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A good pool of prospects is one of the keys to a successful selling career. Knowing how to prospect effectively keeps a career vital, and is truly the lifeblood of sales. Yet, so many sales professionals overlook the crucial element of having a prospecting plan. With a plan to follow, you can measure your efforts and results.

The Mix

A good prospecting plan includes several types of activities. Some examples include cold phone calls, referrals, talks, mailings, and networking. While most salespeople have a variety of activities available to them, they tend to use only a few, either because they have a certain comfort level with some activities or a discomfort with others. Mixing your activities takes the pressure of any one activity to provide your livelihood. If you're not comfortable with an approach, invest time to improve your skills, and ultimately your comfort level, to make other activities work for you.

The Action

Prospecting activities are either active or passive. Active prospecting gives you complete control over how the activity is carried out. For example, making cold calls is active. You control who you call, how often you call, how many calls you make, and what you say. Advertising is passive - you can't control whether a piece gets to its intended destination, is read, or generates a response. Although you can increase your response rate by offering free samples, a bonus or other premium, you give up most control by advertising.

To achieve desired results, mix your active and passive prospecting. Passive activities may be more comfortable, but comfort may not be the answer to your prospecting challenge.

The Plan

When you've decided which activities to pursue, put them on your calendar. Schedule your activities according to time, budget, resources and target audience considerations. And be sure to put your preparation activities (preparing a seminar, writing your newsletter or composing your mailing) in no-pay time. A budget should accompany your prospecting calendar. Will there be labor, equipment, facility or print costs? These elements all factor into your choice of prospecting activities and their weight in your mix.

The Results

Once you've chosen your mix, planned your actions, scheduled your activities and carried out your plan, what were the results? Where did your leads come from, and which activities generated the leads that translated into appointments? Although different activities may produce varying results, you'll probably find that a plan that reflects a variety of methods will pay off. And you may even find success with an activity you thought wouldn't work for you, or that you were reluctant to try.

Each prospecting plan is unique, but all have elements in common: they should include a mix of activities that are feasible for your situation and have action steps for those activities based on resources available and scheduling constraints. As the saying goes, "If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?"

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