll discover an opportunity to supply a special need the prospect’s current supplier is not able to fulfill.

At one of my seminars recently, a salesperson told me that while on a prospect call the prospect asked him, “Do you guys have a special order department? I’m having a heck of a hard time finding a reliable supplier.”

New business: Perhaps the best reason to insist that your salespeople make prospect calls is to make sure that your company is in control of its destiny. When one or more exiting customers slow down, have their credit suspended or go out of business, it’s awfully nice to have already built a strong relationship with a prospect to keep your sales moving forward.

Try this: Sit down with your sales force and identify several creditworthy prospects and assign them to your salespeople and agree on a game plan. Then follow up with them each month and check on the progress each salesperson is making. This process will make you a better sales manager and your salespeople will become better

For more information on Bill Lee's Gross Margin book and his newest book, 30 Ways Managers Shoot Themselves in the Foot, go to Or call 800-808-0534 to order via voice mail.