The word prospecting means a search made underground treasure by a geologist. It may be oil, water or ore prospecting. In salesmanship also, this term is used with a specific meaning. Prospecting is the first step in selling process. A prospect is a qualified person or a unit that has the potential to buy your product or service. A prospect should not be confused with the term ‘lead’. The name of a person or a unit, who might be a prospect, is referred as a lead. A ‘lead’ can be a ‘suspect’ indicating the person or a unit is suspected of a prospect. Once the ‘lead’ has been qualified; the lead becomes a prospect to know whether a lead is a ‘prospect’ or a ‘suspect’, seven questions may be asked. If the answer is positive for each, then he is a prospect, otherwise a suspect.
The methods of prospecting are as follows:
(i) Endless Chain Method
‘Endless chain’ or ‘family tree’ method works on the principle of Multiplication of relations. The salesman collects the names and addresses of friends and relatives and interviews the persons who are likely to be prospects. A person who is convinced or satisfied readily recommends the names of his friends and relatives who according to him should also be benefitted by the proposition. This method is most effective in development of prospects of intangibles like investments and insurance covers. Further, the salesman is having easy access to these recommended person which is a special merit.
(ii) Center of Influence Method
Strictly speaking, every individual is the center of attraction or influence in one way or the other. Being the center of his or her own worlds he or she has some influence on those who are in the orbit or world. This point is encased under this method. A salesman develops a selected band of persons who serve as his center of influence in his own territory or the community. The more friends a salesman has, the more center of influence he can tap in finding the prospects for his products. These selected persons are either the customers or the influential friends of customers. Such persons may be ministers, MPs, MLAs, doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors, club officials, business leaders, social workers and the community leaders.
(iii) Personal Observation Method
For a prospect minded salesman, prospects are everywhere. The salesman plays the role of a keen observer as if what is going on ground. A salesman, who is agile and alert to identify the prospects, does it so easily and quickly. That is why, this method is popularly known as “eyes and ears” inductive method. He observes keenly, meaningfully and meticulously. It may be a conversation – a street comment- cinema house chitchat- office grape- wine- comments at public meetings- remarks at recreation- a close talk in a hotel- a dialogue during a journey. As a creative professional, he makes an all out effort to explore such possibilities and exploit the opportunities open. A shrewd salesman reserves some time daily for meaningful and purposive observation to gain prospects in normal course.
(iv) Spotters Methods
Junior salesman are employed, many a time, to locate the prospects, in a particular territory of a specific social status. As these junior salesmen are to spot or locate the prospects, they are called as spotters. These spotters move from house to house spotting out prospects. The work of spotters is purely to locate the prospects and report them to the senior salesmen who would take over the responsibility of selling as the experienced professionals. That is, a detailed survey is conducted by the juniors and follow up work is taken by the seniors. Most of the people cooperate for such survey work. This method is lucratively used in case of products which are attractive, useful and durable like automobiles, two- wheelers, TV sets, air-coolers, air-conditioners, vacuum-cleaners, sewing machines, cooking-ranges, washing-machines, sound-gadgets and so on.
(v) Cold Canvas Method
This method works on ‘laws of averages. This method is also known as ‘cold turkey’ ‘survey’ or ‘’new account’ method. Here, the salesman does not know the prospect even as a lead salesman takes a calculated chance by collecting the names and addresses of such leads in a particular locality and meets them by canvassing. The thrust is on service than sales as he is meeting him for the first time. The underlying idea is to benefit a person by calling on him. Salesman uses extensively ‘you attitude’ and is used in case of consumer and industrial goods.
(vi) Direct Mail and Telephone Method
The salesman contacts the former and present users of the products by mail. The contact message covers the arrival of new products. Circular and sales letter along with advertising folders are sent to both old and present and likely customers depicting the latest features of the new line, advantages of new line and the benefits of the new line. This direct mail approach needs a selected mailing list which is up-dated. This is better than personal call, because it select best, uncovers the unknown prospects and makes prospect need-conscious. In addition, telephone contacts can be established particularly, in city areas. It is a great time saver and has the same effect as that of a personal call. Constant contact is possible with past, present and potential customers.
(vii) Exhibitions and Demonstration
Exhibitions and demonstrations take place from time to time at city, regional or national or international level. The selling houses sponsor such trade-shows and demonstrations along with sales staff. As the visitors walk into the pavilion to examine the products, an experienced salesman takes a few minutes to qualify leads, gets their names and addresses so as to contact them later on either at their homes or offices for demonstration. Though salesman and prospect contact is a quite brief, this type of gathering of special interest gives salesman extensive contact with a large number of potential buyers over a very short span of time.
(viii) Bird-dog Method
Closely related to spotters method is that of ‘bird dogs’ approach. ‘Bird dog’ is the nick-name given to those persons who visit the houses at a definite interval. For instance, we have electric or water meter readers, gas boys, milk suppliers, news-paper boys visiting in official capacity many households in a particular locality. Even these may be watchmen, liftmen, household servants. These ‘bird-dogs’ or ‘sales associates’ provide a good deal of demographic information relating to households on which the salesman can capitalize. This works out as the most reliable source of information and economical too. The information is got without asking the prospects.
(i) Lead from Sales-managers
Sales managers as a departmental lead has official and unofficial contacts with the people of the other departments of same organizations and also other firms in whose contact he comes in personal as well as official capacity. The names and addresses of leads provided both intra-firm departments and extra-firm departments are a political source. Thus, an automobile sales manager would give a list of leads to the salesman for its repairs and servicing, spare-parts and so on. The salesman will locate the likely buyers of new cars.
(ii) Advertisements and Advertising Agencies
Today, spending on advertisements is increasing as it yields good results. It is an investment rather than expenditure. A well designed and placed advertisement brings good many prospects. What salesman does by personal efforts is done by each advertisements as it has need recognizing and need converting capacity at quickest span this has become much easier because of audiovisuals. In addition to these advertisements proper, the agency or the advertising department of the business house to provide the list of leads to the salesman that enriches his reservoir of prospects.